Review: Heroland (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Heroland
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (1.58 GB)
Release Date: December 3, 2019
Publisher: Marvelous USA (XSEED)
Developer: FuRyu
Original MSRP: $49.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: T
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Heroland takes place at a theme park of the same name. You play as Lucky, a newly hired guide for the park’s fantasy-themed attractions. In this RPG, your party consists of park guests who wish to experience the magic of dungeons swarming with various monsters, ranging from classic goblins to less typical foes like anthropomorphic vegetables. The encounters are with fellow park employees, but Lucky soon realizes that there is a real threat lurking at Heroland.

The development team for Heroland is full of some heavy-hitters in the RPG scene. The creative team consists of director Takahiro Yamane (Fantasy Life), writer Nobuyuki Inoue (MOTHER 3, Legend of Mana), art director Nobuhiro Imagawa (MOTHER 3, Legend of Mana), and composer Tsukasa Masuko (Shin Megami Tensei). The direction taken in Heroland is light-hearted and often silly, but the powerful influence of its creators does shine through unexpectedly from time to time. However, Heroland feels more like an introduction to RPGs than a masterclass.

Heroland is part turn-based RPG, part strategy game. Your party typically consists of four park guests. Before heading out into combat, you can choose the guests from an ever-expanding pool of characters and equip them with weapons and items. Once you head out to visit your dungeon attraction, you must lead your party though a linear path of panels consisting of events, battles, treasures, and the goal.

Battles can progress fully automatically, but it is up to you to coach your party through each battle in a way that maximizes efficiency and also increases your guests’ enjoyment of their experience. In fact, Tour Satisfaction and Friendship Level are measurable statistics in Heroland, and serve as the game’s character progression system. Leveling up Friendship Levels will even unlock some side quests.

As Lucky you can step in at the end of your cooldown meter to provide guidance, distribute items, strategize, or study enemies. Guidance means giving one guest a specific instruction, such as using one of their skills on a particular enemy. When you strategize, you give the entire party instructions. This can be useful to focus down an enemy or to take a defensive stance in order to avoid a large damaging blow. Items can heal, cure status ailments, and replenish attacks.

Overall, the combat is not very satisfying. Much of the time is spent waiting, watching for cooldowns to expire for your party and their foes. The most common thing that Lucky will do to aid his team is to heal the group with a recovery item. It does benefit you to give guidance periodically, especially because the party member receiving the guidance is more likely to be satisfied with their tour experience. However, the action is mostly repetitive and uneventful. The game seems to be fully aware of this shortcoming, as it graciously provides a way to fast-forward combat with the press of a button.


Heroland‘s main focus seems to be its narrative. The cast of characters who Lucky meets is as over-the-top as it is numerous. There are over twenty characters who you can guide and befriend in addition to the dozens of supporting cast members, whether they are other employees of Heroland or enemies you meet along the way. The narrative twists and turns so often and is so chock full of cheesy jokes that it is nearly incomprehensible at times, and yet aspects of it manage to be somewhat endearing.

Each character seems to have a central quirk that plays itself out repeatedly until you feel a connection to their personality. There is something that feels comforting about the nuances of the wild characters and being on the knowing side of their running gags. Cutscenes are more prevalent than combat in the game, though, and through most of them you will find yourself continuously tapping the button to speed text up and advance to the next line.

The theme park packaging of Heroland attempts to serve as a fresh coat of paint on a well-established genre. While the premise of being a tour guide to your party is uncommon and interesting, most of the novelty ends there. Weapons, character classes, abilities, and many more aspects of Heroland are commonly found in the most basic of RPGs. The game’s writing does its best to help the situation, but the hands-off approach to the action is a huge hurdle to get over.

Visuals:
Visually, Heroland excels. The game has a fun and colorful aesthetic that mixes old with new. Characters are 16-bit sprites with some depth to them, bending and wobbling around as they talk or battle as though they are rubber stamps brought to life. Enemy models are creative, cartoonish representations of a wide array of monsters. Extra care is put into the bosses and seeing them in action often makes the trek through a dungeon a little more worth it.

The visual aspects of battling are more enjoyable than the combat itself. You can choose to turn on preview lines, which trace a path from one character to their target. This can be extremely useful in deciding how to guide or strategize for your party. There are unique animations for most attacks and abilities and they are all dynamic enough to at least provide something fun to watch while you are waiting to plan out your next move.

While the visuals and art direction of Heroland are extremely well-done, they overstay their welcome like many other aspects of the game. It is particularly noticeable in cutscenes, when the only thing to distract from the characters you have already watched for several hours is scrolling text at the top of the screen. There are occasional surprises, but the overwhelming bulk of the game is spent watching your rubber stamp characters wiggle around as they converse in front of a static background.


Audio:
The music of Heroland is bright and upbeat, and it will grab your attention immediately with its amount of polish and clear influence from games of the 16-bit era. The battle song is more ominous, and boss fights ramp things up even more, creating a sense escalated drama.

Sound effects are equally cheerful and nostalgia-inducing. Whether it is the slashing sound of a strong attack or the squeaking that accompanies Lucky’s movements, it is clear that a lot of care went into Heroland’s audio palette.

The issue of repetitiveness does plague the game’s audio design as well, though, with songs and especially text sounds (a kind of incoherent squealing in rhythm with the appearance of spoken words common in many RPGs) becoming wearisome enough that Heroland may serve as a good candidate to take advantage of the PS4’s Spotify app.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single-player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
There is enough creativity and care put into Heroland to make a fun it worth your while to check out. However, after several hours into the game the grind of it all settles in and seems to construct a road block in front of you, forcing you to choose between stopping where you are or barreling through to carry on in the same predictable direction. If the repetitiveness of some RPGs does not bother you then Heroland is certainly one you should pick up for the unique theme park framing device alone.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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