Hero-U is a game that is hard to hate but impossible to love. Its core gameplay concept is intriguing, the world is interesting enough, and even the storyline is decent but none of this makes up for its enormous flaws. Hero-U tries to evoke the feeling of a 90’s point and click adventure with light RPG mechanics. The problem is, it’s 2018 and Hero-U succeeds far too well at feeling 20+ years old.
A Day in the Life
Hero-U is point and click meets rudimentary RPG, meets Princess Maker (or Persona 3+ if you are more familiar.) You play as Shawn, an aspiring thief. To escape arrest, he enrolls in Hero-U’s least prestigious class, The Disbarred Bards.
Shawn’s daily life is, in many ways, just what you might expect of an average student. You go to class, maybe take an elective, grab some dinner, and then sneak around campus uncovering secret passages. Odd but it is a school for heroes.
As you level up your lockpicking and perception skills you open previously unreachable areas. This leads to a steady, rewarding sense of progression. But here’s the rub – there’s a time limit.
The Nanny Game
One of the earliest frustrations I had with Hero-U is in the way it employs time limits. Every day you go to class until 2pm, then you have freedom until 5pm. At 5pm, You can wander around until dinner at 6pm. After 7, you have the rest of the night to explore. Every night ends around 3am.
Time in Hero-U moves at a reduced rate. If you walk from one end of the school to the other, time passes. It is annoying as it sounds. The time limit is forgiving enough but any time constraints in a exploration driven game feels oppressive. If you waste too much time, you’re also likely to fall behind the skill curve and won’t be able to fully enjoy the story.
The Rogue Who Isn’t a Rogue
An extension of the game’s nannying, you can’t steal anything. In a game about a rogue.
The story reconsiles this by telling you, you’ll be expelled if you steal which is apparently enough to stop Shawn from stealing. It doesn’t fit with his character or medium the story works in. Games should allow players to make mistakes. Hero-U doesn’t do that.
Trial and Error Puzzle Design
In the 90’s adventure games relied on a lot of poorly designed puzzles where the answer was some ridiculous or obscure hint you could easily have overlooked. In this way, Hero-U is painfully faithful to its roots.
Every puzzle, it seemed, required a certain level of trial and error but, here you are, under a time limit, trying 10 different solutions to a question you could have answered if only you noticed some tiny, minute detail of the room. The puzzles aren’t difficult, just aggravating enough to make me dread puzzle sections. Luckily there are very few.
Putting the R in RPG
I actually kind of enjoyed the RPG elements of the game. There’s a litany of gear and equipment you can make use of in combat. As a rogue, Shawn relies more on guile than heavy hits or tanking damage. Instead, you can lay down traps, use magic runes, and lure enemies into position for different strategies. Every time I got a new piece of gear or thought of a new strategy, I could get a little further and kill a bigger boss. It’s actually pretty rewarding except for two problems.
One, the game does not give you concrete numbers for what each piece of gear effects. I know that leather pants likely boost my defense but in order to figure out how much, I’d need to do some math. That’s not the worst thing in the world but I don’t understand why there wouldn’t be equipment details. It seems silly.
Secondly, I’m not sure if this was intentional or not but, there is a really cheesy method which you can use to get through a good 90% of the game’s fights without breaking a sweat. If you click on an enemy before combat breaks out, your are given the option to walk around, set up traps, and sneak up on enemies. This is kind of cool, the thing is, those enemies are frozen and won’t attack until you attack them. Period, end of story. In a late section of the game, I got tired of combat so i explored the entire area without fighting a single battle using this method of sneaking through and ending combat. It’s a ridiculous exploit, a huge misstep for the developers.
Verdict – Strangely Satisfying
I actually, no joke, hate a lot of the mechanics in Hero-U. But as flawed as they are, Hero-U has a couple of really good ideas. I’m a sucker for the school gimmick; growing stats, skipping class, and such intrigues me. The exploration is decent, the combat is satisfying, in the way that I learned how to cheese it into submission in a hour. It’s fun to play, in an infuriating way.
But all other issues aside, the art style is butt ugly and there are a ton of small moments which are just not animated. When I slide a shield mounted to the wall to the side to reveal a keyhole, I want to see it happen in a game created in 2018. The fact that Hero-U doesn’t bother with even these little bits is an indication of how little the developers have done by comparison to other games on the market. That’s fine for a small indie game but at a whopping US$35 I actually find the price insulting.
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is available from: