We all love visiting theme parks, right? Well, how would you enjoy one that lets you go on fantasy adventures as a part of a party, battle monsters, scour through dungeons, and gather treasure? That’s the sort of fun you’ll have in Heroland… sort of. See, the thing is, Heroland doesn’t put you in the role of the wannabe adventurer, but instead the Tour Guide that helps visitors along during their stay. It’s a weird concept and one that certainly has its share of ups-and-downs, but there’s no doubting that it’s unique and will certainly appeal to gamers who like to take a ‘hands off’ approach with their RPG gameplay. Those who expect a bit more from their adventuring may want to stay away though…
Heroland puts you in the role of Lucky, a new worker at the theme park that’s beginning his job as a Tour Guide. What does being a Tour Guide consist of? Leading wannabe adventurers on dungeon runs, all whilst making sure they feel like real heroes, find plenty of loot, and have a really good time along the way. With an assortment of plucky heroes to meet who all have different goals, there’s plenty of different adventures to be had. However, there’s also something sinister at play at Heroland which only Lucky and his new-found friends will be able to get to the bottom of…
I’ve got a lot of love for Heroland’s concept – not only did it feel unique, but it was full of quirky references to other games and charming characters to meet that share some delightful interactions with Lucky in-game. I was left genuinely sniggering out loud at some of the character’s personalities and it was always a welcome treat to share interactions with them, so the fact that the game focuses a lot on building friendships is certainly a good thing. It’s just an incredibly well-written game and seeing the story unfold is definitely the highlight of the experience.
Of course, you’re a Tour Guide, so you’ll be spending most of your time leading your heroes into battles and exploring dungeons. Heroland’s combat plays in a similar manner to your typical JRPG, with a group of heroes battling against monsters and using their different skills and abilities to take them out. There’s one big difference though: you don’t take on the role of the heroes, but instead stand on the side lines, support them with items, and bark out the occasional command to help them out.
It’s an unusual approach to take, but it does work. You can issue commands such as targeting specific enemies, conserving skill points, defending, or simply escaping, whilst you can also heal or buff characters up by using items. This means that you don’t have to worry about the battle as much as making sure that the heroes in the party are happy, with their satisfaction displayed above their head based upon how good of a time they’re having. If they’re beating up enemies and taking minimal damage they’re happy, but if they’re having a hard time and doing little they’ll be annoyed – it’s your job to make sure everything goes smoothly for them.
There’s no doubting that it’s a unique way to battle and it could be quite interesting for a while, but it doesn’t take long before you start to wish that you could do a little bit more. Granted, the heroes will probably fall without Lucky’s help, but your input is so minimal and simple that it becomes more of a formality to help out as opposed to being a really enjoyable endeavour.
Battles occur in the dungeons that you lead your party through, with each given a small map-like structure where you switch between nodes that consist of things like battles and events. Battles are straight-forward enough and see you facing off against different kinds of enemies, whilst the events see quirky character interactions take place. Navigating through each dungeon is simple enough, whilst doing so rewards characters with experience points and treasure – you’ve got to make sure everyone’s kept happy though, so making sure they survive each battle and that you give them the treasure that they’ll appreciate the most is imperative to achieving a successful dungeon run. Once complete, the results page shows how happy your guests were, if their friendship level with Lucky has improved, and how much experience points they earned and if they levelled up.
Given that exploring dungeons and partaking in combat makes up most of your time in Heroland, it’s a shame that it all gets repetitive so quickly. Whilst there’s no doubting that there’s charm to the experience (particularly during character interactions), the hands-off approach that the game utilises means that you’re often left simply watching the action unfold. Sure, there is an element of strategy to the commands you give and you do unlock more different ways to help out as you progress, but everything is incredibly simple and requires little to no investment from the player.
There are a few other issues during dungeon runs too, such as the fact that some have an unbalanced difficulty that can see you facing off against foes that are much tougher than you’d expect for your current level. You are given freedom in how you explore each dungeon and the branching paths ensure you can mostly choose who you face off against, but when you face an enemy you haven’t encountered before and they whoop your team out of nowhere, it could be a little bit annoying.
Then there’s the fact that some dungeons require certain characters to traverse through. Now this isn’t too big of a problem in itself, but given that there are also level requirements in place within each dungeon, you may have to grind with specific characters for a while in order to use them to progress. It just adds another overly repetitive element to the game that could dampen the experience a bit.
There are some things to invest into outside of battling, such as building up your relationship with the heroes you’re helping out – not only does this make for some fun interactions in-game, but it also opens up additional side quests for you to sink your teeth into. You can also buy new items and gear, and also make improvements to your home in the game if that’s your sort of thing. In fairness, it adds an extra dosage of character to Heroland and gives you something else to invest into, which is a good thing given that the main gameplay cycle can feel a bit too repetitive in places.
One area in which Heroland really shines is with its aesthetic, which is absolutely oozing with charm thanks to its vibrant colours and unique style. The character models are based upon 2D sprites that have been made into 3D, with each bouncing around the cartoon-like world in a cute little way – it’s not a style you see a lot of in video games, so it definitely gives Heroland a uniquely distinct look. It’s good stuff and seeing the world in action makes dealing with the monotony of dungeon-crawling a lot more bearable.
Heroland has a uniquely neat concept and its charming tale is brought to life by some wonderful visuals. Unfortunately, the repetitive nature of the gameplay and the ‘hands off’ approach it offers makes it a little bit too monotonous to really recommend to RPG fans.
If you’re after an RPG-like experience that’s more laid back, Heroland may well appeal to you. As it stands though, the repetitive flaws and the fact there are so many better RPGs to play on the Nintendo Switch already make this a title that you’ll probably just want to skip.
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC