Taking on the role of Leonardo Sutherland, the scion of one of the most powerful families in the Zenman Empire, you will find yourself thrown back and forth haphazardly across an inconsequential plotline while enjoying a poorly written story full of bad grammar, spelling errors and tedious, linear gameplay. Heroes of Shaola is a turn-based RPG that liberally borrows ideas from a variety of popular works and crams them into a role-playing game. The final result? An incoherent, over-ambitious RPG that aims for something grand in scale but in the end falls quite short of the mark. There are a few redeeming factors that may appeal to some gamers, so let’s take a good look and see if Heroes is worth giving a shot!
Let me start off with the positive: I love the style of retro graphics on display here. The pixelated visual style falls in line with the PSOne era. It reminded me of Legacy of Kain; albeit smoother-looking. The color palette is a bit dark and subdued (especially in the cave fights) but fitting for the overall tone of the game. The music is not too bad. It can be pretty lively but not too overenthusiastic. I love the battle themes and the fact that there are multiple tracks that play randomly. I only had one ‘what the hell?!?” moment when I was at a serious part in the story and the Nutcracker theme started to play. Talk about odd game design choices.
Speaking of odd design choices, Heroes of Shaola automatically launches in a windowed mode that is around 5x5 inches in size. It then explains how to change it to fullscreen during a totally skippable tutorial! There is no way to change it in the usual launch menu, so I was genuinely panicked that I would have to play through the game in this tiny resolution. The game opens up with a text scrawl monologue from Leonardo about how this invisible crystal that only he could see began to follow him around when he was 15. Then you have the option of entering the crystal and speaking to the fairies for a tutorial. After this is all over you’ll probably never go to the crystal again; this bit of plot is basically thrown away.
I feel like the first four or more hours are a real drag due to game design and poor balancing. Leonardo gets kidnapped right away by a soldier named Ralph. You spend the next chunk of the game fighting alongside him. While he is really powerful, the battles still drag on because it takes him multiple hits to defeat a single enemy, he is susceptible to enemy status ailments, and Leonardo is less than useless: he might as well not be there at all. When this segment of the game finally ends, Leonardo and you are put right back in the same situation with another person who rescues you just to try and trade you back for an ally of theirs that is also imprisoned. As if that didn’t go on long enough, Leonardo is again rescued by a passing ex-knight and his daughter. Want to guess what you’ll be doing for the next hour or so? That’s right: playing second fiddle to another strong guest character while Leonardo can barely make it through a battle. I cannot stress enough how boring it is to hand your main character sloshing through hours of encounters being taken care of by a host of various throwaway characters.
But here comes my favorite part. Know how everyone loves a good, slow JRPG level grind? Well, finally it gets to a point in the plot where Leonardo is alone and spends years training to become a proper warrior. I love the idea of it, but the execution is bad. The game basically has you clearing out every monster in the surrounding areas, go back to bed, then repeat for another hour or two. Just nonstop grinding. I was level 50 by the time I left this place, but at least it had finally made Leonardo useful in battle.
And speaking of battles, they are the standard turn-based stuff you often see in traditional RPGS; there’s nothing wrong with that. You have an Anger gauge which is just a limit break mechanic by another name. The problem with it is that 13 hours into the game and I still haven’t received one. Every other guest character has one except Leonardo. Skills are weapon-based, meaning that you need to have a certain weapon type equipped to be able to use them. It doesn’t seem like a necessary feature though, since there isn’t much diversity in the weapon system anyways, and for most of the game you’re limited to finding equipment from enemy drops only. What really gets my goat is leveling up and gaining a new skill, only to realize that the skill cost exceeds your current max MP. There’s no point to it, why not simply up the level requirement for learning the skill if you don’t want them to use it until later on?
The game is really linear. You move from one field to the next with very little in the way of diversions. You don’t even get to see the first town for hours. Exploring is straightforward. There are plenty of items littered about the ground, including big red Zelda-style hearts that are everywhere. They grant a random number of permanent hit points to your hero. Not going to lie, this idea feels oddly out of place in a game of this type. There are no random encounters. Enemies move about the screen and while the more passive ones will ignore you, most will come running at you when they see you. There are actual sidequests in the game, but not many. Most of the ones that I have found are annoying fetch quests, like find 50 fruit or 50 pieces of wood. They are very uninspiring and don’t offer much incentive to waste time with them.
There really aren’t many redeeming factors here. I could ignore a lot of goofy stuff as long as the plot was good, but it is so derivative and doesn’t contain a single element that hasn’t been done before in a much bigger and better way. To top it all off, the grammar in the dialogues are really bad and occasionally misspell words. This is a cardinal sin for me when it comes to roleplaying games where the story is often the main centerpiece. I tried very hard to become immersed in the story but almost every other line of text is erroneous and pulls me right out of it. If you’re really, really bored one day, absolutely love RPGS and are looking for something dirt cheap to try out, check out Heroes of Shaola. Other than that, don’t waste your time.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 4/10
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