Has-Been Heroes is an action, roguelike strategy game where the player is tasked with controlling three heroes as they fend off hordes of enemies. Frozenbyte, the developers behind the Trine series, place their own twist on the rather bland narrative by making their heroes live up to their title. Most of the characters that the player will control are old, retired heroes. These heroes are embarking on one last quest…to escort the royal princesses to school.
At the core of this roguelike adventure is the unique and complex combat system. It vaguely resembles a rhythm game, with players having to decide which enemy to attack with each hero. The general concept behind the combat is very easy to understand, but with the number of enemies that the game throws at you, it is by no means easy. Small mistakes can result in catastrophic failure that brings runs to an end. The amount of strategy required is very satisfying, if sometimes overwhelming.
Has-Been Heroes as a very odd control scheme. I was playing the Switch version of the game and I often thought that the game was much better suited for mouse and keyboard controls. After an hour or two of play I became pretty comfortable with the controls. I did occasionally find myself struggling to properly change my heroes’ position from time to time. The controls get the job done, but add to the learning curve of an already complex and difficult game.
The art style of Has-Been Heroes is a strong middle-ground between realistic and cartoon-ish. It didn’t necessarily blow me away, but it was pleasant to watch the few cutscenes the game has. The interface can become cluttered at times. The music is a tad hit or miss. I really enjoyed some of the game’s tracks, but others are pretty forgettable. The writing suffers from similar issues. Some lines are genuinely funny and showcase the game’s entertaining characters, and others are fairly bland. In a game with such a silly premise, I expected a larger focus on humor in the writing. The narrative simply exists as a catalyst for the gameplay and does little else. It feels like a missed opportunity to entertain the player with humorous dialogue between the intense battles.
The combat of the game stands out as being easy to understand, but difficult to master. Some of this is caused by the game’s extremely light tutorial, which leaves a lot of the games more subtle mechanics to be discovered by the player. While this amount of faith in the player can refreshing to some, others may find it frustrating when they lose a run because of a mechanic that was never explained. That being said, players accustomed to the “git gud” mentality of the Dark Souls franchise should feel at home here.
Between bouts of combat the party will explore a randomly-generated maze of roads that intersect at “crossroads.” At these intersections players will find shops, resting spots, and battles. The contents of the surrounding crossroads are revealed to the player, allowing informed decisions about the optimal route to the end of the map. Once the group reaches the end of the map, they battle against a randomly selected boss. They then move on to the next map until they eventually reach the final map and they fight against the game’s end boss. If defeated, the player receives one of multiple endings for the game as well as a new character to use in their party.
The bosses pose a massive difficulty spike that can feel very disproportionate to the challenges immediately preceding it. The bosses often introduce entirely new mechanics or force the player to juggle insane amounts of threats at once. These encounters are far from impossible to overcome, but can often be an unpleasant slap in the face to any player foolish enough to think they were masters of the game already. Difficulty in a roguelike is definitely expected, but it would have be nice to have a more gradual difficulty curve leading up to these bosses. Of course, getting the snot kicked out of you only makes it feel all the better once you finally take that boss down.
Has-Been Heroes combines a bit of humor with an incredibly rewarding combat system. It leaves the player willing to embark on another journey just to get another taste. The vague tutorials leave a lot to discover, even after several runs. At times, the game feels quite old-school in design, expecting you to fail and struggle with the game in order to overcome the challenges it presents. The difficulty spikes can be discouraging, but once you force yourself into another run you find yourself sucked right back in. New items, enemies and locations are introduced at regular intervals, but none of it is truly engaging enough to make each run of the game feel unique. The combat, for as fun as it is, can definitely feel repetitive after an hour or two play session. Even so, I kept returning to the game for an hour or two at a time again and again. At a price tag of $20, fans of roguelike games will find enough to enjoy to make the expense worthwhile.