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You Need A Hero (2018 HOTOHR Version review) 
 PostSun Jan 13, 2019 3:48 am
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Save point out of order.

You Need A Hero (2018 HOTOHR Version) is a game released by Idontknow (Necromancer Ate My Cat, The Towers of Love and Energy) with some character design by Fenrir-Lunaris; it is the beta version of game originally released in 2016.

A wolf-person named Damien is awakened by his mother Diana to be questioned by a police officer who has come to investigate the disappearance of the neighbor Freya, with whom Damien is infatuated. As the officer leaves, a human named Sam appears to tell Damien he saw Freya go into the woods with a cat-person wearing a cloak. Together the three of them head to the woods in search of Freya. In the woods, they run into a pair of NPCs named Boreaus and Eeee (Eeee, the one closest to the critical path has nothing to say). Next they come upon an urban street where there are buildings with a lot of doors that can’t be opened. Streets also seem to lead off-screen, but it’s just the edge of the map and there’s nowhere to go. The actual critical path is just a random nook between some trees that looks no different than any other area on the map. Here the party finds a wizard-cat named Enigma, who Diana seems to know. They fight, and Enigma runs away.

Sometime later, Damien is at home and receives a text message from Sam saying she’s seen Freya at the mall. Damien starts to leave his room, but is attacked by his laptop. On the way into town he finds a taco; its description just says “why did you buy a taco HERE,” which is confusing to encounter before discovering the coffee and pizza shops. There are a lot of doors in the city, most of which don’t go anywhere; there are also signs that say nothing. As-is, it’s a little hard to discern which parts of the environment are going to be functional. The Skillet costs more than the Burger, even though it heals less HP. Damien can walk through the counter at the grocery store. Hero sprites pass under floor tiles in the eastern part of the mall. Doors in the mall appear to lead somewhere but do not.

At the mall, Damien is attacked by Freya; but it turns out she has been mind-controlled by Sam. The duo take on Sam, who deploys the mall’s security lasers against them. After the battle, a disembodied voice asks them to jump into a screen (what screen?) to escape the lasers; and the heroes do so. The heroes are then transported to a virtual realm (which is decorated like the cover of Floral Shoppe by Macintosh Plus and later serves as a hub for fast travel between discovered locations) controlled by a human named Jessie, who joins the team as they teleport back into the regular world and team up with a furry college professor named Angela to fight aliens. They run into Boreaus and Eeee, who fill us in on the backstory of Damien and Sam’s feud. A cat lady attempts to molest Damien, but Sam is controlling her mind with a golden spear.

The heroes follow the spaceships to the neighboring town of Orange Grove, where the community college has been taken over by a DJ from a Sam’s insidious organization called HERO. The librarian doesn’t say anything. Saving some students from spaceships earns the protagonists the elevator key, and every time they get on or off the elevator it explains that the key operates the elevator (which is a little much). There’s another battle with Sam, but he is rescued by his mysterious boss.

Back in Appleville, Angela introduces the party to her friend Professor who encourages the party to take the bus to Freya’s hometown Wolvestown to locate a magical sword (the next morning Professor says nothing when approached and heroes pass under the upstairs door); but first they have to pass through Tulip City, where they are accosted by a member of HERO with psychic powers. The heroes chase him down, but he escapes again. Diana shows up and runs off again (apparently she’s dating Angela now). HERO have blocked all the paths, so there’s only one place to go – inside a building that has been frozen over. At the top of this building, Diana will join the party and open up some of its frozen paths with her fire magic. The shop in Tulip City has some wallmap and dialog bugs, and one NPC in the northern garden area doesn’t say anything.

On the bus ride to Wolvestown, a passenger’s vape summons a smoke demon that causes the bus to break down. After trekking to Wolvestown on foot the heroes meet Freya’s brother, of whom she appears embarrassed. Some NPCs say nothing around town, the pub is empty, the café can’t be entered, and the inn doesn’t work. Freya is able to pull the magic sword from the stone, making her some sort of legendary hero. Freya and Damien go to a restaurant and recognize a character they’ve seen before (though I couldn’t tell who it was supposed to be). This shady character disappears with Diana, a deer named Carlos joins the party to pursue them, and Angela’s son Kyle is exposed to be a member of HERO. On the next screen, Carlos appears in duplicate.

Entering a building here (my save file informs me this is called Fang Manor), I became stuck in the doorway unable to move. Luckily, I could use the F11 debug function to advance to the next tile and cue the cutscene. Doors in the building change colors without opening. Carlos’ wife Dora attacks the party and then stands around in the hall afterward. At this point it became unclear where to go. There’s a pretty steep difficulty spike in the random encounters (especially since the party size is reduced to three, one of whom is a new addition to the team). I ended up using F7 to automatically win for a little while so I wasn’t dying and using resources while trying to find my way around the dungeon. After wandering around for a while, I discovered that a path on the other side of the dungeon had opened up while I wasn’t looking. I get stuck in another doorway, and the heroes standing around in the room have nothing to say. After this the party literally fights a door (finally something I can relate to!); but the door can kill my toughest fighters in one hit, which caused me to waste resources. Behind the door is a room with some sort of screen that switches from On to Off. There is some dialog here about someone finding something, but at this point I am completely lost as to what is happening or why.

Then the game jumps to a cutscene with Diana talking vaguely to a completely new antagonist named Mura (10 hours into the game) about stuff that apparently happened prior to the start of the game, which still isn’t revealed. Angela and Jessie show up (where have they been and how did they get here?), and they fight Mura’s minion before heading off to Fang Manor (they fare much better against the random encounters than the other sub-party of protagonists). Inside they encounter Sam and the Leader from HERO, though the two opposing teams barely acknowledge each other in passing. The two sub-parties meet back up with each other in a cutscene, and then the characters appear as NPCs in another room where they say nothing. Now it’s time to wander around Fang Manor and figure out which doors have been opened. Mura has a submarine downstairs he intends to use to acquire a third magical weapon called the Axe of Enlightenment; also Angela has been his minion all along. Mura turns Dora into [something] and she attacks the party as Carlos objects; Angela has a change of heart and immediately rejoins the party. Mura runs away in his submarine; but there’s also a spare submarine of course, so the heroes take it (cue cutscene). Damien has no idea how to drive the submarine so this goes badly (this part might be even better if the player thinks they’re getting to control the submarine, but when they input directions it just goes where it’s scripted to go so the player feels like they’ve caused the crash by driving poorly?).

They shipwreck in a resort town, and Damien wakes up in a fancy hotel. The other heroes bust in on Damien and Freya in bed together. This scene had some text boxes from an earlier scene with Dora in the middle of it. The teleportation screen in the shop here only works one-way, so without F11 the player gets exiled to the virtual plaza. Boreaus is here, but there’s no payoff to her repeated attempts to hang out with Damien. Now it’s time to find someone called King of the Beach to borrow a boat (the King is a bear with whom Diana made a porno, he owes her a favor). The heroes end up on an island fighting HERO in a temple of sorts (there’s another sudden difficulty spike here, so I needed to re-consider my entire loadout). There are a lot of branching paths in the temple, and there are a couple of orbs here that will change colors when Damien touches them, though the purpose of this is unclear. There’s a cutscene in a central room. Not all of the dialog makes sense here – Freya responds to Sam as if he had said something he does not, text boxes refer to a Ted character that hasn’t been introduced (the leader perhaps, but we also immediately learn his true identity which is not anyone named Ted). The save point before the ensuing boss fight doesn’t work, which was frustrating because this battle killed my party several times (sometimes taking out a hero with full HP in one hit) and the lack of a restoration point after the fight leaves the party in a rough spot fighting Mura. Mura can kill pretty much any party member in one turn, so I was very fortunate to discover that the Wine revival item is bugged and is never consumed by use. However most turns involved reviving and healing my party, so it took quite a while to take Mura down. He escapes yet again though.

The next area has some issues. Jessie is supposedly left behind, but stays in the party. A silent NPC of Angela blocks the intended path, but the wallmap makes it possible to wander all over the irrelevant part of the map in a way that clearly wasn’t intended. Debugging past Angela, there’s a cutscene and battle with Mura (who escapes AGAIN). Damien and Diana have a talk, Damien and Freya are a couple now, roll credits. Wait, didn’t the enemy just escape with all the magical artifacts?

My last save was at 13 hours 21 minutes (I took my time), and my party were at levels 18-19.

The premise of You Need A Hero is a lot to swallow. It tries to make meta-jokes and break the fourth wall while telling a character-driven adventure story, paying sincere homage to Earthbound, and being a lewd furry comedy at the same time. It is pitched as an RPG set in “a modernized world more familiar with the one we live in,” but there are magic-wielding anthropomorphic animals getting attacked by slimes and flowers in the street. The signified has been replaced by signifiers, adding a level of abstraction between the player and the world of the story. Furthermore there are a lot of references to highly specific sexual interests, implying the game’s intended audience is a niche within a niche within a niche.

The characters’ personalities come through loud and clear, but their tangential dialog (including repeated digressions about food and aesthetics) is a bit much considering the length of the game and the premises the player is already expected to accept. The narrative beats rarely feel like the natural consequences of the previous ones; events seem to happen “just because,” and this keeps the story and world from feeling cohesive or holistic. It is a narrative- and character- heavy game with a lot of words, ideas, and references crammed into it; the writing needs revision and editing with consideration toward clearly communicating the information most relevant to the player. It shouldn't take 10 paragraphs to summarize the plot.

The game is heavy on references to other media, which could leave the uninitiated feeling confused or alienated (the developers of the early Fallout games made a rule for themselves that references should be inconspicuous to any player who doesn’t get the joke). Speaking characters have a tendency to trail off or be interrupted in mid-sentence; it doesn’t come off as dramatic as it was probably intended, because the resulting fragment doesn’t always imply any meaning to the reader. The word “lycanthot” is used in repeated callbacks, but once was probably enough. The spelling, grammar, abbreviations, and internet-speak in the protagonists’ text messages were perfectly terrible.

There are some typos and errors in the text: after the initial Enigma battle (shook = shaken), the exploitation film (“they spitroast”), living room tv & nature trail NPC & college library & King Of Beach scene (wierd = weird), NPC outside grocery store (calles = calls), Freya in virtual plaza (attrocious = atrocious), outside Orange Grove Community College (garbadge=garbage), HERO’s message cutscene (hear = here), Diana’s dialog after the boat trip (came = come), and Diana in the temple cutscene (were = we’re).

The game’s music (which comes from all over the internet, especially Kevin McLeod’s royalty-free site) is mostly good, but it doesn’t all sound as if it comes from the same source. Some songs have a jazzy feel with live acoustic instrumentation (or instrument samples), while others are retro-gamey synth tunes. Some are very academic, some are very amateurish. The songs vary in volume as well, with some battle music kicking in jarringly loud.

The art is adequate. The sprites of the most important heroes, villains, and NPCs could be more differentiated (there are a lot of anthropomorphic canines with long brown hair to keep track of).

Most areas have a place you’re supposed to go (which isn’t always clear), some optional shops and things to visit along the way, and a lot of extra paths or doors that seem like they’d go somewhere but don’t (which are distracting and train the player not to explore). Diana’s “PSol” weapon has no description, which was confusing at first until I eventually entered battle and saw it was a parasol. Early in the game the Skills menu says Damien has no spells, even though he clearly has the Cure ability in combat. The pale-gray text in the medium-gray menus looks as if it is supposed to be disabled when it is actually selectable. Enemies are all called “???” at the beginning of the game, but later they get names (this doesn’t seem to serve any purpose). There’s also some skillet ambiguity (a Skillet healing item and a Skillt weapon).

Combat is mostly functional and relatively balanced. The player must consider their choices, as there will be no coasting on the Enter key. In certain battles, the heroes are not arranged visually on the screen in their actual order within the party (which is confusing to keep track of). There are so many pieces of equipment with varying bonuses and penalties available that I didn’t always know how they were intended to be combined (kinda cool, but kinda confusing). Outfitting my party usually meant buying a bunch of stuff, completely unequipping everyone, and then manually spec-ing each character based on their base stats and what they could equip from the inventory. It was annoying to do over multiple times, but it always resulted in better builds. Having to restart the program on gameover discourages the player from trying again; returning to the menu would be much more convenient.

I am not the target audience for You Need A Hero. I admire the commitment and effort that has gone into rendering such a lengthy and dense RPG; but I was never quite convinced to become invested in the characters and their story. While the combat is fine, it wasn’t quite fun enough on its own to win me over. On top of this, the demo is sufficiently buggy that some cheating is required to actually complete it. I think YNAH already has most of what it needs baked in, it could just use some revision and editing. Sometimes less is more.
...spake The Lord Thy God.
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