It’s not hard to see what n-Space and Square Enix were trying to achieve when they created Heroes of Ruin. While there are a multitude of dungeon crawlers on PC or console, the experience has yet to really take hold in the handheld market. The question is, will this be the game to achieve that goal?
Well, whilst Heroes of Ruin is a great example of what the 3DS hardware can do, I felt it was let down by a bland story, uninteresting characters and monotonous gameplay.
As with most RPGs, the game begins with you creating your hero. You can select from fairly standard RPG fare with a healer, tank, ranged class and mage on offer. Each class has small statistical differences in their initial makeup, but what really separates them from one another are their special skills. Each character has 15 special skills they can use alongside their standard melee attacks. These have to be purchased or upgraded though and are not part of your initial make-up. Most skills use energy (mana) when executed however some are passive and, as such, always active.
Each time you level your hero, you are given the option to increase your base stats and purchase or upgrade a skill. It would have been nice if you were able to purchase a “skill reset” as, until you purchase a skill, it’s very hard to tell just how useful it will be. I spent my first 15 or so levels purchasing all the base skills and testing them out. It wasn’t until I’d played with them for a bit that I knew which were good and which were a waste.
Once you’ve chosen your character, it’s time to start the game proper. The story kicks off with your party being shipwrecked in Nexus, the capital city of the World of Veil. The Nexus acts as a central hub for the rest of the game and it’s here you can browse shops, talk to citizens, start side quests and access dungeons. Unfortunately, unless you’re really interested in the lore of the game, the Nexus is boring. People rarely have anything interesting to say and there’s so much loot in dungeons you’ll rarely find a need to use the shops. I completed the entire game using armour and weapons dropped by enemies and had reached the cash limit about ½ way through the game.
This sort of superfluous detail is a pervasive theme in Heroes of Ruin. There’s an interesting and detailed back story, but it’s rarely touched on. Customising your character build can be interesting but the ease of completing dungeons makes it seem unnecessary. The game is rife with detail but rarely offers incentive for you to explore it. Games should be interesting enough that you want to learn more, not require you to learn more in order to make them interesting.
Despite this it’s very hard to avoid analysing your character stats and build each and every time you find a new piece of loot. New items are very easy to come by and clever use of red and green indicators mean you can quickly weigh up the pros and cons of each. Whilst the game-play benefits might be minor, upgrading isn’t an arduous task and , for the most part, it’s very clear which items you should keep and which you should discard.
With a lack of anything meaningful to do in the Nexus it’s inevitable you’re going to spend most of your time traversing dungeons and beating up baddies. It’s why they call these games “dungeon crawlers,” after all. Dungeons are split into 4 areas each with 6 randomly generated levels. Whilst the level generation is a nice feature the game suffers the malady that the dungeons all feel the same. There’s very little difference in the way each dungeon map is laid out and the occasional switch based puzzle does little to break the feeling of monotony. Whether you’re fighting in the first dungeon or the last there’s almost no change to the layout of the level or the tactics you employ to defeat monsters. Sure the monsters are tougher in the higher levels but, by the time you reach those levels, so are you.
In that regard Heroes of Ruin scales very well. At no point did I feel a pressing need to grind for levels or upgrade my equipment in order to pass a level. Whether this was a design feature or a symptom of the game’s ease is debatable. Levels take between 5-10 minutes to complete and combat is as complex as you want to make it. In almost every fight I found that cleverly using my skills to trap and despatch enemies ultimately ended up being no faster than just rushing in and mashing B (your melee attack). Sure I had to use a few more potions to keep my health up but an over abundance of health potions in each level ensured that was never an issue.
Whilst I completed most of the game in single player mode it’s clear that Heroes of Ruin was designed with multiplayer in mind. Each character has unique strengths and weaknesses which can be negated with team play plus most skills, when fully upgraded, affect party members as well as yourself. As with the rest of the game you’re never really challenged to the point where you need to use these features so, unless you’re playing with people you know, most multiplayer sessions just devolve into four players running around doing their own thing. On the plus side enemies scale based on how many people are in the session so it’s not a complete cake walk when you up the number of participants.
It’s a shame the game provides such little challenge as n-Space have excelled in creating a top grade multiplayer game that squeezes more out of the 3DS than any other title to date. Multiplayer games can be set to public or private and support both drop in drop out play and in game voice chat. StreetPass is used for item trading and SpotPass is used to synchronise your stats with the Heroes of Ruin website or download challenge quests. It really is amazing the amount of functionality they’ve managed to squeeze out of the 3DS.
Graphic and audio quality are two things I often forget to address in reviews. In most cases this is because, unless they’re particularly poor or exceptionally good, I don’t notice them. Unfortunately, in Heroes of Ruin, I noticed them. Graphically the game looks like it would feel more at home on a first gen Xbox or Playstation 2. Scenery is bland and textures are plain and recycled. Cutscenes are presented with a series of static images or occasional closeups where no further rendering seems to be performed. Turning the 3D slider up improves the imagery slightly but introduces occasional frame skipping and isn’t enough to disguise the poor quality. The voice acting sounds like someone reading an audio book rather than acting out a role and the music is easily forgettable. Sadly the result of this is that the game feels like it’s cheap or unpolished.
Despite the full suite of features they managed to bring to the table I still feel that Heroes of Ruin’s faults outweigh its assets. Whether playing alone or with friends there is very little to challenge you and, despite nice features like the ability to download daily and weekly challenges, I doubt there is enough to keep you playing once the credits have rolled. The core mechanics of the game are all spot on; however monotonous and repetitive game-play will ultimately kill off this clever dungeon crawler. If you want a hand held dungeon crawler this is probably the best on offer however don’t expect an experience on par with the addictive dungeon crawlers on the bigger machines.