Final Fantasy Island
Heroland is undoubtedly a game in a league of its own. Developed by FuRyu with a team comprised of veterans from such beloved titles RPGs as Mother 3 and Legend of Mana, the game blends the turn-based combat of Final Fantasy with the theme park premise of Westworld to deliver something wholly unique. Featuring a localization teeming with cheeky, self-referential writing, and a colorful cast of characters including an otter with a severe identity crisis and a rather regal pup, it’s a game that doesn’t take itself very seriously. And to be perfectly honest, I think it’s all the better for it. In a time where RPGs filled with melodrama and tragic heroes are all the rage, Heroland stands out as a welcome breath of fresh air for the genre. However, those looking for a particularly deep and engaging adventure may want to look elsewhere.
In Heroland, players assume the role of Lucky, a newly-minted tour guide at the game’s titular park. Sporting a mean afro and a mountain of debt he needs to pay off before he can retire, Lucky must accompany adventurers as they delve into the game’s many themed dungeons to battle baddies, collect shiny loot, and claim their glory. Of course, before long, we learn that things aren’t quite as they seem at the park. But don’t expect any pretentious plot twists here. Heroland is a strictly tongue-in-cheek affair that is guaranteed to spare your heart and shatter your funnybone.
Guided Magic Missile
The main beat of Heroland’s gameplay revolves around its dungeon-crawling. Here, players will accompany four of the park’s guests on quests into the bowels of the game’s dungeons. The thing is, you won’t be able to attack the many enemies that roam these dank caverns and grottos directly. As a park guide, you can only lend occasional support and guidance to your party as they duke it out with each dungeon’s denizens.
When in battle, each character’s meter slowly fills, much like the ATB system found in many Final Fantasy titles. And, once their meter is filled, they’ll unleash an attack or support technique on their own. That’s not to say you’re entirely out of the loop. Lucky also has a meter which, when filled, allows him to lend assistance to the party. Aid can come in many forms. For example, you can spend your turn to use healing items from your trusty pouch or direct a party member to use a specific attack or skill on a particular enemy. Additionally, you can also use your turn to change the group’s behavior altogether by encouraging them to keep their guard up, go all-in, or even flee for their lives.
Admittedly, at first, I felt this passive approach to combat was a bit underwhelming, as you can tackle early dungeons with little interference on your part. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for this to change. Surviving later treks into the dungeon depths will require you to keep a close eye on the monsters you’re facing and which gear you choose to take with you, as you can only carry a certain number of healing potions or other tools into a dungeon at a time.
Friends With Benefits
While surviving the dungeons you explore is essential, you’ll also have to worry about keeping your customers satisfied. Heroland is a business, after all, and the customer is always right (or so they say). With that in mind, you’ll need to make sure your aspiring adventurers are having the time of their lives, and nothing will ruin one’s day quite like having their head crushed by a giant war hammer or watching all of their friends get shiny loot while they get nothing. To keep your customers happy, you’ll need to take care to keep them alive and engaged. Thankfully, most battles will score you plenty of treasure and novelty items such as plushies and other goodies that you can give out to keep your party in good spirits. Or, if you want to be greedy, you can horde it all for yourself to deck out your own apartment. Personally, I found it much more beneficial to dole these gifts out to the park guests themselves and reap the rewards of our budding relationships.
After you complete a dungeon, you’ll give given a performance review. The outcome of this assessment affects both the amount of $tarfish you’ll receive (Heroland’s slimy currency), and your guide level, which determines how much loot you can carry and how fast your assistance meter will fill. In addition to earning you valuable experience points and cash, keeping your guests happy will also increase your friendship ratings. You’ll want to foster your relationship with each character, too, as you’ll gain access to more delightful dialog scenes that flesh out each guest’s backstory, as well as sidequests you can undertake for added experience and loot.
While I very much enjoyed my time spent with Heroland, it does tend to get a bit monotonous over time. Dungeons offer little in the way of scenery, and while they provide multiple paths to complete them, these only really dictate which monster you’ll fight next. Luckily, their bite-sized nature, coupled with the game’s consistently hilarious writing, does help keep from wearing out their welcome too soon. Still, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t start to get a little repetitious after spending several hours in the same dingy catacombs battling the same few enemies.
Heroland may not be the most ambitious role-playing game I’ve experienced in 2019, but I’m glad I played it. However, I don’t think it’s for everyone. Those who prefer a more hands-on approach to their turn-based combat may be turned off by the game’s more passive approach to its melees. And again, the somewhat streamlined and lean dungeon layouts, which are designed more like a board game course than a proper RPG with their various events and battles laid out upon each space, may disappoint those who prefer RPGs with an emphasis on underworld exploration.
Despite these minor gripes, Heroland is an immensely charming and quirky adventure filled with witty writing, fun characters, and some exceptionally vibrant visuals. If you’re looking for an original RPG with a unique twist that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s absolutely worth adding to your library.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed), PS4, PC; Publisher: XSEED Games; Developer: FuRyu; Players: 1; Released: December 3, 2019; MSRP: $49.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy of Heroland.