Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Switch, PC
You won't be blamed for having missed the launch of Heroland. The game hasn't received much promotional buzz or media attention, and its arrival near the end of the year didn't do it any favors. That said, it's a charming little RPG filled with awesome writing and a fun combat hook. If you're into offbeat yet highly entertaining experiences filled with fun characters, don't sleep on this one.
Developed by FuRyu Corporation, the game's lineup of developers is a who's who in the RPG genre. Created by folks who worked on Mother 3, Legend of Mana, Fantasy Life, and Shin Megami Tensei, Heroland brings together Takahiro Yamane, Nobuhiro Imagawa, Nobuyuki Inoue, and Tsukasa Masuko in a winning effort. This JRPG supergroup has put together one of the most endearing and entertaining titles of the year.
Welcome to Heroland!
Heroland stars a timid young protagonist named Lucky who's taken a job at a theme park — the titular Heroland — to help his struggling family. You'd think the game would attempt to tug at your heartstrings in a heavy-handed manner, but with the exception of a few story sequences that show Lucky reading letters from home and reminiscing about his family, the game throws heart-wrenching emotion out the window in favor of laughs.
The writing in Heroland is really, really good, and that's awesome because there's a lot of it. These types of RPGs are usually pretty story-rich, but Heroland turns the dial all the way up, with loads of narrative from start to finish. If you're going to jump into the game, you should be aware that it's a lot of fun, but it's also really talk-y. Characters go on long-winded tirades and will talk your ears off — or rather your eyes as the game has no spoken dialogue.
That said, I can't stress enough how enjoyable the writing is. During my first couple hours with it, I was taken aback by just how much every character had to say. Whenever I jumped into a battle, it felt like a nice respite from all the story. Then halfway through a dungeon, there would be more exposition. Another battle here, a lot of talking there. Finally, a boss fight. Then more talking.
And that's when I figured it out:
The writing of Heroland isn't just tacked-on for the sake of throwing a story into the game. The writing is the game. This is definitely the type of game that requires you to be in a certain mindset. If you're looking specifically for an action-filled RPG with crazy nonstop battles, you'll probably be disappointed. On the other hand, if you're looking for a fun time, cool characters, and hilarious writing, look no further than Heroland.
Every character is different from the rest. You've got Prince Elric, who's fighting to reclaim his title as the next in line for his family's throne after being dropped way down the ladder. There's Lua, your Navi-like companion— actually, scratch that. Lua's nothing like Navi. Lua is her own person, er, fairy, and she plays by her own rules. Also, she gets turned upside-down by some old dude who swears shaking a fairy releases fairy dust. He's right, by the way — she totally releases a bunch of dust when he shakes her around.
Speaking of which, this leads to that same character ordering his goons to grab one of your non-fairy party members and turn him upside-down to release dust, too... and it works. This game is absolutely bonkers, and it's filled with ridiculous interactions like this.
One of my personal favorite character interactions comes early on when Prince Elric says he needs one of the theme park employees to go with him to his father's castle and pretend to be a “dark lord” so Elric can defeat him and win his pops' favor once more. When the employee — who's dressed as a bear and swears the bear mask is permanently attached to his face — says he has a few hours left on the clock, Elric is just like, “That's cool. Let me know when you're off and I'll come pick you up.”
It's little one-on-one character banter like this that I loved about the game. But this is just one in countless really fun dialogue sequences. There are so many, and the majority of them are highly comical.
Tour Guide Battle System
As a tour guide, Lucky's job is to lead would-be adventurers across the many locales in Heroland. Because the theme park is all about making its patrons the stars of their very own adventures, the tour guides don't get to go too hands-on with enemy encounters. This means you won't control your team directly all the time, but you can certainly guide them in the right direction.
Every character's charge time before they can move during battle is different. As such, everyone takes turns attacking, healing, and defending. You can lend a helping hand by selecting different group actions, such as advising your party to focus their offense on one character or to put their guard up if an incoming attack from a boss is going to be especially powerful.
You can also advise specific members of your party. This plays like a more traditional RPG system, where you select that character's next action. Because Lucky has a charge meter like the rest of the party, though, you won't be able to appoint an action for all your characters in the same turn. Instead, you need to select who does what, which adds a bit of strategy.
In one turn, for example, maybe an enemy character is almost done for, but he's charging a special attack and aiming it at one of your beat up party mates. If you have a healer who's going to make a move before a bruiser, it's probably best to heal your ailing character, take the hit, and then hope one of your characters with a high attack rating deals the finishing blow.
After a battle, you're rewarded with XP and decorative items for Lucky's room. These are best used as gifts for your party members, because they'll end up being happier by the end of the encounters, which directly reflects how much overall XP you gain at the end of a dungeon. It's important that you listen to what the characters have to say, as this will reveal little things about their personalities. So if one of your party members likes trolls, giving them a troll plushie will result in a happier character, which means higher XP for Lucky.
Don't Forget to Visit the Shops
Like any theme park, Heroland has a few shops worth visiting. You'll find your standard RPG items such as health and status remedies. There's also a blacksmith where you can purchase better weapons or replace the ones that have broken during battle.
Before starting a new chapter, Lucky's briefed on the types of enemies that will appear in the next set of dungeons. With a little trial and error, this allows you to experiment with different weapons from the blacksmith to see what hurts enemies most.
The map of Heroland allows you to visit these locations in between dungeons. From time to time, you'll see dialogue bubbles and character icons pop up on the map. Selecting dialogue bubbles treats you to even more weird interactions between your party members, as well as theme park goers. Selecting the character icons on the map usually unlocks a side quest for those specific characters. Side quests are no different in structure than your standard missions, but they usually entail doing something joyfully absurd, like helping the prince's right-hand man defeat a troll in order to take his beard.
A Colorful Cast of Characters in a Colorful Game
The characters in Heroland are 3D rendered models, but they have pixelated overlays on them, giving them a hyper-quirky look. The levels have hard outlines and are rich in color, creating a splendid cartoon atmosphere. At times the environments are a bit too flat, but there's still a lot of charm to everything.
This may be an RPG, but there's no epic theme music here. Instead, what you get is a collection of strange and cheery themes. The music isn't really memorable, but it's so strange that it'll make you chuckle when you really listen to it.
You probably won't enjoy Heroland if you're looking for a more action-oriented game. In addition, the battle system, which is partially automatic, won't be for everyone. But if you're here for the story and to lend more of a helping hand to the other characters rather than take center stage yourself, you'll dig what's offered here.
Heroland seemed to come out of nowhere. It has the look and feel of a niche RPG, but it's definitely one of 2019's sleeper hits. If you're into funny, quirky experiences, and you want to see more stuff like this from Japanese studios, don't hesitate to play this heart-filled gem.