“Heroland is directed by Takahiro Yamane (Fantasy Life), written by Nobuyuki Inoue (MOTHER 3, Legend of Mana), set in a colorful 2D world created by Nobuhiro Imagawa (MOTHER 3, Legend of Mana), and jam-packed with Tsukasa Masuko’s (Shin Megami Tensei) whimsical tunes.”
The charming RPG from a high pedigree ensemble is here. Heroland is not a grand and bold take on the genre as those mentioned above, but this smaller scale take on it still delivers an entertaining adventure.
Live out your fantasies, chase your dreams, and keep working until you pay off your debt of 1 million — hold up… Theme parks are meant to be your day of fun from your day off work. At Heroland, there is a lot of fun to be had. For the case of Lucky, our poofy-haired silent protagonist, that fun comes from always being at work. His venture to Heroland was to initially set out and make his family back home happy and provide to them his earnings. Through what seems like a shady scheme to lock him in, our part-time hero found himself in a situation of having to work full time to pay off an absurdly-priced vase belonging to Heroland that “he” broke. How lucky is he? Players are asked to give their name to the hero (you) and occasionally it is used in the story, but he’s often called by Lucky.
Heroland’s gameplay all takes place at, well, Heroland. An on-screen map of Heroland displays various points of interest and will act as your main hub of operations. Characters might appear on the map which will trigger a new sidequest if you visit them. The standard item shop and blacksmith are also available, albeit not so standard. The bulk of your RPG-ing involves following a path in dungeon and participating in battles. Accompanying them are plenty of story events, cut-scenes and sequences involving the wide cast of characters. Heroland is formulaic in a sense that everything is comprised of separate chapters having your fill of both story and battling altogether.
What is meant to keep you engaged is the incredible writing and characters. The localization is strikingly fantastic here. Every line of wit, crass, sass, and even lewd humor is paid great attention to. Originally, one might think that the non-stop shenanigans could be overkill and that the dialog is simply just trying too hard. What is seen as light fun in the beginning slowly becomes about everyone believing in something and still remains humorous throughout all of it. The bendy nature of these Paper Mario-esque pixel art characters have their own charm. Each character also has their own jibber-jabber language that often sounds similar to Animal Crossing and it goes a long way.
The gates open. The gates close. Every day at Heroland is a new adventure. Lucky is a Guide and it’s his sole duty to guide customers, both old and new, through their tour. Life as a tour guide can be rough, but it has its perks. What remains constant in Herloand is the mockery of business and personalities. There’s a heavy emphasis on employment. You see, sometimes people want to escape the everyday life and forget their worries as they go through a reenactment of dungeon crawling while at Heroland. Much of the humor also stems from employees doing their job as playing as the “bad guys” in dungeons, although that may or may not be the case! Also on the map is the main office, where Lucky can visit (optionally) to see the banter between reoccurring characters going over in detail about the strategy of enemies, their weakness, the prizes available (treasure) for the day’s schedule. Even here the humor still resides. Although Lucky remains silent (mostly), a mysterious fairy named Lua serves as driving the narrative forward. The game even acknowledges as such and breaks that wall.
Dungeons and their contents are themed differently as you enter the next chapter, but the pathway is rather straightforward. They do grow in multiple branching paths, allowing you to choose which enemy type to encounter, which could also be new, but they all lead to a boss and then treasure. The treasure is the reward for customers getting through the dungeon, but they’re essentially yours. Treasures are interesting as they can be used for different purposes, but more on that soon.
There is basically a party of 4 doing the battling, but with the bonus of 1 being Lucky. Your choice of who is to be in your party totally depends at which point of the story you are currently in. Characters with a gold pass labeled “VIP” must be included in the party. Any remaining “Free” silver pass can be filled in with a character of your choosing. The further you progress, the larger your cast eventually becomes. Each character is also of a particular role. Mage, Healer, Warrior, and Tank are some examples. Best to keep the former in the back and the latter in the front. While each can use any type of weapon, they will prefer to use equipment that best suits their style and are more proficient at it. They being your customers, weapons aren’t free and are rentals requiring to be purchased. Customers can be reckless in real life. The same applies to Heroland; weapons can also break at the end of a tour if you’re not too careful.
Weapons are more prone to breaking the less SP you have during a tour’s end. SP is expendable in two forms. All weapons from the beginning of a tour start with 5 special move uses. Another 5 belongs to the characters unique trait which can be used. Main attacks can be used infinitely. The battle system is very much like active-time battle. All characters will behave on their own and during their wait until they can perform an action, they will think of what to do during that time. Enemies will act accordingly at the same time. This leaves a lot of waiting being done. Pressing R can speed up battles which significantly reduces that tedium and waiting around. Upon defeating enemies, MonCoin is dropped. These are the theme park’s special tokens that are earned during tours and are Heroland’s version of experience points. The customers are on their tour so it’s their choice on what to do. Lucky is the guide, however, so he does have say in battles by giving “Assistance”. Lucky’s call is crucial for getting through an entire tour especially as they get tougher. They do begin fairly easy at first.
Assistance will pause the battle and allow Lucky to perform any number of actions. An action can be using any one of the items you’ve stocked up on for the current tour, such as a healing spray, for example. Using items to heal is often wise even if there’s a healer in the party since SP isn’t consumed and can be saved for a tougher enemy or boss. Lucky can also raise certain colored flags that instruct every party member at once to follow orders, whether it’s to attack only a certain enemy, or to put their guard up for defense if a boss is preparing for a powerful attack. One other feature Lucky can do is offer “Guidance” to any party member instructing them to perform any action on any target the player wishes. Lucky is puny and gets worn out easily so regardless of any action used during Assistance, players will have to wait for the Assistance gauge to refill before being able to offering it again. Assistance can fill up faster the more Lucky himself levels up. He is able to level up faster the more satisfied the customers are. This is where treasures can help with that.
Interactions are key. Customer satisfaction is factored into tours. Giving guidance or instructing a party member will raise their satisfaction. Likewise, them being KO’d will lower their satisfaction. While MonCoin is dropped when monsters are defeated, additionally they may also drop treasure chests as well. Directly after each battle, Lucky can choose to either keep the contents of the chests or gift them to party members. Chests contain items such as plushies or replicas. Plushies resemble the enemies found in the game. Replicas are such, for scenic objects and weapons. Keeping treasure has its advantages. For instance, Lucky can keep plushies and replicas for decorating his shack, even if it’s solely for cosmetic purposes. ‘Rare’ treasure is worth keeping, however. Rare variants of plushies can unlock special items at the shop while rare weapon replicas can have that crafted at the blacksmith useful for acquiring better gear. Gifting is just one convenient way to raise a customer’s satisfaction and is useful if you already have at least 1 of that treasure already. MonCoin is given to the customers in order to level up. How well they are satisfied is what allows Lucky to level up. It’s a give & take relationship when it comes leveling. Then Lucky gets paid. All party members not on that tour also get a fraction of the MonCoin.
Having a wide cast of characters opens up choice on who to bring on tours most of the time. Your interactions with select individuals builds up your friendship with them. The greater your relationship is the more opportunities of sidequests that can open up and become available relating to extra story involving that character. There may be at times where grinding might feel necessary. Players can seize the opportunity of the sidequests to gain some extra experience without it feeling wasted. There are free quests to do at all times, however. Each chapter contains free quests allowing you to make dungeon runs as much as you’d like as well as giving you the opportunity to encounter rare enemies and earn rare treasure. It’s worth noting that each chapter allows you to take on any of the quests founds in previous chapters. So if you wish to take on certain themes, enemies or difficulty, it’s up to you.
The music and sound hit the mark. The art style certainly has charm. The backgrounds aren’t incredibly detailed or stand out as anything special, but all the set pieces do set the tone. What is great are the character designs and their play on animation. When you mix these characters with the sharp writing, it’s never a dull moment to see their interactions. It’s worth seeking them out by playing with all characters, such as Prince Elric (18th in line for the crown for reasons), or Otterman who could be either an otter or an actual man (is what he wants you to believe).