Whenever a game releases that requires patience to start being enjoyable, it usually gets a mixed reaction. In comes Has-Been Heroes, an unconventional strategic roguelike gem that also happens to be one of the most rewarding indie games ever made.
The story of Has-Been Heroes revolves around a few previously noble warriors who are tasked with escorting two princesses to school. However, things soon turn from simple to dire when an evil entity sends the group to a hellish land full of skeletons and many dastardly apparitions. You start off controlling an armour-clad knight, a spell-casting wizard, and a super-quick rogue which immediately reminded me of the developer's previous series Trine. The characters are lively and well-animated which makes battling hordes of monstrosities all the more enjoyable and the orchestral soundtrack does a great job of providing a layer of motivation as you crack skulls. Speaking of which, the sound effects are spot-on and extremely satisfying. It may be a 2D game that looks like it could fit on a mobile device but it's bursting with so much character that it's easy to get immersed in.
I know what you're thinking, what makes Has-Been Heroes' gameplay so fun? For starters, the basic setup looks similar to Plants vs. Zombies in that the heroes are in lanes on the left and enemies are on the right. You command the heroes to attack when their meters are full and each one either does 1, 2, or 3 slashes per attack. The enemies have stamina points and are stunned whenever they're out. Therefore, you have to strategically utilize your heroes in order to maximize the amount of damage they'll do. For example, having the wizard swipe his staff twice at an enemy with 2 stamina will stun it then the knight can come in for the final blow. However, if that enemy only had 1 stamina then the wizard's second attack would have sent it flying thus not allowing the knight to perform substantially more damage. Considering the enemies are constantly moving towards you, being able to take them out efficiently before they harm you is a rewarding challenge. Good thing you can pause the action at any time!
There are more aspects of the battle system such as spells that gradually recharge, elemental weaknesses, status ailments, etc. I could go on all day. Instead, let's move on to the campaign setup. Basically, you navigate through stages via interconnected nodes on a map. At first, you'll think that it's a good idea to rush to the boss but after playing for a while, it becomes clear that you must cover as much of the map as possible in order to acquire as many treasures as you can. That being said, you're restricted from travelling along the same path twice as that uses up a candle so you better make sure you can light the way or else it's lights out (literally).
Anyway, regularly finding new equipment and spells can make your party of heroes virtually unstoppable. You can do so by opening treasure chests, trading with merchants, and even playing a guessing game (which can be quite disappointing when you're wrong). Amassing a wealth of equipment while traversing the map and fighting lengthy yet rewarding battles with countless monsters only to take down a super-challenging boss and advance to the next stage is nothing short of awesome.
As you start Has-Been Heroes, the campaign only consists of two randomly assigned stages but every subsequent playthrough adds a stage. In between, you'll unlock more heroes that you can play as who have distinct attributes such as a bard and a luchador. Even if you happen to perish during a playthrough (which will make you start from the beginning), you'll send all of your collected souls from defeated enemies to an orb. When the orb levels up, you'll unlock additional items and features that'll be in-play from then on. In short, Has-Been Heroes doesn't seem like it has much content right off the bat, but you'll end up unlocking an unbelievable amount of goodies after you complete it a few times. Even then, you'll still have much more to see and do.
You can probably tell that I love Has-Been Heroes but it does have its downsides. First, its unusual gameplay dynamic takes quite a while to get used to (as I've already established). Many gamers may be put off by this and blame their failures on bad luck but after everything starts to click, you'll realise that luck has nothing to do with it. Next, Has-Been Heroes could use a bit more variety. You'll mainly fight different kinds of skeletons which gets visually monotonous after a while. It also would have been cool to see some mini-games or other modes that played with the core gameplay. Finally, considering the campaign extends to be quite lengthy after a few completions and that dying makes you start all over again, I wish that death didn't have to be so devastating. Let's face it; allowing players to continue at the beginning of each stage would've provided enough of a challenge.
Simply put, Has-Been Heroes is one of the most engaging strategic gaming experiences on the market. However, getting to the point where it's that enjoyable can be too demanding for casual gamers so make sure you're willing to give it time for the gameplay to click and let it grow on you. Once it does, it's a downright blast to play.
- + Extremely addictive and unique strategic battle system and satisfying RPG elements
- + Well-done graphics, sound, and story
- + Tons of unlockables and replay value
- - Requires loads of patience to let the unorthodox gameplay grow on you
- - Could use a bit more variety
- - Death can be extraordinarily devastating