Has-Been Heroes combined action, strategy, and turn-based elements with the fresh but at times unforgiving nature of the roguelike genre. You’ll control three characters at a time that will utilize three different combat lanes to attack enemies that are heading directly towards the three heroes. It’s a concept that feels unique and can be very enjoyable once you learn how everything works. Unfortunately the tutorial only explains so much and things aren’t always completely clear and so you’re left with figuring out a lot of things on your own, for better or worse.
Has-Been Heroes has a very simple story with small bits of dialogue that offer some dry humor along the way. An old mage and warrior are approaching retirement when a young rogue catches up with them who happens to be a big admirer of their exploits. This is pretty great timing as the king wishes to give them one final quest, which would probably end up being a bit insulting if they weren’t so ready for retirement–or if worked out the way it was supposed to! King Fortinbrax wishes for the two old heroes and their new rogue recruit to escort his two daughters to the Academy so that they can further their education. This silly opening helps introduce the flavor Has-Been Heroes features in both its story and its dialogue. It never takes itself too seriously in its presentation but the gameplay department certainly soaks up the serious edge as it possesses great challenge. It will require great skill or just a lot of patience (this is a roguelike after all!) to complete this game.
The gameplay seems simple but don’t let your guard down. It’s much more complex and tricky than the presentation and graphics would have you believe. You’ll control these three heroes at the same time to mow down the three different lanes of enemies. It’s turn based but not in the typical sense. There’s a recharge wheel that takes a few seconds to fill up again but once it does, you’re free to attack again. Enemies will move and attack at the same time too. The only way the action will stop is if you tap the pause button, which you’ll more than likely need to do when you’re new to the game.
Melee attacks will be your bread and butter but you’ll also be able to use items and spells for more devastating combinations. You’ll get a default spell for each character that you’ll have at the beginning of every single run but you can always unlock more spells as you progress each playthrough. Remember that this a roguelike though so once you die and a run ends, that’s it. Any spells or items you collected are gone. It’s always exciting finding a new spell for the first time and helps add some variety into each run. You’ll need to line attacks up and chain them together for more effective results. You see, you can have the three heroes trade places with the lane closest to them. There’s a top lane, middle lane, and bottom lane. The middle lane can go into either lane and the other two lanes can always go into the middle lane. You can move the heroes around interchangeably and they aren’t restricted to staying in a specific lane.
This is where Has-Been Heroes becomes much more than a turn-based action adventure game and more of a rhythm game. As you attack enemies in certain lanes, you’ll end up trading heroes back and forth to continue hitting the enemies as quickly as possible. While all of this is happening though you’re vulnerable and can be attacked by the oncoming assault of enemies. Don’t think they’re going to stop and wait just because you’re waiting on your attack wheel to recharge because they won’t. You can buy time by trading heroes but you cannot repeatedly trade them. You can switch them once before they both attack. Once they’ve both attacked and have energy again, they can move around once more. If you’re careful and pay attention to the enemy placement on screen, you can move them more effectively to avoid most of the enemy attacks while continuously hitting them with repeated attacks. As you attack them, their stamina is drained and when it’s drained you can deal damage out much more effectively. It isn’t enough to just have each hero sit in the same lane and attack every time their energy fills back up. This is a quick way to die but don’t worry because you can always try again.
The rinse and repeat nature of Has-Been Heroes will either be something you love or hate. There’s no way around it either. With it being such a big part of the game, it’ll either make it break it for you. Fans of roguelike experiences will likely rejoice because, despite the difficulty of this title, the randomized maps makes for experiences that will constantly feel new and exciting. The gameplay doesn’t differ too much though of course so it won’t feel completely new. It’s exciting combat though and once you learn the systems and get more skilled with the timing it’s a lot of fun. I eventually got to the point where I didn’t even really get that upset when I failed. I just started up again and within ten seconds I was back at it again.
As you move around the map you’ll come across battles and other locations. These can include locksmiths, merchants, stamina camps, locked chests, and much more. Locksmiths will sell you keys for opening chests. Merchants will sell you an item as long as you’ve got enough gold. You only start off with 300 gold but you’ll be able to find more across the map as you defeat enemies and unlock chests. Stamina camps will of course, replenish your stamina, which will help prepare more adequately for your next battle, especially if you’ve already engaged in a few in that run. Locked chests are not always in the best spots on the map, nor are other locations you’ll find on the map. You can’t travel backward without using a candle, which is a single-use item. You’ll find more in chests, stamina camps and in other places but they’re never a guarantee so don’t count on them. You’ll always start off with one but that’s the only guaranteed candle you get. This can sometimes mean that your map will have a stamina camp towards the beginning or you may even bump into locked chests before having a key to unlock them.
The movement isn’t picked for you though so sometimes this may be due to the path you chose. You’re essentially on a Euler Circuit that you get to maneuver any way you want, provided you don’t backtrack without a candle since that will kill you and end that run. You can see what the locations nearest you are from text underneath them on the map but beyond that, you’ll have no way of knowing what lies ahead on the path you’ve envisioned. It can create some frustration at times but it’s usually just exciting guessing where you should go next. I’ve burnt through two or three candles to reach a spot only to have it be an empty spot with nothing there. I’ve always done the same thing and been treated to some great rewards in locked chests. Luck is one of the biggest driving forces in this game with its random format.
The visual style may be off-putting to some but I found it warm and charming. It works well with the humor as well since they both come across as casual and tongue in cheek. The music isn’t catchy enough to come with you when you exit the game but it’s atmospheric enough to add to what’s happening on screen. It’s appropriate and gets the job done. I have the sound effects set a bit higher in the sound options menu because I found the sword clashes and spells to give off a more satisfying noise. The music isn’t bad by all means. It’s simply good enough. Nothing I’m searching for on YouTube or humming along to but it’s still easy on the ears.
Has-Been Heroes is a lot of fun when you know what you’re doing and are able to play it confidently. The randomized nature and roguelike gameplay aren’t drawbacks at all, as long as you enjoy those two aspects. However, this is a game that isn’t always clear nor does it always communicate everything effectively. The tutorial leaves a lot to be desired and only shows you the most basic components of the gameplay. How to effectively trade heroes across the lanes, what some items do, and combat mastery are things that you’re going to have to pick up on your own.
There’s no instruction manual on Has Been Heroes and there aren’t a lot of community guides or wikis online for it yet since it just released. I even saw some people tweeting the developer for assistance in some of the more difficult aspects and they were referring them to a crudely made wiki that didn’t have a lot of information but it helped some. This reveals that the lack of available information in-game is a conscious design choice, which is completely acceptable, but it can still be frustrating. If you don’t like feeling lost but the gameplay sounds appealing, I would wait a few weeks for more people to create wikis, guides, and articles that highlight various tips for being conquering this game.
If you don’t mind a bit of challenge or being unsure of what’s expected of you then now’s the perfect time to jump into this game. It’s only $19.99 USD and with its randomized maps, 300+ spells, 200+ items, large assortments of enemies, and twelve playable heroes, it’s great experience despite some of the flawed design choices. This is certainly a title with virtually unlimited replay value and that’s before you take the difficulty into account. It’s available for PC, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One but I’d highly recommend picking it up on the Switch. Has Been Heroes may be the same experience on everything but being able to play this on the go and in short bursts is a very nice feature.
- Gameplay is much more complex than it may first seem
- Battles can move as quickly as your skill allows
- Virtually unlimited replay value
- Roguelike nature of the game keeps the game feeling fresh and exciting
- Very fluid and satisfying combat flow
- Steep learning curve with very bare bones tutorial
- Difficulty is very high at times
- Music can sound very generic at times