Indie Spotlight: Has-Been Heroes

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One of my favorite games on the Switch isn’t one you’d likely expect. It’s a fairly obscure title, one of those roguelike(lite?) that are all the rage. I’ve played it for nearly 400 hours according to my Switch! This week I have a couple HBH things planned, as I put the spotlight on a game I feel deserves much more love from the gaming world.

To kick off our Game Review section on Nintendo Nation, I wanted to do something a little different. I thought of ways I could highlight games that are special to me. There are tons of games on Switch that maybe flew under the radar, maybe the game released during a bad time, or maybe I just really like the game and want people to know it. Has Been Heroes was released on March 28, 2017 for the Switch. Since then, it has become one of my all time favorite indie games. Will you feel the same? Read on to see if the game is for you. If the game interests you, check out my video, a deep dive into the mechanics of the game. I’ll teach you how to play the most efficient way possible.

Introduction

To play Has Been Heroes is kind of a battle. A battle first against the game, where you are up against the odds right from the start. With game mechanics, spell and item management, and waves of random enemies in your path, it can be daunting. It’s a battle of attrition, as you die, then die again. It’s a battle of memory.  Yours better be short, or long in some cases, to overcome randomly generated events and remember that you can. Because there will come a time where you want to quit, and believe me, I had those moments. But I don’t, and what I’ve found is…a game that from top to bottom is fundamentally good, but has difficult time quickly conveying that to the player.

Has Been Heroes is great. It really is. And according to my Switch play time(nearly 400 hours), I might be one of the few people that can definitively tell you all you need to know. But I guess we should start with the basics, because if you are reading a review for the game, odds are you haven’t played it.

Has Been Heroes is a Rogue Like(lite) lane based game where you control three Heroes while escorting two princesses to school. The truth of the matter is that the game plays more like a puzzle game. One mistake while trying to solve the puzzle can easily make it crumble to pieces, as I had moments early on while still learning the game where I would freeze, unable to do anything at all, as the waves took out a single member of my party. So solving each puzzle(battle) the most efficient way possible is really what the game is about.

Three heroes make up your team.

  • Warrior: one hit per attack and the most damage per hit. Fastest cool down for melee attacks.
  • Mage: two hits per attack and generally are the weakest. Midrange cool down for melee.
  • Rogue: three hits per attack with average damage dealt. Slowest melee recharge.

Each hero starts with an item specific to them and a spell. Items are passive, meaning they do not need to be activated by the player. Spells on the other hand must be activated and are then on a cool down, which can be anywhere from 6 seconds up to 90 seconds depending upon the spell.

There are 36 possible heroes to unlock, and generally they improve, whether it be with max stamina, damage per hit, spell damage, critical hit chance, etc., with each new unlock. Still with me? Unlock them by getting through to the last boss and winning. One new character unlocks each time you win. One thing to keep in mind though, is that in order to unlock characters, each character row must first be completed. So you’ll need to unlock all characters in each row before unlocking any in the next. And, just to confuse you even more, at the end of the run you must open the treasure chest with the character class you are trying to unlock next. So you are trying for the mage in the next column? Before opening the chest, make sure you move your mage to the middle so he is the one that opens the chest. Whew.

Back to the game itself…

Your heroes have green blocks next to their red health bar. These blocks are kind of like a shield, as you can’t be hurt until they are gone(except by elements such as poison, fire, and lightning.) The waves of enemies also have stamina, and this is when the puzzle aspect of the game kicks in. Enemies can be stunned by removing their exact amount of stamina prior to doing another attack. So if a Skeleton with 1 stamina is approaching, ideally, you would stun him with your Warrior(who does one attack per turn.) And then you would hit him while he is stunned for full effect.

Stunning does 3 things.

First, The enemy stops moving forward, other than the very slow scroll of the screen which moves them a very small distance per second. This can buy valuable time at the very least.

Next, you can now get to their health without a damage penalty. Because if you over hit an enemy without removing the stamina first, you will get -10% damage penalty for the hits that do connect to the health bar.

Finally, if the enemy is stunned, your hits will send the enemy flying to the back of the stage, while also removing one of their max stamina, giving you time and space to plan your next attack.

Stunning before attacking is huge. There will be times you can’t or won’t want to stun though, but that is the meta game that only playing can provide.

Movement

But stunning is just part of it, because you will need to figure out how to move your heroes around the 3 lanes to line up your next hit. There is a pause button in the game(L on the Switch), and the game pauses automatically after each hit. You can only move your heroes in between attacks, so as a new player, do not rush this. Take your time to analyze the battle so you can move each character around where you need. And if you are flustered, pause the game.

Something to keep in mind is that there is also backslash damage. If your hero hits an enemy on the way back to position, he does damage. This can be very important, but I typically do not go out of my way to backslash. If it lines up, sure. But, there are some enemies with lots of stamina, but low health, where backslash is quite useful, so keep that in mind when you see an undead skeleton with 20 stamina.

Maps

Each area has a map that you must traverse before fighting a boss. These maps are hugely important and can easily be the difference between a successful run and a failed run. I can’t stress this enough, HIT EVERY CROSSROAD and every battle, if you can. Because you see, gold is so so so important in this game, and each crossroad has some sort of use. There are spell vendors, merchants, chests, locksmiths, Hp/stamina camps, gamblers, and alters. You need money for most of these, and the only way to get money is to battle. So while it might be against your instinct, do not avoid battles. There are at least 4 battles on every map, and you should attempt to get them all.

Of course, that isn’t always possible, because there is a backtracking penalty in Has Been Heroes! Yep, just one more thing to think about. Candles are used when backtracking, and if you use a candle when you have zero in your inventory, the run is over. I found this out the hard way, and sometimes I would risk things hoping to get a candle from a battle or chest. Not worth it. And that’s a common theme in the game, determining when something is worth it. Worth the risk, worth the gold, worth the trouble. It’s part of the meta game which takes a lot of consideration.

Spells, items, elements

Perhaps the most intimidating part of the game is the sheer number of things to have to worry about. I’ll first touch on spells.

There are really 4 types of spells, and all of them are pretty important. A successful run can be contingent on these spells, which are based on luck whether you receive ones you find to be most useful.

I categorize them into these groups. Buffs, interrupting, nuisance, and devastation.

Buffs give your hero an advantage on the next melee. This can be extra hits,(double strike) or element damage(poison, water, fire, etc.).

Examples: Thunderstrike, Doublestrike, Last Stand

Interrupting spells are probably the most important for a successful run, particularly late in the game. These spells stop, or interrupt, enemies from performing actions, like bosses giving buffs, or to stop healers.

Examples: Fireball, Poison Dart, Thor’s Anger

Nuisance spells usually last 10-40 seconds and do element damage to lots of enemies over that time. Careful, if you haven’t gotten immunity heroes or items, you will be affected after hitting the enemies, as some elements transfer. Charm and Fear spells also fall in this category, where the enemy either turns and attacks his team, or turns and runs for a short amount of time.

Examples: Charm, Electrophobia, Certain Death

Last are devastation spells. These spells either do massive damage or massive movement to the one or more enemies on the screen. So whether it be removing stamina or lane switches or sending the whole screen to the back, these spells are huge when it’s becoming overwhelming.

Examples: Vortex, Hot Potato, Wet Potato, Earth Stomp.

Spells also have slot perks for each hero. Not much to worry about early on, but definitely something to consider as you load up on spells. Sometimes it will line up, like when your hero has a slot perk for Projectiles shoot two, and you give your hero a Projectile spell, like Poison Dart. In this case, every single time you use Poison Dart, you’ll hit the enemy of your choosing and also a random enemy in view.

As you play, you collect spirit orbs from the enemies you kill, which unlock new items and spells at the end of the run. After collecting 20 orbs(then 40, then 60, etc.) and then pressing ZR or ZL on the Switch, you can use any spell even if it was on cool down. Don’t forget to do this, because not only will it make your runs significantly easier, you actually can’t collect orbs while the guage is full and ready to use. Every time you see that you can use this with ZR or ZL, you should use it in order to keep gathering orbs. It took me longer than I care to admit to figure this out, so I unlocked things very very slowly. I’m trying to save you that heartache.

Items

Spells are only part of the game, as items and management of who you give your items to become crucial. Items can be bought from merchants or can appear in chests. Giving an item to a hero automatically gives that hero +50 health. This is important to consider, as mages and rogues don’t start with as much health as warriors. So early on, you are going to want to protect your Rogue and Mage with items. Items typically provide buffs, but sometimes it can be a significant buff and also a nerf in one item.

Items can provide all sorts of buffs. Element immunity or perhaps a plus 10 Melee damage. Maybe a 10% faster spell recharge or 5% plus critical by chance. Some can provide plus 1 max stamina or faster Melee recharge. Late in the game, there are items that give +Melee hits, and these are probably the most important items in the game. Using these with double strike or last stand(100% attack on next hit) is ridiculously fun. I always give my spell recharge items to the rogue so that double strike is up as fast as it can be. It’s stuff like this that makes the game easier, and you need to think about that, because it is so difficult if you aren’t thinking.

And while the game offers all of these little nuances, it’s the gameplay itself which is so addicting. Because now I play fast, really fast, and my goal is always to wipe out the enemies during battle or to kill the boss as quickly as possible. This makes for some frantic moments, but to execute perfectly is always something I strive for. But the game is unrelenting, and even when I think I’ve mastered it, a new wrinkle comes my way, and I must adapt on the fly. It is very rewarding to complete a run, even now, even though I have 100% completed the game.

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, hopefully you have kept track of all I’ve laid out. Odds are, you haven’t. And that’s ok, like I said, the game throws a lot at the player, and it really doesn’t explain anything very well. That said, Has Been Heroes has provided me with more enjoyment and play time than a $20 game ever really should. It grabbed hold of me, and with every thing I had in me, I wanted to win, I wanted to improve, and I wanted to learn the best way to play. It wasn’t always fun, as I have often felt the game wants you to grind, wants you to lose, even when things are looking their best. But I kept playing, because I really believe the game is special, it just takes time, and a commitment to wanting to improve. I realize that a lot of people aren’t willing to sink that kind of time into a game, but for me, the stars aligned.

And inarguably, the game doesn’t explain itself well. It’s not a game anyone can grab and instantly enjoy. But here’s something interesting…my 10 year old son adores the game. So it can appeal to a wide range of gamer, though it suffers from not easily being able to convey that appeal. The User Interface is pretty awful at times, with menus almost always appearing where you don’t want them and in the way of other important information. I’ve learned to simply ignore those little discrepancies.

It was a game meant for me, a game that came at a perfect time. I have 100% completed the game including the DLC which includes the three Trine champions. It is a gem, a near endless experience for those who wish it to be. I still play it to this day. And if you have the patience to improve, to laugh off the hardships, to learn the meta, to ignore some of the shortcomings and forge your own path anyway, you will not be disappointed.

Verdict:

Highly Recommend

If you are looking for a Rogue like(lite) that can offer hours upon hours upon hours of compelling gameplay, this game could be for you.

Disclaimer: This review is intended for entertainment purposes only. Nintendonation.net in no way guarantees that individuals will love, hate, like, dislike, or be indifferent to a particular game. It’s a game, opinions will always differ. Decide if you’d like the game, then decide if it would be worth a purchase.

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