Has Been Heroes has you play as two legendary heroes, and one young rogue who is eager to learn more about the trade. From the developers of Trine and Shadwen, how doe Frozenbyte handle the roguelike genre?
The story is fairly lackluster. You begin the game with two legendary heroes who are past their prime, has been heroes some might say. They encounter a young rogue who is just setting out on their very own adventure, and the two parties join together in order to teach the young rogue the tricks of the trade. The prologue sees you adventure to the king’s castle, and you undertake your most critical quest to date; to escort the king’s princesses across the land to school!
You don’t really need to follow the little story there is in order to get the full enjoyment out of Has Been Heroes; it's simply there for the RPG factor and very little story actually unfolds after this initial prologue scene. The game also wouldn’t really benefit a whole deal if the story was fleshed out more either; there is just the right mix between plot depth and gameplay.
Has Been Heroes looks pretty impressive from a graphical art style front. Played from a 2D side on view, and with cartoon-like drawn environments and characters it really hits a niche that is becoming harder to find a unique spin due to an abundance of a similar design. The background art can be a little boring at times though; pretty much the same background image is used throughout one ‘level’, so it can get samey after a while.
Battle animations are simple, but not bad. They are almost drawn out like you would see in a graphic-novel. I particularly liked the animations, but they will obviously not be for everyone.
As we’ll touch on in the gameplay section, you acquire items throughout your journey in the kingdom. I was a little let down by the fact that any items you equipped don’t actually show on your character’s sprite. Maybe it was just a little too much extra work for the art team as there are over 200 items in the game, but it would have made a big different to the graphical uniqueness for your characters.
Performance wise, Has Been Heroes ran perfectly. With a couple of graphical options for those with less powerful rigs including low-quality textures, vsync, resolution and fullscreen/window/full window mode; all available to help you find the correct configuration for your system.
The music heard in the game is very grand and royal. It fits in with the theme of the game’s story and is pretty catchy. It’s pretty typical for a fantasy game, as the musical pieces change tempo for battles and traveling between areas too. It’s nothing spectacular but it does it’s job well and suit the game’s overall feel.
The same can be said for the sound effects. They are nothing to rave about, but they are created professionally and no stock sounds can be heard throughout the game.
The voice acting is in the form of mumbling gibberish, which can be pretty entertaining, and I think the use of actual voice acting would have detracted from the lesser serious atmosphere created by the graphical style.
The best way to describe Has Been Heroes gameplay is to think of a cross between Final Fantasy’s combat system, and Plants vs Zombies. You explore the kingdom through various different ‘stages’. These stages are broken up into different areas that you visit. The exploration is done via a small mini map, and you simply click the area you want to visit and your party will travel there. The movement can only happen between areas which are directly adjacent to each other, and backtracking to skipped areas will often result in a penalty so this makes you really plan out your route through a zone. The aim for each zone is to make your way to a ‘boss’ at the end. How you get there is completely up to you.
On this map, you can either encounter enemies or random events. Each level is procedurally generated. You don’t know what each area will hold until you reach the area which is one adjacent square away. This does leave a lot of your exploration to be left in the hands of the RNG gods, but it does add to the replayability of the title. Other than the battles you encounter, you’ll also find empty areas, camps, merchants and chests for you to uncover. This is where you’ll find items and new spells to use on your travels.
The combat in Has Been Heroes is a unique and brutally hard system, but also has a very addictive nature behind it. Enemies will approach your heroes from the right hand side of the screen in three different lanes. You attack the enemies with each of your heroes; their attacks have a short cooldown and you can only attack the enemy at the very front of the lane. Some exceptions for this rule occur with the use of castable spells though. After a hero attacks, you get the option to move it to another lane, this can be done to increase the amount of hits a particular enemy takes in quick succession while you let your hero with a cool down chill out in a lane filled with fewer enemies. The combat takes a huge amount of skill to learn and will probably take you upwards of three hours before you fully come to grips with it.
Thankfully the game does pause after each attack, meaning you do get the chance to review the situation first before you make your next move. It’s well worth the extra few seconds to plan out your next few turns before making your choice as it really does pay off in the latter turns if you have a clear advantage early on.
Each enemy has a set amount of stamina points, and each hero has a certain amount of actions per attack points. If you match the number of actions to the enemies stamina points you will stun the enemy in their tracks. This gives you another chance to swap heroes into that lane and layeth the smack down on them. When you deal damage to a stunned enemy, the enemy will actually get knocked back in the lane. This can be a very usefull tactic when you start to get lanes which are overrun with enemies closing in on your heroes.
As the game is a roguelike, you should expect to die and have to restart over again more than a couple of times.The way constant progression works in Has Been Heroes is through unlocking new heroes, items and spells. If you unlock a super cool spell in one run, it becomes available to purchase from merchants or drop again in future runs. There is also a whole host of different heroes to unlock. These are unlocked after you finish a run, and will give the player plenty of reason to keep playing after finally completing a single run. A single run through the story mode took me about an hour. This was only achieved after about five hours of failing and unlocking new spells and items though. The game still has plenty to offer with the new heroes though; each run will be a different experience with varying different hero classes.
With a complex combat system that the game has, I was really expecting a much better tutorial offering than what I was given. The start of the game gives you a brief outline of the mechanics, but really leaves you out to dry with the lack of proper explanations on the system. It often required a lot of reading up on the game’s Steam forum, and FAQs online before I got a better understanding of what was actually going on. For instance you would think the game would tell you, that you can’t transfer items between your heroes. This left me leaving very frustrated when my melee specialized hero ended up with an item that increased my health points; I would have much rather have this on my tanky hero. It was small things like that which aren’t a huge part of the gameplay but were still left out that ruined a couple of runs for me. The tutorial also does not even touch on any points that aren’t combat related, such as backtracking, spells, chests or merchants.
As you will be running the first few areas quite a lot early on, it can become repetitive. The procedurally generated environments help a bit, but it doesn’t stop you from becoming a little tired of the same scenery over and over again. It would have been nice to see some extra levels added in to spice it up a little. I know it's RPG tradition that the first level of any game is to be in a dark forest, but still.
It’s also worth pointing out that I did start playing the game using a controller, but soon swapped to using keyboard and mouse. The UI felt a little bit clunky to use with a controller, and precision is really needed when swapping heroes in different lanes. There was nothing worse than having your hero jump into a lane ready to attack, only to find that you actually dropped him into a lane with no enemies due to the UI not being clear enough where you have selected.
Has Been Heroes has a unique gameplay mechanic, but fell short on explaining it properly for new players to the game. I really would have enjoyed the game much more had the system been explained properly. It would have saved me a couple of hours just fumbling around the game’s UI and online resources, and actually just had me enjoy the game from the start.
With bland environments, but a rather pleasant aesthetic, Has Been Heroes is an above average game that will keep your attention for a few hours. Even though it has plenty of heroes for you to unlock, I’m not sure I could keep playing for longer than ten hours as I think the repetitive nature would be to much to handle. I would say wait for a sale on this one, as $19.99 might be a little too steep for my liking.