Has Been Heroes Review: Punishment and Patience

Frozenbyte’s foray into roguelike action, a big departure in terms of gameplay from their work with the Trine franchise, is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to overall package. It has a fleshed out and engaging gameplay hook but also has enough frayed edges to weigh down the experience.

You start out the game with three characters, a warrior, rogue and monk. Each have their strengths, the warrior can dole out larger amounts of damage but can only hit enemies once and the rogue can’t damage enemies as much as the warrior but can hit enemies three times in a turn. Each character, including enemies, have X amount of stamina points which must be depleted to take away their health bar. The final piece of gameplay comes in the form of the three lane map each stage is based on, sort of like a smaller scale of Plants vs Zombies where enemies are constantly moving closer to the left side of the screen.

There is a lot of depth to this three lane system where you’ll have to take risks on how to attack and when, always trying to avoid being overwhelmed by the mobs of baddies coming from the right side of the screen. You fail if one of your characters dies, where you go to heaven and trade in orbs you’ve earned for unlockable items.

Each game plays out on a single map with multiple stages, some with places to buy new items, spells or battle, each concluding with a boss fight. If you’re successful and defeat the boss at the end of the map, you will move onto another map and should you keep your winning streak alive you’ll beat the game and unlock a new hero.

Constantly using the pause function, which freezes all characters on screen including enemies, is key to planning out your attacks. Characters can swap lanes and doing so effectively can turn daunting encounters into manageable battles. All of this makes a deep, rewarding gameplay experience when the game isn’t kicking your ass.

Has Been Heroes is not a forgiving game. Yes, it is a rougelike title that is advertised as being difficult and having replayability but in the end, all your failures don’t feel like they’re building to something truly rewarding. The game does not explain very much, like unlockable items, and the things the game does explain it doesn’t make very clear.

How often will you get your ass handed to you in Has Been Heroes? For me, I beat a boss character 2 or 3 times out of 10 attempts and cleared all stages in a run maybe 1 out of 10-15 tries. If there was more worthwhile loot given to players after suffering their 12th straight defeat this wouldn’t be such a bad thing. As is, the unique gameplay is undone by a lack of substantial rewards after completing a run. Other roguelike games, like The Binding of Isaac, convince the player to do “just one more run” even after dozens of unsuccessful runs.

Has Been Heroes doesn’t really present much that’s actually new to the player after its initial premise is setup at the very beginning, with some short cutscenes that are cute but not nearly as funny as they should be. The game also suffers from a very small selection of enemies and bland environments, adding to the feeling that Has Been Heroes could have benefited from some added production values.

The story, which is told over a few cutscenes, doesn’t give the game as much charm as it could have. The art direction is good, the character designs look nice and the music, while repetitive, helps to set the scene. The story of escorting two princesses is kind of funny but it wears out right away and random one-liners characters say aren’t always as humorous as Frozenbyte may have intended.

I honestly believe there is a very good game in here, it just asks the player to wait far too long before it shows itself. If you don’t “get” it within the first hour or so you’ll be tempted to give up. I can’t tell you what to do with your free time though I will say it only took more probably 2-3 hours to have that “ooh, this can be fun” moment.

If Has Been Heroes is updated to be more forgiving or at least dangle a more delectable looking carrot in front of the player, then it would be a much easier game to recommend. Its core gameplay premise of managing lanes and switching between characters is clever and rewarding when you are successful. Thoughts of “one more run and then I’ll turn it off” never come to mind, infact I found myself thinking “what am I even doing playing this when I could be playing X, Y or Z” at times. Has Been Heroes has some good ideas woven into a product that needs some serious quality-of-life changes because as is, it requires far too much patience from players.

Final Thoughts

Has Been Heroes has a great idea going with its core gameplay, forcing the player to use sound strategy, making each battle engaging. It has enough rough edges in terms of worthwhile unlocks and an unwavering difficulty that may be far too much for some players. Nintendo Switch version reviewed, review copy provided by Frozenbyte.

Overall Score 60%