Has-Been Heroes from Frozenbyte is a game that’s difficult from the get-go and has no desire to let up. This for some, can be tolerable. But for many, and like me, put me off from the game only several hours in trying to attempt to find meaningful progress. That aside, the art, music, strategy and tactics involved requires some forward thinking that makes it unique. However, all of the good it does can’t save Has-Been Heroes from the hole it digs for you, from the moment you start a run.
Frozenbyte has a penchant for grouping you up with a trio of heroes, or would-be heroes. Perhaps in this case, has-been heroes. Two old fogies, a mage and warrior stumble upon a young rogue who accidentally becomes their third after the King tasks the trio with escorting his Princess daughters to school. This humored approach to the story goes a long way, but is in stark contrast to the difficult combat and learning curve of the tutorial that came before it.
Perhaps only an issue on the Switch, or consoles are the controls. They take some time to get used to, but are awkward at first. Face buttons correspond to a character in a lane, and then there’s an attack button. Moving around the map is selected with the right stick, and then right bumper to confirm. The combat loop and strategy involved is fun. Your goal is to deplete an enemy’s stamina to stun, and then use follow-up attacks from other characters in order to whittle down its health to zero. After an attack, can swap places with a hero for a follow-up attack while the other recharges. Do this right and you can swap quickly for maximum attack efficiency.
Has-Been Heroes being a frustrating game is an accurate statement. It features a map similar to Darkest Dungeon in that you pick where you want to go. You can completely avoid rooms, or explore every single one of them. The latter is the way to play, as it give the opportunity to obtain gear and items that better prepare you for the eventual boss fight, assuming you can even make it through the regular enemies first. Along the way you’ll encounter vendors to purchase items with the souls you’ve collected from killed enemies. The randomness and unknown of these items lead to further frustration as there might be items bad for the character you purchased them for, but not able to swap them to a character who could use it. Additionally, you may not know what an item does until you use it – but then it’s gone.
It is unfortunate to see a game so luck-based. Has-Been Heroes is slow to reward, and you take all the risk. Upon death, a tally is counted based on enemies killed that works towards unlocking new heroes. It takes a really long time for them to become unlocked, and once one is, hard to see the value in all the work you put in to get it.
Has-Been Heroes works for the Switch with its small and travel-focused design, but less so at home when there’s other stuff on this console and other consoles to play. Has-Been Heroes could really benefit from an easier difficulty, because luck is just rarely ever on your side. There’s some fun to be had, but it is far and few between each run you play. The tactics and strategy behind Has-Been Heroes is mostly satisfying, but is sadly undone by its difficulty.
A Nintendo Switch eShop code for the game was provided by Frozenbyte for review purposes.