Has-Been Heroes (Switch) Review
Frozenbyte were some of my favourite developers on the Wii U. I absolutely adored the Trine games, though admittedly that’s the only games of theirs that I played. Has-Been Heroes is an interesting concept, and is one of their first games for the Switch. The concept is great – it’s a turn based hybrid kind of RPG centred around heroes who are well past their prime. But the execution is sorely lacking. Make no mistakes, Has-Been Heroes is a great concept let down by marred execution.
Has-Been Heroes is a mix of turn based action with real time combat. The action is split into three lanes, with each character only being able to attack the enemies in the same lane as themselves. It’s a little bit hard to explain as the premise is all over the place. The problem therein lies with Has-Been Heroes design. It’s a game with an unconventional battle system, with an unintuitive control scheme that while different is difficult to play. As a brief yet shallow example; you use the right analog stick to move from node to node on a procedurally generated map. Along the way, you’ll encounter enemies, merchants, resting spots and bosses.
In your party, each of your characters will have unique attacks and spells. Each class also has their own unique attributes which affects how they attack. For most of the game, you’ll have three classes – one is a heavy hitter who attacks once but deals massive damage. Another attacks twice, but is weaker than the heavy hitter. The third can attack three times and so forth. Attacks per turn are important in Has-Been Heroes as each enemy has a stamina bar that must be drained before damage is dealt. The twist? Stamina refills at the end of each turn so you must be strategic in queuing up your attacks.
Has-Been Heroes’ decision to segregate it’s combat into lanes thusly becomes immediately clear. You must change the lane your heroes are in mid-turn, allowing you to queue up attacks one after the other. Such a system is confusing and feels arbitrarily limiting for the sake of a gimmick. The confusion and sense of being overwhelmed is alleviated slightly by the option to pause the action, which lets you quickly work out your approach, before switching back to real-time combat to carry out your commands.
As you’d imagine, successfully swapping characters between their lanes during combat is the most important part of the battle in Has-Been Heroes. To do so, you’ll have to select somebody to attack. Once they attack, their lane is empty for another character to jump into to queue up another attack against that enemy. It sounds novel, but it’s nothing short of arduous. There’s never a time where you’ll press the buttons you meant to and instead you’ll find yourself shuffling through options until the right one hits. It’s a control scheme that’ll never feel natural and one that you’ll never feel used to.
I never thought the day would come where I’d say this, but Has-Been Heroes feels like a game that should’ve been made for touchscreen controls rather than physical buttons.
I say this because it never becomes less jarring trying to juggle all the inputs that Has-Been Heroes throws at you. I spent a lot of time with the game, but using face buttons to simultaneous change lanes and attack while using triggers to cast spells and pause sound easy on paper. But when you’re sitting there, mid-battle, something just doesn’t feel right. You’ll never feel like you have a proper flow in battle, which breaks the flow of the action. I’ve never been one to struggle with control schemes – I enjoyed Star Fox Zero – but after so much time with Has-Been Heroes I was ready to give it up.
The silver lining on this grey and depressing cloud is that Has-Been Heroes is better played in short bursts given how repetitive it is. As such, it’s a game that makes sense as a fit for the Switch. While the action can be paused, the game is slightly slower paced due to its strategic nature. The game is essentially bite sized, perfectly fitting the handheld versatility of the Switch. While I couldn’t enjoy it in long bursts, I found myself playing it in smaller sessions in handheld mode more than any other. The option to do so on Switch makes it easily the standout version of the game.
For those who want to find everything a game must offer, Has-Been Heroes is loaded with unlockables to get through. Weapons and new character builds can be unlocked with more and more playtime but it’s truly debatable whether many players will want to bother to put this effort in. If you insist on doing so, you’ll easily squeeze at least twenty or so hours out of Has-Been Heroes, which is a reasonably value proposition.
I mentioned previously that I only played Has-Been Heroes in handheld mode, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the game begun life on mobile platforms. I say this because the game looks at its best when shrunken down to the Switch’s screen. When playing on a television, the visuals are very rough-looking as if they were poorly upscaled.
The artistic direction, which is generic yet serviceable, doesn’t help matters either – with the backdrops looking especially drab. Such generic art direction is compounded by a screen real estate choice that a user interface designer would gasp at. For the entire game, Has-Been Heroes always dedicates most of its screen to a garish looking user interface which is at odds with playing the game at handheld.
So it’s play the game in handheld mode, with crisper visuals but have half the screen taken up by a user interface. Or play it on your television and be treated to shoddily upscaled visuals. There’s no healthy compromise with either options, unfortunately.
Has-Been Heroes is a reasonable game to play on-the-go thanks to the portability of the Switch. But the game itself tries something different but in the process, falls apart. Perhaps with more intuitive controls, or a more compelling sense of level design, Has-Been Heroes would be a great game. But in its current state, Has-Been Heroes is unruly to play, generic to look at and quite simply not fun. It’s disappointing as there is potential here, but Has-Been Heroes squanders it.