It’s a common trope: A young man living in a peaceful, remote village who dreams of embarking on an exciting adventure. I think it’s such a popular theme because who doesn’t dream of escaping their daily surroundings and stepping away from the rat race every once in a while? Little Town Hero, on the other hand, is not your common everyday RPG. Created by the renowned Game Freak and composed by the ever-popular Undertale creator Toby Fox, this roleplaying game is anything but by-the-numbers. In fact, it’s barely an RPG at all.
Axe is the flame-haired young protagonist of the story. He works in the mines (no child labor laws in this village) and hangs out with his best friend Nelz and deals with his meddlesome rival Matock in his spare time. The mountaintop village they call home is a simple, idyllic place where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens. Axe wants to leave but there is one problem: the only way in or out of the village is through the castle. The castle and its inhabitants have guarded them for ages with the simple caveat that no one ever leaves the village. Axe eventually settles on the goal of becoming a soldier to be able to get into the castle and be able to leave whenever he wants. With this goal in mind, he latches on to veteran soldier Angard in hopes of receiving enough training to become a castle soldier and being able to come and go as he pleases.
After discovering a mysterious red stone in the mines, monsters start appearing in the village, despite Angard’s claims that they don’t exist. Realizing that the red stone has somehow enhanced his strength, Axe takes it upon himself to fight back the monsters and help Angard investigate where they are coming from, all while dealing with everyday life in the village. There are still sheep to be sheared, chickens to be found, and a friendly rivalry to maintain, after all. This is the basic nuts & bolts of the plot, though it really doesn’t get much more complicated than that. It’s a rather schlocky, light-hearted affair with some goofy situations and occasionally funny dialogue giving a few laughs along the way.
Little Town Hero follows a fairly basic gameplay loop. Follow the chapter’s main questline, beat a few minor enemy encounters, and engage in a big, long brawl with the end chapter monster boss. There are other things you can get into though, but it doesn’t deviate much from the loop. One idea I enjoyed that isn’t used too often in-game are the –for lack of a better expression- word puzzles. Basically, a scenario will arise when Axe must respond to an NPC in a certain way. You’ll canvas the area, talking to the villagers around you to gather special keywords. Once you’ve gathered all the keywords you can, you need to respond to the NPC while choosing the correct words in the correct order. It’s a nice deviation from the standard of simply having the game automatically respond with what you’ve learned. While at first I was expecting a turn-based RPG, it actually plays more like a tactical card game, but we’ll delve deeper into the combat aspect soon. Little Town Hero is not a big game: it was specifically designed to be played in sizeable bites. The village is a fairly small place to explore and you can only fully do so as the other areas open up to you one at a time by progressing through the story. Despite the small map size, there is still a convenient fast travel mechanic if you don’t feel like crossing the village again for the umpteenth time.
Strap on your reading goggles because now we’re getting into the unique battle system. First of all, if you were looking for traditional RPG mechanics like leveling up, enlisting party members, and managing weapons and armor: forget it. There’s none of that here. So what does that leave you with? Your imagination. Yes, I’m being quite literal here. Axe uses the power of his ideas to come up with attacks and special abilities, which he then matches with the enemy until only the victor remains standing. You start off a battle with 3 power points and an assortment of Izzits. Izzits cannot be used as-is: you must spend power to change them into Dazzits. Once turned into a Dazzit, you can use them on the enemy. Each Dazzit has an attack and defense value. When matched against an opponent’s Dazzit, these values clash and if the attack overwhelms the defense number, the Dazzits break. The goal is to break all the opponent’s Dazzits in the round so you can gain a critical chance. If you have any attack Dazzits left over, you can use one to attack the opponent’s body, eventually dealing enough damage to defeat them.
It sounds simple, but there is a lot more that goes into it than that. Each combatant has 3 hearts to start with, receiving direct damage to the body removes one heart only, no matter how strong the attack. Axe and the monster bosses have Guts to contend with. Guts act as a shield that must be depleted before you can deal direct body damage. Once the Guts value is depleted and the direct body damage dealt, it fully replenishes. This means you’ll need to work pretty hard to deal that battle-ending body damage, which means breaking down all of an opponent’s Dazzits in a turn to open up a critical chance turn. However, any Dazzit that remains unbroken carries over to the next turn, keeping the damage received earlier but giving Axe or his opponent another Dazzit to be used. Each Dazzit has its own individual power cost. After each round the power bar fills up a little, eventually giving you an extra point to start off each round with, giving you the ability to use more Dazzits in a round.
Eventually, Axe is going to run out of ideas. This is where BP (Brain Points) and the Headcase come in. During the battle, you can open up the Headcase to check out the Izzits left in your arsenal. You can spend BP to swap in an Izzit of your choice or if you are plum out of Izzits, you can revive them at the cost of BP. You earn one BP whenever you gain a critical chance turn but cannot take advantage of it due to a lack of available attack Dazzits. Are you all following, so far? This is why I feel Little Town Hero has much more in common with CCGS (Collectible Card Games) than RPGS.
But wait, there’s more! Mobility plays an extremely important part of the battle strategy. After every turn, players are forced to move across the playing field up to four spaces depending on a dice roll. It looks a bit like the tabletop boards of Mario Party. There are a plethora of benefits and negative side effects scattered around, so careful strategy is required here just as important as the fighting segment. Landing on a node with a support character allows you to use them in a variety of ways, depending on who it is. For example, Matock deals direct damage to an enemy’s body whereas Angard deals two damage to every enemy Dazzit. Some tiles noted with a yellow exclamation mark are filled with villagers who shout advice to Axe, giving him access to a new Izzit for the remainder of the battle. There are also Gimmicks to be found. These incredibly useful things require you to use a specific Dazzit to activate them but are almost always worth it. My favorite is using the Throw Dazzit on a chicken. It only deals one body damage but it also strips every enemy Dazzit of their special effects.
Eureka! Now, even though the developers tout Little Town Hero as an RPG sans the grinding, there is a tiny progression system in place in the form of Eureka Points. They can be earned by winning battles and completing sidequests, while even losing fights will sometimes gain you a few points out of pity. The Eureka menu is a small, simplified skill tree that requires a node to be unlocked before moving on to the next skill. There are a variety of upgrades on offer here; most of them are just basic upgrades to the attack or defense of an Izzit. Some of the better upgrades add special effects to your Izzits, one of my favorite beings the addition of piercing damage to a certain attack. Lastly, there are a few nodes scattered about that grant you extra Guts points. The menu isn’t overly complicated or robust, but it does the job.
If you take the time to look around and speak to the villagers, you may be able to rustle up some sidequests. Some of them are time-sensitive and have to be completed during the same chapter, but most of them are in segments that can only be played across multiple chapters before wrapping them up. For the most part, completing them nets you Eureka Points but in some rare cases they can grant you special benefits, such as a new character to support you in the fights to come. If anything, they’re worth doing just for the Eureka Points.
Two of the best things about Little Town Hero are its beautiful cartoon visuals and its stellar soundtrack, which is no surprise considering it comes from Toby Fox. While I enjoyed the unique battle system at first, the fun factor dropped way down for me by the halfway point of the game. While the boss battles are supposed to be big and bad, I found they felt way too drawn out. It is really aggravating to spend 15-20 minutes on a boss just to get wiped out by an unlucky set of circumstances or because you had trouble getting the gimmick strategy down. Even winning against a late-game boss took me over half an hour with no missteps on my part. I think part of my dissatisfaction with this title is going into it blind and expecting it to be a fairly standard RPG when in actuality it is barely considered one due to its lack of almost every typical mechanic. Little Town Hero is a decent game; just make sure you know what you’re getting into with the battle system. Don’t confuse this for a straight-up roleplaying game when really it has much more in common with a CCG.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 7.5/10
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