Preview: Heart Forth, Alicia combines RPG elements and Metroid exploration

The Metroidvania craze is in full swing and has carved a path that a lot of developers are happily treading. The way they do it, however, varies from game to game. Some titles (Guacamelee comes to mind) walk a fine line between exploration and accessibility, allowing you a bit of freedom while still locking parts of the map up for you to revisit later on. Others (like, say, Axiom Verge) adhere a lot more closely to the formula of old, dropping you onto a huge map and letting you figure things out on your own.

Then comes along Heart Forth, Alicia from developer Alonso Martin, a project that's deeply rooted in the SNES RPG style yet still goes for some of the tried and tested Metroidvania tropes. While at Sony's PlayStation booth at E3 2015, I got hands-on time with the upcoming title, and I was happy to see that the game really does marry RPG gameplay with 2D action-adventure elements. The result is a game with a clear identity, which is admirable and makes for a different kind of RPG experience.

An RPG world

The first half of the Heart Forth, Alicia demo at E3 was very much tied to the RPG genre. It's here where I met a few of the game's characters (many of whom seemed quite important and I'm certain we'll see more of in the full release). I ran around for a bit, getting familiar with the lay of the land as well as protagonist Alicia's basic abilities.

After solving a few minor puzzles, I ran into a mysterious figure. Naturally, this enigmatic character refused to reveal any motives, reasoning, or plans. This set the stage for the second half of the demo, which was a lot more action-packed.

RPG meets Metroidvania

Heart Forth, Alicia utilizes real-time combat. Using your whip, you can take down baddies, gain experience points, and level up. A few of the early enemies during my playthrough of the demo included blobs and small monsters. These creatures aren't too tough, though they can certainly take a beating. And they can dish one out as well, so knowing when to strike and when to dodge is of the utmost importance. Because the real-time action is fairly fast-paced, you could get caught off guard and be left lying before you know it. Thankfully, there's plenty of health to be found.

Aside from taking down enemies, the dungeon areas of Heart Forth, Alicia also task you with solving environmental puzzles. None of the puzzles I came across were especially difficult. A lot of the time I was basically pushing blocks to create platforms, hitting switches, or placing blocks over switches to create new paths.

It wasn't long before I hit a roadblock. In fact, there were a few areas that were impassible at certain points. This is where the Metroidvania element kicked in. It wasn't until I defeated the dugneon's boss, a large creature that looked like a duck but burrowed into the ground and walls like a mole, that I gained access to my first magic ability, a floating orb that I could control and move around the screen.

A new path opens

My newly acquired skill allowed me to hit switches that were previously unreachable. Since it came near the end of the demo, I wasn't able to put it to use all that much. Still, it was a nice addition to my arsenal nonetheless, and I can totally see more abilities like this being used to reach inaccessible areas.

Another ability I gained during my time with the demo was an enhanced whip attack. I was able to pass through certain doors with a shot of my whip, while others remained sealed even after I struck them. After I gained the charged whip strike, however, I was able to unlock these doors and open up even more new rooms.

At first, Heart Forth, Alicia seemed like it was heavier on the RPG gameplay. Once I entered the first dungeon and started reaching more and more closed off areas, however, I discovered the game's approach to the Metroidvania style. It's certainly going to be interesting seeing how later stages employ this gameplay.

SNES-like pixel art

While Heart Forth, Alicia splits RPG and Metroidvania sensibilities quite evenly, its art style is definitely more in line with something you'd see in a SNES RPG from the '90s. The pixel art is attractive, colorful, lush, and lively. Characters animate beautifully, and the environmental designs are absolutely lovely.

Initially, I wasn't 100 percent certain how the developer would utilize Metroidvania gameplay within the confines of an RPG, but Alonso Martin has done a nice job of combining the two. What I played of the game is just a small fraction of the adventure that awaits. I was told that the final product could take players anywhere between four hours (if you're just going from point A to point B) to well over 10 hours (if you take in everything and tackle side missions).

Watch out for Heart Forth, Alicia when it drops in 2016. Currently, the game is planned for release on the PlayStation 4, Vita, Wii U, and PC.