Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: n-Space / Price: $39.99 / Played on: 3DS / ESRB: Teen [Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language]
When I was a freshman in college, I got hooked on Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast pretty bad. There was something addictive about the endless quests for loot, the monster-slaying missions, and the chance to actually fight alongside real human beings around the globe, but when I found myself playing instead of studying for finals (or sleeping), I gave up on cooperative online RPGs… until I got Heroes of Ruin to review, that is. Heroes takes all of the above elements and delivers them in a solid, polished package. But even in that improved package, the simple fact remains: this is a game that we’ve all played before. And it may be that the game’s method of delivery—the 3DS itself—is more of a hurdle to Heroes of Ruin’s success than anything else.
Gameplay and Control
Before getting started on the game’s quest, you are confronted with character creation screens, at which point you can choose one of four classes (which are auto-bundled with a race): the Vindicator, Gunslinger, Alchitect, and Savage. Each of these classes mash-up some of the more traditional classes found in most other RPGs—the Vindicator is sort of like a Paladin/Cleric with an emphasis on melee combat and healing powers, while the Gunslinger is sort of a Ranger/Rogue. There aren’t too many surprises here, and it’s kind of difficult to make a character that looks truly different from any other characters from the same class you might encounter.
Once the game gets underway, you hack and slash through the game’s dungeons, utilizing standard attacks and magic powers that get upgraded as they gain levels and experience. Each power can be conveniently mapped to three of the face buttons, while the standard attack stays mapped to the B button. Health and power-replenishing potions can be used by hitting left or right on the D-pad, while blocks and dodges are accomplished with the R button. The controls are responsive and get the job done, though the inability to rotate the camera, or zoom in or out on the touch screen map screen felt kind of inconvenient.
Along the way, random loot and items are dropped, some of which can be used to improve the your character’s performance, and most of which get sold for heaps of gold. When not fighting in dungeons, you’re transported back to Nexus, the hub-world where you can travel to different areas, interact with NPCs, some of whom dispense side-quests, and others who just offer useless commentary. It all works fine. Nothing about it stands out as particularly good or bad—it’s there and it works, and if you dig this kind of game, Heroes of Ruin shouldn’t disappoint because of any fundamental flaws or mistakes.
The draw of Heroes of Ruin, I would guess, is the cooperative multiplayer, which offers drop-in/drop-out play for up to four allies. I have a hunch that this feature works best when utilized with three other friends, either locally or across the internet—but none of my 3DS friends have Heroes of Ruin (and few friends of mine even have a 3DS at all). That means that my co-op time was spent with random strangers whose games I either joined or who joined mine, all of which led to pretty uninspiring results.
When I tried joining a game, it worked maybe two out of five times. Once, the game cold shut down. Another time, I was kicked immediately after joining. While I was initially annoyed at not even getting the chance to play, I started to understand the joys of kicking people out of games.
Players who joined my game in progress were nuisances about 99 percent of the time. Sometimes they would complete side-quests I’d wanted to tackle, or, worse, take on side-quests without me knowing, leaving me with a mission to accomplish I’d never even learned about: kicked.
Other times, allies kept trying over and over to get the party to leave Nexus to embark on the next mission, even though I was still buying and selling equipment, forcing me to stop what I was doing and tap the touch screen to stay where I was: kicked.
And then, of course, there were those who abused the hell out of the voice chat feature. Holding the L button activated voice-chat, and it’s not like it was hard to figure out. Still, some just leaned on the button, meaning my ear buds filled with the sounds of them mashing buttons. Others just tried their best to be obnoxious with dumb voices and Ke$ha music playing in the background: kicked and kicked again.
Maybe twice—three times at the most—did I enjoy the multiplayer aspect of the game, and that was only when no one talked and everyone just killed monsters, something I was doing just fine on my own. That’s the biggest problem with this game: its biggest attraction is its multiplayer, but since the 3DS can only get online via Wi-Fi, you’re basically stuck playing in one place (cell phone tethering and bus-based wireless notwithstanding). So if you’re probably playing this at home, why not just play, oh, I don’t know, Diablo III? Or any of the dozens of other similar games that you can play on consoles with friends or the PC?
The voice chat is a really fantastic addition to the 3DS, and one that I sorely missed when playing Mario Kart 7 last year, but the only way that this game makes any real sense is if you’re playing it with your pals—and even then, given how many other bigger-screened options there are for the same kind of game, Heroes of Ruin becomes an even tougher game to justify.
The plot is pretty standard RPG stuff, despite the strangeness of some of the elements thrown into the mix. As a hero, you take on the quest to save Ataraxis, the ruler of Nexus—who happens to be a sphinx—who has been put into some kind of mystical sleep by an unknown magic. To help the fallen manimal, you and other adventurers have to find mystical items, spells, and whatever other MacGuffins the game’s NPCs throw your way.
The dialogue can be kind of enjoyable once in a while, with some self-aware discussions of the RPG genre’s tired trappings. But just because it winks at you while it sends you on a fetch quest doesn’t mean the game isn’t sending you on another fetch quest. In short, there’s nothing particularly compelling about the story—though, like the gameplay, there isn’t anything overtly offensive of unbearable about the writing. It’s standard.
Visuals and Sound
Like so much else in Heroes of Ruin, the graphics and sound don’t disappoint, but don’t really impress either. The character designs don’t deviate much from the standard fantasy stylings that we’ve seen in so many other games before. That said, it’s still fun to watch your in-game avatar’s armor and weapon change when equipping new items—even if your character is comparatively tiny when actually on the battlefield.
The dungeons themselves are pretty repetitive, though. While each act’s levels consist of elements related to a theme, like the snow world and the forest world, each different dungeon is just a somewhat differently laid out version of the one you were in during the last mission. The enemy designs are neat enough, but aside from big bosses, nothing on the 3DS’s small screen is going to make your jaw drop. The 3D effects are a nice addition—but nothing more than that. It’s not really integral to the gameplay at all, once again raising the question as to why someone would want to play this on the 3DS.
The music adds to the game’s mood, but only just. It’s nice that it’s there when you’re hacking away at monsters over and over. One time, though, the music had a major glitch and just flat-out disappeared, only coming back after restarting the game. Making matters more annoying, the dialogue can get pretty repetitive. I must’ve heard my character’s victory catchphrases cycle through at least ten times during my first session.
There’s nothing wrong with this game. Heroes of Ruin is an enjoyable enough experience in a particular sub-genre of RPG, so if you’re already in the tank for games like this, I can’t imagine why Heroes wouldn’t tickle your fancy. But the 3DS itself seems like an odd choice for a game like this, what with its small screen and isolated user base—compared, at least, to the massive communities surrounding PC games in the same genre. And with so many other options that are better suited to online multiplayer RPGs, it’s not easy to recommend this title. If you’re going to be stuck on a Megabus for a long while, this game might be just what the doctor ordered. Otherwise, this may be one quest best left alone.