Friday, 29 June 2018

Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption Review

Written by Reiko



What comes to mind when you think of the Quest for Glory series? Colorful characters? Moral choices? Puns and silly jokes? Time-driven plot events? Practice-based skills? Puzzles with multiple solutions? If you've been waiting patiently for more of these things, you won't have to wait much longer, because Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is almost here! Let's take a look at what Corey and Lori Cole have built for Quest for Glory fans.

Editor's Note: Unlike our normal reviews, this one is spoiler-light. There are some light touches on plot elements and activities that happen within the game, but Reiko's review avoids any major plot spoilers. This review is also based on a pre-release version of the game and may differ slightly from the final version at launch.


This might look slightly familiar.
First, is Hero-U a Quest for Glory game, though? Well, yes and no. Yes, kind of, because it takes place in the same world of Gloriana and references many of the people and places that the Hero encountered in the original games. No, not really, because it's a completely new series with a new and defined protagonist.


Class selection from Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire.

While the Hero in the original games was a blank slate, with no established past and no fixed aptitudes or class, Shawn O'Conner has a backstory and an initial goal: to be a thief. His goals shift as he learns more about Hero-U and about himself. What impact the backstory has on his actions, what skills he pursues, and what goals he eventually achieves are all up to the player.

Shawn has decided to try to get a job working for the Chief Thief in his hometown of Caligari. As a trial, in order to join the thieves' guild, he's been asked to sneak into a particular house and find and steal a particular lucky coin with a three-leaf clover on it. The game opens with Shawn breaking into the house, and then the player can control him in order to examine objects and figure out where the coin is. This scene really serves the function of a tutorial. Once he finds the coin and tries to leave, however, he's caught by a mysterious figure with an eyepatch! But instead of sending him to jail, this man wants to send him to school, to Hero-U, a school for potential heroes.


First rule of Rogue Class: There is no Rogue class.

At Hero-U, Shawn joins the Rogue class, or, as it's known to the other classes, the "Disbarred Bards" class. In his main class he learns about traditional sneaky skills like lockpicking, but he also has the opportunity later on to take electives which mold the focus of his character. As in the original games, his skills improve with practice.

So he can learn to be a strong combat-oriented Rogue, or an agile dagger-throwing Rogue, or a smart magical Rogue, or a sneaky Rogue that doesn't fight but talks his way through problems or runs away, etc, depending on the skills he practices and the electives he takes. There aren't enough hours in the day to practice everything, though, so the player will have to choose what Shawn's focus will be. It's a much subtler version of the Fighter/Magic User/Thief/Paladin class distinctions from the original games. The other classes are theoretically being trained at the school also, but Shawn sees nothing of them. More on this later.


Shawn discusses the day's lesson with a classmate.

The main class is also a place for discussions on what being a Hero means for a Rogue, and the difference between Rogue and Thief. It's a bit of a shift in the definition to say that a Rogue uses his skills heroically and a Thief doesn't, when the Quest for Glory Thief was considered every bit as much of a Hero as a Fighter or Magic User, even if he could, um, appropriate rather a lot of things that didn't belong to him in the course of trying to solve the heroic quests. But Rogues vs Thieves is quite a major theme in the game, and whether Shawn is really a Rogue or a Thief in the end is also up to the player.


Ratties are Hero-U's answer to Kattas or Liontaurs.

Shawn encounters a number of colorful characters during his time at Hero-U. All the main characters are well-fleshed out with backstories, motivations, and unique conversations and encounters with Shawn, from Mr. Terk, the employee in charge of the students who hates Shawn from day one, to Ifetaya Kinah, the chef and cooking instructor who can become something of a mentor to Shawn, to Gregor, the helpful Ratty shopkeeper at the school store. Oddly enough, his classmates are a little less vivid, at least at first, because their interactions are somewhat dependent on how Shawn treats them.

The game has a "reputation" system which really functions more like esteem: the higher the reputation level is for a particular character, the more that character likes Shawn. Saying the right sorts of things to the right person or giving the right kinds of gifts will improve the reputation level for that person. Sometimes a conversation option can affect the reputation level for someone else that's listening to the conversation. Naturally, romance is an extension of this: maxing reputation with someone will greatly improve Shawn's ability to make romantic progress with that person. He can also reach the option to go on dates if certain conditions are met.

It's even possible to pursue romance with more than one person, which quickly turns into a moral choice of whether to juggle relationships or focus on one person exclusively. The game offers other moral choices too, most of which tie into the theme of Rogues vs Thieves. For instance: what is acceptable for Shawn to take for his use, and what is just dishonorable stealing? What school rules are worth breaking? The player can even think about questions regarding what battles are appropriate for Shawn to fight. The game is officially winnable without fighting at all, so that gives great flexibility for the player to role-play various stances on fighting.


I love Joel's face here too...

Now, this wouldn't be a Quest for Glory successor without the Coles' trademark puns and silly humor stuffed into every spare corner of the castle. Many scenery objects clearly only have descriptions for the purposes of showcasing a pun. These are fun, but entirely skippable on later playthroughs. Some of the banter between characters involve fun with language too, especially some of the exchanges between Shawn and his Bardic roommate Aeolus. Shawn even tells jokes to his classmates at dinner sometimes, which turns into a form of character development when Esme doesn't get the jokes, Katie rolls her eyes, Joel stares at him like he's nuts, and Aeolus laughs.

The story is very tightly plotted, much more so than in the original games. Quest for Glory I had no time-based plot points aside from a few limited appearances of minor characters, and no time limit. Trial by Fire had a few, with the elementals showing up on certain days regardless of what the Hero may or may not have done to prepare for them, and set entertainments at the Inn, and an overall time limit to the plot. But most of the time, the Hero has complete freedom to wander his environment in order to pursue his goals. There's a day and night cycle that often determines where people can be found, and the Hero has to eat and sleep, but one day is much like another.


Class on day 2 is different than class on day 1, of course.

In Hero-U, something unique happens nearly every single day during the course of 50 game days. Each class introduces a sequence of individual topics, and some days have quizzes or exams. Problems occur on certain days that Shawn has the opportunity to address, much like the elementals. Outside of class time, Shawn has freedom to explore and pursue goals, but everything takes a set amount of time, which is finite in the game overall, and also limited for doing certain tasks. The plot allows for significant flexibility, however, in terms of completing those tasks. In other words, if Shawn doesn't complete certain tasks himself by their set deadline, someone else will do it - and get the credit!

This is somewhat of a double-edged sword in terms of game design. It doesn't lend itself to the sort of leisurely exploration and examination of everything that was common in the original games and so typical of adventure games in general. You're going to run out of time if you try to read all the punny descriptions of everything. But who does that, really? Those are there for the benefit of the player, not Shawn.

You can certainly take a relaxed approach to the game, especially the first time through, but just be aware that the plot will move on whether Shawn's keeping up with it or not. On the other hand, the gameplay sometimes benefits from approaching it more strategically: examine everything, figure out what's important, and then replay sections so that Shawn makes good use of his limited time. That's one way to have Shawn accomplish his goals, while still being able to appreciate the atmosphere and writing.


Shawn starts out quite unskilled at nearly everything...


...but given enough practice, he can excel at anything he chooses.

Figuring out what matters can also be tricky in terms of training enough to have sufficient practice in appropriate skills for a task. Skills can be boosted permanently by spending time in practice, as in the original games, or sometimes by reading certain books. What makes this easier, though, is that there's an equipment system where skills can also be boosted temporarily by what Shawn has equipped. Which items do what requires a bit of trial and error, but some skills can be boosted so much by items that training them requires much less time commitment than you might initially think.

Characters can also react to what Shawn is wearing just in terms of his appearance, quite aside from what the items do. Some items are effective, but look silly, so certain characters may comment on this if Shawn talks to them while wearing a silly outfit. In particular, the strict Mr. Terk will eventually start punishing Shawn if he sees him not wearing a school uniform during school hours. Fortunately the game doesn't require too much micromanaging of clothes, although the option to designate a secondary outfit that could be exchanged with a click would have been appreciated, to switch between the school uniform and better equipment for dungeon-delving.


Studying First Aid allows Shawn to collect mushrooms with various abilities.

The original games are known for having multiple solutions to many puzzles based on character class. Here we have just one official class, so multiple solutions really have to be targeted to individual skills. This is extended by having the elective system, which gives Shawn some additional abilities that aren't linked to the numerical skills. Those abilities let him collect certain items, and later even craft new things from those items. Many craftable items are also purchasable from the shop, but he can save money by making them himself.

Puzzles tend not to have different solutions as such, but they might have a solution that's achievable in different ways depending on skills and abilities. For example, different solutions to a locked door in Quest for Glory might be bashing it open (Fighter), using an Unlock spell (Mage), or picking the lock (Thief), whereas in Hero-U, an obstacle might require a specific item, but that item could be found in a chest, bought from the store, or made using found components. Given the existence of magic, some things are also achievable using a basic skill or an equivalent magical skill, as in the original games.


Fighting Drats in the Wine Cellar

One difference between Quest for Glory and Hero-U that I really appreciated was the way that combat is mostly turn-based instead of action-based like the original games. Shawn and his enemies move in real time to start, so sneaking past enemies is still action-based. But once Shawn is in combat mode, everything pauses. He can move a certain distance each turn, and attack or use one item, then each enemy in range gets a turn as well. Additional enemies can be drawn into the battle if the combatants move within range of their detection radius.

Now that I've spent so much time talking about the game's features, let's look at a few places where it could be improved. I found mechanics, plot, and writing to be fantastic, but what could really benefit from some improvement is atmosphere, the beautiful and charming artwork notwithstanding.


This library is so empty...all the time.

First, the game suffers a bit from being limited so sharply to only the school's castle building. There are only two outdoor locations, the tower garden, which does have quite a lovely view, and the courtyard. That means there's not much chance to get a sense of place the way the original games did with their explorable forests and mountains and deserts. Shawn doesn't even get to explore the nearby city of Caligari. He's required to stay at school even though his classmates can all go into the city. Mostly what Shawn explores are caves and dungeons. It's a tightly focused design, but very limited.

The castle also feels very empty because we don't get any visual sense of any other students. Having some kind of generic unnamed "Warrior" or "Paladin" or "Mage" student wandering the hallways occasionally would have done a great deal to further the illusion that other students attend the school too beyond just the Rogue students plus Shawn's roommate. In theory the Rogues do things at different times from the other students, but there are too many shared areas, like the Library, for them to be entirely deserted all the time. Plus electives are presumably shared with other classes, so those rooms ought to have other people sometimes.

The plot can drag a little bit when the player has already figured out what needs to happen, but the game is giving additional time before an event happens that makes it possible to carry out the solution. This happened to some extent in Trial by Fire, for instance, especially once the player has figured out the pattern to the elemental appearances. But here, because of the choice-based nature of much of the puzzle solving, there can be an element of confusion about whether Shawn doesn't have the right skills for something, or whether the solution isn't right, or maybe it just isn't time yet. But because it's possible to miss completing tasks without losing the game, the player might have difficulty deciding whether to keep trying or just wait longer to see if something changes.

On the whole, though, I would say Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption certainly lives up to being a successor to the Quest for Glory games. It takes the series in a bit of a new direction while still being true to the basic concept, which I take to be that Heroes can take many forms, but in general they do their best to make the world a better place with the skills they have. Hero-U offers plenty of replayability as well, to explore different electives, conversational gambits, or romantic options. I hope you all find it as enjoyable as I did. I’m very much looking forward to more Hero-U games after this one, and I plan to replay after the official release to get Steam achievements and try different choices than I made the first time.

News on Hero-U

We've heard it from reliable sources that Hero-U is scheduled to launch on Steam on July 9th. The game will be $34.99 with a 10% discount for 30 days after launch. The Coles would greatly appreciate it if players were to post reviews, screenshots, and other community content on Steam once the game has been launched.

A DRM-free version of Hero-U will be available on GOG on the same date.

For more information on the game you can visit the Hero-U web site.

Final call for the Cole interview!

Is there something you always wanted to ask from the Coles? The Adventure Gamer interview with the Coles will be published around the Hero-U publication, so now is your final chance to send your questions to adventuregamer@googlegroups.com - the best questions will be rewarded with CAPs!

13 comments:

  1. Thanks to Reiko for putting together this fantastic review! We don't normally review new games, but this one is absolutely worth it. I haven't been this excited in a new adventure game in a long time.

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  2. Thanks, Reiko! Please edit the last section - the GOG.com launch will be simultaneous with the Steam launch. I just don't have a link yet. You should be able to search for Hero-U on GOG.com once the page is up there. We're trying for a July 9 launch; we'll know in a few days if it needs to slip a week.

    The lack of non-Rogue characters in most areas was a budget issue. We're looking into adding generic characters in the hallways and common rooms for Hero-U: Wizard's Way and future games. There are two characters you can meet in the library, but one of them is not always there.

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    1. Edited. I'm looking forward to playing the game!

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  3. All right, color me stoked. (Once the GOG version's ready, of course. Steam is philosophically unacceptable.)

    Thank you for this preview! Seeing more NPCs wandering about is always good for atmosphere, and I wish that had been implemented. But I don't expect new features are feasible anymore at this stage. Maybe in the next one, yes?

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  4. Yes, perhaps I was slightly unclear about the Library. To clarify, I meant that it's entirely deserted of students from other classes even though I would expect it to constantly be in use as a shared resource of the school. Most of the time the Librarian is there, and sometimes one particular Rogue classmate can be encountered there, but never anyone else.

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    1. We'll have some "generic students" walking the halls and using the common rooms next game. We probably won't allow much conversation with them as that multiplies the work quickly, but at least the school will feel more populated. (And after all, what Wizard wants to talk to the hoi polloi from other classes? :-) )

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    2. Maybe instead of having interactive dialogue, you could have incidental remarks appear over generic characters' heads, infinity engine style.

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  5. The school structure and multiple events to do with a limited amount of times sounds a lot like systems I've seen in the Persona or Tokimeki Memorial series. Were those an inspiration, or is it a case of parallel evolution?

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    1. We've only watched five or ten minutes of Persona, but Hero-U has some similarities by nature of the setting and our emphasis on characters and story above puzzles. I've never heard of Tokimeki Memorial. We started our online The School for Heroes web site back in 2002, which was after the first Persona game, but we first heard of Persona in maybe 2010 or so - my son plays them. The game is inspired by our web site, where we "taught" members how to be fantasy heroes in real life.

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  6. Sneak preview: I just discovered that the game manuals I uploaded can be viewed (I think by anyone) on the Steam store page. https://store.steampowered.com/app/375440/HeroU_Rogue_to_Redemption/, then click on "View the quick reference" (Student Handbook) or "View the manual" (technical manual). Since I figure about six players will ever find them, I thought I'd share them with Adventure Gamer readers. :-)

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  7. Official Western localisation of YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World remake announced for 2019:

    https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2018-07-05/spike-chunsoft-to-release-yu-no-visual-novel-on-ps4-pc-in-2019/.133862

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  8. Good review, Reiko.

    I'm playing the beta as we speak, and so far, I agree with your sentiments. I'm pretty sucked in by the story and mysteries of the castle at the moment, and also slightly stressed out by the time constraints, though I agree that they probably add to the replayability of the game.

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    1. I'd just like to add that I'm absolutely loving this game! I'm at day 35 now, and taking my time, for maximum enjoyment

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