What do your favorite fantasy heroes do after the story ends and they have brought peace to their land? Do they move on to the next conquest? Or do they take some much needed R&R? In the case of Frozenbyte’s Has-Been Heroes, a roguelike that mixes elements of turn-based strategy and real time strategy, they are tasked with the seemingly simple objective of taking two princesses to school. Of course it’s not always that easy and the peace that they brought soon comes to an end.
First thing’s first, Has-Been Heroes requires a lot of patience, and I mean a lot. The first five or so hours are quite the grind. The game’s tutorial is non-existent and the game’s roguelike structure means that the randomized enemies and maps can throw quite the curve ball at you. There will be times that you die when all it would take to beat the final boss is one more attack, and there will be times when you will die on the first tile on the map. Learning how to properly control and maneuver your heroes is an absolute must.
The three heroes (a rogue, a mage, and a warrior) are each assigned a lane on the screen. Each lane has enemies charging advancing towards your hero. Each hero can attack in their own lane, or be swapped with a hero that just attacked to do a combo move on the approaching enemies. Each enemy (and hero for that matter) have a stamina bar that must be depleted before you can do serious damage to their health. Making sure that you are sizing up heroes and enemies with similar sized stamina bars and understanding the correct order to attack is crucial.
Each Hero also begins with a predetermined ability that will power up their attacks or deal additional enemy damage. As you make your way through the levels you come across merchants and treasure chests that will give you additional power ups and abilities that will greatly help you along the way. In typical rogue-like fashion though, you won’t know what the power-ups do until you assign them to a character. However, I did not run into the issue where adding a new power-up to your roster hindered my ability to make it through battle. This isn’t the Binding of Isaac where using a new power-up could potentially cause you lose all your health.
As you progress and play through the game you unlock more items, heroes, and merchants. Items are what you will unlock first. As you progress through battles you will earn these red orbs that when you die (which you will often) or when you complete a run, are cashed in for additional items. Unlocking more heroes is when the grind really becomes worth it.
When you start the game for the first time you’re run will consist of two levels. When you beat the boss on the second level you will unlock a new hero and start an additional run with three levels to complete, and when you complete those you get another hero and a four level run. Every time you complete a run you also get additional merchants on the level that allow you to purchase better abilities and power-ups making the battles a bit more even matched.
It’s understandable that a lot of gamers have written off Has-Been Heroes because of it’s difficulty and the amount of time that is required to put into the game to master it. For example, the first level will end with one of two bosses that the game randomly selects. With the heroes that are available to you at the start of the game, one of these bosses is nearly impossible. The only time that I was able to complete the first level on my first run was when I was fighting the skeleton with the bow on it’s head. The other boss, I did not have a chance against until I unlocked more heroes. This means that your progression at the beginning of the game will rely a tad on luck, which will definitely deter some gamers.
Despite some frustrations with this, the game did what any good rougelike does; beat me down but left me with the urge to try one more time, convinced that I was going to be successful. When I finally completed my first run, the sense of accomplishment was high, and I was ready to dive back into the game with a new hero and see what I could further achieve. It’s a difficult game that some would view as slogging through the same enemies over and over again, but when you win it feels amazing. Once the additional heroes and you get more elemental abilities like lighting and fire you feel more powerful and the game opens up allowing you to experiment with different strategies.
Has-Been Heroes is available on all home consoles and PC, but it definitely feels at home on the Nintendo Switch. The game is really suited for being played in handheld mode. In fact it’s the first game for the Switch I’ve played that I preferred to play in handheld mode. When played on a television the text is very tiny and you need to be very close to the TV to be able to read it. It was something that I eventually got used to, and don’t mind playing on the TV with a Pro Controller now, but at first I found my eyes straining to be able to follow what was going on when playing in docked mode.
Graphically Has-Been Heroes isn’t anything to write home about. The hero models have some fun designs, but the enemies are pretty bland. Nearly every enemy that you fight is the same take on a skeleton design. Some of the elemental powers have decent animations, but that’s about it. The overall presentation of the game is a bit like a cel-shaded story book.
Has-Been Heroes takes a lot of patience, but if you are willing to give it the time that it needs you will be rewarded with a fun experience. There have been some harsh words written about the title, and most of the points given in those pieces are valid. Once you put in the time needed to truly get a grasp of the combat and start unlocking heroes I guarantee your opinion of this game will go up. It’s just a matter of if you have the time to put into it, what it truly needs. Also for $19.99, Has-Been Heroes is a cheap pick up, making it an even more worthwhile experience. Hell there were many times where I strongly debated between playing this and Breath of the Wild, and I went with Has-Been Heroes, so there’s something to be said about that.