Frozenbtye has spent years building up a stellar reputation as a studio known for taking chances and delivering high quality games at the same time. Their skills have been used to craft shooting games like Shadowgrounds, incredible puzzle-platformers like the Trine franchise, and have now been put to use for Has-Been Heroes. This blend of rogue-like with an RTS and RPG spin on it tries to do many things, but ultimately fails to live up to its full potential. It starts off promisingly enough too, with a solid introduction to the plot seeing the once-defenders of a kingdom reduced to taking two girls to school. They encounter resistance and know that youth is a necessity – and thus the green-clad rogue enters the fray.
The genre-blending mechanics allow you to switch between three lanes, with each lane housing a playable character at a time. The genre-merging goes into MOBA territory with the use of three lanes, and you’re allowed to move around the map in a variety of weird ways that are confusing at times – but can become intuitive in time. The game’s learning curve is incredibly high and it will take a lot of trial and error to get into a groove.
Ideally, you want to use a weaker character first to wear an enemy’s stamina down and then use a tank-like bruiser to take them out in as few turns as possible. This means that you’ll be juggling between characters on the fly, and that’s tricky due to the game’s reliance on several different face and shoulder button combinations to get anything done. Lean tutorials mean that you will have to learn a lot of things the hard way – and while there’s a good way to do that, this isn’t it.
Has-Been Heroes is the first game in at least 20 years that has required me to use a pen and paper to take physical notes in order to remind myself of core game functions. The rhythm of combat takes far too much time to get used to without doing this, and you’re asking for trouble and far too many deaths if you try to succeed with just the tools the game gives you.
The tank and rogue types are very useful, since you can either use them as setup or finishing characters. The mage is nearly useless, as they can only hit twice and don’t do much damage. The lane-switch mechanic is a nightmare too, and the simple act of moving one character where you want to, then have them attack, is complicated further by clunky controls. It isn’t just a matter of noting which button does what, but which button does what while also using the d-pad to select attacks and then the right stick to select an area on the map after hitting a bumper button to go to that particular area.
Every part of the game’s design is frustrating on at least some level, and it’s baffling because even as someone who isn’t a huge rogue-like fan, I’ve had a lot of fun with the genre. Games like Streets of Rogue and Rogue Legacy blended genres together fairly well, but this tries to do too many things and winds up being a weird Frankenstein’s monster of an experiment. It certainly has some life to it, but this creation needed a lot more work to be what they wanted it to be.
Simply going from point A to B on the map can be seen as a chore, and very few parts of the game are genuinely fun. The game punishes you with death severely in ways that don’t make you want to get better to move on because there’s no real point. Things are randomized, so you could wind up being swarmed by enemies in rapid succession and dying. You can also backtrack and wind up dying due to “getting lost”, and having to start all over again due to simply trying to find a shopkeep and get items.
It’s such a shame that the game punishes players more than it rewards them because Frozenbyte is capable of great things – but Has-Been Heroes never quite lives up to its full potential in any area. Even visually, it falls short in major ways. Frozenbyte’s graphical work has been incredible before, with Trine a shining example. Sadly, Has-Been Heroes features fairly bland-looking characters that don’t evoke much personality. There’s certainly an attempt to do that, but it doesn’t wind up working out in execution. There isn’t much depth to the colors, and what’s there is reserved for the backgrounds with the foreground featuring characters and items that seem ill-fitting for the world they’re in. Animations are stilted and seem half-finished, and the cinematics give off a similarly cheap feel. It’s very reminiscent of the early Adult Swim days – with Flash-heavy shows being done on the cheap and allowing for things to be done, but not look all that good.
The same kinds of issues plague the game’s audio. The soundtrack isn’t all that good, and what songs are here are repeated far too often. The sound effects are at least solid though – with every attack sounding as it should, even if it isn’t memorable and nothing sticks with you after the fact. The narration is about what it should be for something like this – with a sense of nobility and comedy when needed, but it doesn’t resonate after the fact.
The tale of Has-Been Hereos is a sad one. It’s a game with a lot of potential to expose rogue-like games to a new console-centric audience, but it doesn’t do any of the genres it is infused with justice. There are better RPGs, better RTSes, and better rogue-likes on the market on just about every platform. Has-Been Heroes feels like a mobile game that has been shoddily ported to a controller, and it’s bizarre. There are definitely some games that work well on mobile, and a game like this that has you performing finger gymnastics to simply move around a map or select a lane to attack is one of them – but it’s also a sign that they didn’t do a good job optimizing the controls for a controller. Has-Been Heroes doesn’t excel at anything and remains a game that had a lot of potential in theory, but punishes players too much in odd ways to be much fun, and isn’t a recommended purchase at full price. It is a game that will probably do quite well in a Humble Bundle down the line, but on its own it is a very hard game to recommend
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of Has-Been Heroes for the PlayStation 4 provided by Frozenbyte.