Has-Been Heroes by developer Frozenbyte is a roguelike, lane based RPG that shares some similarities with Darkest Dungeon, a turn-based RPG that first appeared on PC back in January 2016. The player assumes the role of three ‘has-been’ heroes, as they escort the king’s daughters to school through treacherous, enemy infested terrain.
While traditional roguelikes provide a selection of characters the player can choose from (i.e. warriors, rogues, mages, etc), Has-Been Heroes takes a different approach to the genre by supplying a ready-made party that is comprised of a warrior, a rogue and a spellcaster. Additional characters unlock as the game progresses. Each character has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s up to the player to learn what those are. Unfortunately, the game never explains these shortcomings to the player. The provided tutorial only outlines how to attack, change ‘lanes’, and cast spells during combat, never touching on the importance of ‘stamina’, the use of candles, and juggling melee characters when they are overwhelmed by enemies (more on this in a moment).
Like the genre it represents, Has-Been Heroes’ content (i.e. monsters, levels and items) change every time a new game is started. The world map – which is conveniently placed at the bottom-right of screen – will shuffle battles, merchants, and other locations to prevent the gameplay from growing stale. Using the Right Analog stick, the player can select a new location on the map and then travel there by pressing the Right Shoulder button. When this happens, the player’s party will run to the new destination.
The gameplay relies on the player unlocking new skills to enhance their party. For this to happen, the player must kill as many enemies as possible to collect their souls. When the game ends, these souls are then deposited inside a large crystal ball. When a certain number of souls are deposited (i.e. 20, 40, etc), new skills unlock. Ironically, the game expects the player to die often to obtain these skills. Without these skills, defeating the first boss (or any boss for that matter) is almost impossible. And that is only half of the issue. While most roguelikes will make unlockables instantly available to the player, Has-Been Heroes instead randomly generates these items, making them hard to obtain. And this is only an issue when the merchants happen to appear; there are times when the game doesn’t generate them at all.
As mentioned earlier, candles and stamina play an important role in Has-Been Heroes. For example: Candles are a limited resource that allows the player to revisit locations that were previously explored. While useful, this feature is limited by the number of candles the player has. Every time the player returns to a location, they will use (i.e. Burn) a candle. If the player attempts to backtrack without possessing any candles, their party will ‘get lost’ and the game will end abruptly. This may sound like an unfair game mechanic (and in some ways it is), but it’s also the game’s way of pushing the player forward, and limiting exploration.
Like candles, stamina is a feature the must be monitored very closely. The rogue and spell caster both have one stamina bar each, while the warrior has two. These stamina bars indicate how many hits a party member (or enemy) can take before losing health. With this in mind, the player must devise a solid strategy that will counterbalance the stamina system and the issues it can cause during battle. For example: the rogue should be used to target enemies with three stamina bars because of his ability to land three consecutive blows during a single turn. Once an enemy’s stamina has been depleted – and their health exposed – the player can send in the warrior for a quick, clean kill.
Combat uses a combination of game mechanics. For example: battles start in real time, but they can be paused by pressing the Left Shoulder button. The player can use this turn-based mechanic to their advantage. For example: it’s better to stop the action before attacking or casting a spell. It helps the player survey the playfield, and decide which lane needs the most attention. Despite being an RPG, the monsters tend to move quite fast, especially in large groups.
Changing lanes is relatively simple, as it involves pausing the action; pressing the button a character is temporarily assigned to (i.e. either B, X or Y); and then pressing the corresponding button that represents the adjacent ‘lane’. This must be done often to keep weaker characters like the spell caster from being killed. And since enemies are constantly advancing, it’s important to keep them at bay as much as possible. As daunting as this may sound, the player will find that it becomes easier the longer they play the game.
Since writing this review, developer Frozenbyte has released an update to address some of the game’s more glaring issues, including its difficulty. Defeating the first level boss is now achievable and less frustrating than before. The update also includes a ‘helpful popup screen to explain stamina’, gameplay tweaks and changes to certain spells, to name just a few.
Initially, Has-Been Heroes was going to score two out of five stars for its excessive difficulty and issues during combat, but thankfully, Frozenbyte listened to its fans and addressed the issues plaguing the game. While still difficult, Has-Been Heroes is now a manageable RPG that is fun to play, whether you play it at home or on the go.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
ESRB: E 10+ (Everyone 10+)
Has-Been Heroes Official Website:
|Beautiful backgrounds and colorful 2D sprites.|
|An epic sound track rounds out the experience.|
|Since the update, Has-Been Heroes is a lot easier to play.|
|While still difficult, Has-Been Heroes is now a manageable RPG that is guaranteed to keep gamers busy for hours.|