E3 2019 Hands-on – Heroland
Another game I tested at XSEED’s booth was Heroland. This was yet another game I had little knowledge of, especially because it was announced during the show. All I knew prior to the appointment is that I would play a brand new JRPG, that’s it. What I didn’t expect was for a JRPG set in an amusement park and created by an absolute all-star team of developers that would make any JRPG scream like a happy hyena.
In Heroland, you take control of Lucky, a new employee at an amusement park. Your role is to welcome a brand new guest and take care of him and his wishes of being a hero for a day in the park, to the point that you pretend to have battles against monsters that are actually your coworkers hired to pretend to be bad guys. Sadly, that brand new guest is a spoiled little prince. Somehow, being the babysitter of an annoying little brat turns into a tale of helping the fallen prince to regain his place in his kingdom’s succession line.
The story is completely bonkers, and there’s a reason for that. The game was written by Nobuyuki Inoue, the same who directed the wacky Mother 3. Other big JRPG names involved in the project include Mother 3‘s Nobuhiro Imagawa as chief artist, Shin Megami Tensei‘s Tsukasa Masuko as composer and Fantasy Life‘s Takahiro Yamane as director.
Mother/Earthbound‘s sense of humor and art style are clearly noticeable in Heroland. The characters look like they were taken straight from the SNES/GBA games, with the addition of an extra dimension, making them look like living collectible pins onscreen. In any other game, I’d find this art style obnoxious, but it completely fits with Heroland‘s completely bonkers and self-aware premise.
Even though Heroland views Earthbound as its beloved sensei, its gameplay is completely different from its spiritual predecessor. Even though I didn’t have access to any overworld or exploration mechanics, I could partake in a few battles. It took me a couple of tries in order to get used to the initially confusing combat system. With the exception of the tourguide, everyone will attack enemies automatically as soon as their active time bar fills up. Your main character also has an active time bar of his own, but instead of attacking enemies, you can use that bar in order to manually take control of any other character’s next move. In simple terms, you’re assisting another character with a suggestion on who to attack and how to attack. You can also heal them at will, as long as you have items for that.
It took me a while to understand the core concept of the gameplay, as well as the fact that you don’t partake on the battles as much as other JRPGs, but it ended up making sense with the game’s overall premise. My playtime session was ridiculously short, but it sure made me want to know more about the game. I’m always up for JRPGs that fight against the trend, be it in terms of art style or storytelling, so Heroland most definitely has my curiosity. How often can you play a JRPG featuring the director of Mother 3 that actually has a Western release date? Can’t miss it.