Review – Heroland

I love when a game shows up and makes fun of its genre’s most repetitive tropes in order to create something that actually feels unique. That’s why I’ve been looking forward to playing Heroland ever since my ridiculously brief hands-on demo at E3 2019. I saw potential in it, but I had but a few dozen minutes to learn its initially overwhelming combat system and enjoy everything it had to offer. With the game finally out, and with enough time to dissect its story, setting, and gameplay, I can safely say this is one of the coolest JRPGs I’ve played in a long time.

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Even 2 is too many…

The titular “Heroland” is actually a theme park in which customers can pretend they’re inside an epic RPG and fight against hordes of monsters (which are actually the park’s employees) in order to complete dungeons (which are attractions scattered throughout the park). Think of it as a LARP theme park. You play as Lucky, an impoverished guy who just got hired as the park’s latest guide. After breaking a supposedly very expensive vase, it’s your job to guide park visitors, mainly a spoiled prince, through various dungeons and make sure they complete their quests, all while trying to get rid of your Tom Nook-levels of debt.

Heroland is ridiculously over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek, and I love it for that. It is very aware of how repetitive JRPGs (and their stories) can be, and it does its best to poke fun at as many tropes as possible. At its core, this is a simple story of a guy trying to make ends meet, meeting other staff members who are also in the same situation as you. You’re just workers doing your job, while people come in huge numbers to the park to live their LARPing dreams.

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The combat is a mess, but it’s a beautiful mess.

Everything is tied up with a beautifully hilarious script. Heroland made me laugh more often than I could have ever expected. It’s witty without being pretentious. It’s memey without being cheesy. It knows when and how to be dumb, always making you laugh as a result. Kudos to whoever translated this game, you did a phenomenal job. The rudimentary animations, weirdly enough, help out as well. The game features an art style that can best be described as “Earthbound meets Paper Mario“, with every single character acting as a poorly animated miniature of a 3D-printed 16-bit JRPG character. That, combined with the funny writing and the wacky soundtrack, just won me over.

Heroland might be an ironic JRPG, but it’s still a JRPG, so you must be wondering about its gameplay. Turns out this is also a game made by FuRyu, the same guys behind The Caligula Effect, a developer that has never come up with a bland combat system in its existence.

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Another proud alumnus of the Tom Nook School of Economics.

The weird thing about Heroland‘s combat system is that you, as Lucky, don’t actually take part in combat. You’re just a tourguide, the customers and visitors are the ones who are here to do the dirty work, as this is what they’re paying for. The customers are controlled by the AI, and they’re the ones attacking enemies. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t interfere every now and then by either summoning familiars, using items, or “suggesting” attacks and overall commands. At first this combat system seems a bit counter-intuitive, as it takes a long time for Lucky to be able to suggest a simple command to the visitors. But the more you level up, the faster it will take for your “interference bar” to fill up, allowing for more actions. Heroland is a tremendous mayhem when it comes to its combat, often looking like a cartoon tussle, and it works perfectly, somehow.

Heroland doesn’t feature an open map. It’s more of a dungeon crawler than a full-fledged RPG when it comes to level progression and exploration. As soon as you wake up to another day at your job, your first task is to visit the employee’s office and earn a few weakness hints from staff members who’ll dress up as enemies on that day’s quest. You then need to go to the lobby, choose a quest, set up your team, buy items and equipment, and go on a very simple and linear dungeon crawling adventure, earning experience points and treasure along the way. You can decide between keeping loot to yourself, as you can decorate your room with them, or giving them to a visitor, increasing his/her friendship towards you. It’s a very simple loop, but the chaotic nature of the game’s combat and hilarious dialogue exchanges made me want to take customers on more and more quests.

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An even better motivational speaker than Andrew W.K.

Heroland is the perfect definition of a JRPG for those that are fed up with how predictable and repetitive the genre can be at times. It’s a title that makes fun at the genre whenever possible, all while providing a combat system that, while confusing at first, quickly turns the game into a chaotic mischief that’s just so pleasing to witness. This is one of the most surprising games of the year, and one of the absolute best JRPGs I’ve played in recent memory.

 

Graphics: 8.0

At first glance, it might not look like the most visually appealing game out there, but the game’s adorable “Paper Mario meets Earthbound” art style quickly won me over. Somehow, the limited but goofy animations really appealed to me.

Gameplay: 9.0

The combat system is a bit weird at first, but it makes sense due to the premise of the story. Once your reputation increases, you’ll be able to execute commands much faster, turning each combat into an entertaining mess.

Sound: 9.0

It doesn’t feature voice acting, but honestly, it doesn’t need to. A great (and funny) soundtrack and some Banjo-Kazooie-esque sound effects are everything the game needs to be an audio treat.

Fun Factor: 9.5

Heroland starts off a bit too slow, but once you level up a bit and the shops start selling you items and weapons, you’ll be greeted with a delightful JRPG that makes fun of genre clichés with its absolutely hilarious script.

Final Verdict: 9.0

Heroland is available now on PS4, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Heroland was provided by the publisher.

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