Nippon Ichi Software wants to make some buzz. Not only does the publisher prepare for Vita an RPG that takes place after its own end (!), but it also offers on the Japanese Playstation Store a demo… with the whole game in it!
You probably guessed, but yeah, nothing is free and there’s a catch. Hero Must Die is a reversed RPG : it starts from the moment which the hero slays the Evil Spirit and brings peace to the land. Badly wounded, he passes away shortly. Game over? No, it hasn’t even started yet. Generous angel Yulia offers to bring the hero back to life for 5 days, so he can fix the small unrest left. As soon as he wakes up, old Thomas, a former ally, comes back to guide him.
Once in the capital Grandom, and it’s uncommon enough these days, there is no objective or any indication of what to do. It’s the player facing the world map, like 25 years ago! Time flows very quickly and the 5 days don’t make more than 2 or 3 hours of play for one playthrough : up to you to achieve as may things as you can in this time-frame. Several towns and dungeons are accessible and can be explored immediately, the choice is yours. Be careful though, because journeys on the map consume quite a few hours each time, making your hero’s stay among the living shorter. Like in the Atelier series (well, up to Escha&Logy at least), you have optimize the use of time by avoiding unnecessary trips or staying too much at the inn.
With no indications in sight, the player has no choice but to progress by trials and errors, having a quick look in this village, that cave, etc. to see if something big comes up. To help you, important discoveries are written in a diary. Every time you enter a new place, old Thomas will fill you in on what happened during the war against demons, and the whereabouts of your friends. In fact, the story in Hero Must Die also is told in reverse. Still, we can find the heroines of the game pretty easily, and each of them will entrust you with a task. This is where it gets really complicated : I completed 2 playthrough but couldn’t achieve a single one… Sarah the priest asks you a gem and 264’000 gold. Knowing that the gem is hidden in some place you don’t have a clue about and that you start with «only» 99’999 gold, I’ll let you imagine the tremendous effort that it takes, searching every treasure chest and reselling priceless items. Ryû wants the Wind Orb, which of course is lost somewhere in the dungeon of the last boss (who, of course, will wake up as soon as you turn up) full of doors and keys of certain colors… The brain just cannot keep up. The dungeons in general are pretty far-fetched and demand a great deal of patience, despite having full access to the map. In the current state, Hero Must Die is an hardcore die and retry experience that will necessitate that you remember precisely how its whole world is composed.
Much to your despair, your hero will suffer from his half-life. As death approaches, he will weaken and his stats will increasingly diminish. Worse, he will also happen to forget some of his magic spells! Hero Must Die hence sticks to its logic to the very end in busting all the prerequisites of RPGs : it’s a role playing in which you don’t get pogressively stronger, but weaker! To add to the difficulty, the hero may suddenly enter a sate of exhaustion which will accelerate his loss of capacities if you don’t rest.
Combat in Hero Must Die has therefore a very different flavor compared to other RPGs, because… you need to tackle the most difficult fights as soon as possible! Battles are turn-based in a very classic fashion, with physical attacks, offensive spells and support magic. The emphasis is put on natural elements, because many spells can influence weakness and resistance. Thomas has a water stick and the hero can use a powerful fire attack (as long as he remembers it). You really need to play carefully, especially from half-game when battle start to be tough. The big drawback is that the girls won’t join you unless you complete their quest. So you actually have to play with a party of only two characters for most part. Bibi the merchant is the easier to hire, but that’s a bit up to your luck since she appears randomly in some precise locations. She’s still a precious asset as her short blades can cause immediate death. Such is the limit of the demo, since new game+ is no possible. Everything is down to how it will be managed in the final product.
Being a former smartphone game, Hero Must Die won’t achieve graphical wonders. The character modeling is modest at best, but at least we’ve avoided super deformed characters like you always see on 3DS in hideous games like Legend of Legacy or Stella Glow. Here the look of the characters’ bodies is normal and that’s a good point. No objection though on the deliciously classical design which takes inspiration in the dawn of JRPGs : kingdoms, crypts, villages, characters… everything comes to celebrates the 90’s. The music is no exception and despite the limited number of tracks, the melodies are as delightful as in old Final Fantasy games. Unlike the smartphone version, the PSVita game has been dubbed entirely with talented voice actors as Ai Kakuma (Yulis’s voice in Asterisk War) who voices Ryû.
Whatever he can achieve, the hero cannot escape his fate and will fall when the bell tolls. His funeral will be organized and the various people your encountered will come one after another to pay their last respects, in a more or less friendly way depending whether you solved their problems or not. The «score» of your playthrough is counted by the number of attendees, and the number of people in grief.
Impossible not to perceive the potential of Hero Must Die in its unique game system, its non-linear progression and its classical vibes. That said, the volume of content doesn’t seem to be overwhelming and it’s graphically correct but modest. More than this, it’s the new game+ mechanics that will make or break NIS’s new project.