Maneuver Warfare

It’s surprising just how much has changed since we previewed Lakoo’s latest release, still being developed under the title Brave Code at the time. Ironically, it’s the story that made the fewest strides during the game’s refurbishing — this is one of the multitudes that explain themselves by supposing demon-slaying ventures are merely the Hero’s Way (Out Now, Free). At least you have to give the developers credit for working the game’s title into its opening text.

Hero’s Way may have a cliché premise, but as we reported earlier, its gameplay mechanics are anything but. Where most Action RPGs give the player command over a bevy of attacks and special moves, Hero’s Way constricts his or her input to the player characters’ movement. In so doing, it opens up strategic options that rarely come into play in this genre. While the heroes automatically execute their attacks and weapon-dependent specials, the player gets down to the business of dragging them around onscreen — keeping them in motion so they effectively evade enemy projectiles, or switching them up to ensure the most resilient party member stands ready to absorb an onslaught. Usually the latter role goes to the short-range Warrior; the player may compose his or her squad from any combination of three classes before setting out, but it seems a balanced team that includes one of each is the best bet for now. An additional mystery class is on the way, and this should give fans a good reason to come back for a replay or two once updates roll in.

Off the battlefield, Hero’s Way will feel quite familiar to genre veterans. Character management includes the time-honored Level Up point system that gives players a hand in shaping the heroes’ stat growth. A no hassle drag-and-drop system takes care of equipment management and upgrades; purchases are made at shops spread evenly across the world map.

One thing that’s sure to strike players as a bit awkward is the complete lack of a consumable item system in Hero’s Way. Healing potions are rarely dropped by defeated enemies and consumed on-the-fly, so the player has to rely on his or her wits and reflexes to get the squad through an entire level in one piece. If any or all of the characters perish, it’s not necessarily Game Over though; the player can dip into in-game cash reserves to revive them, or decide to retreat while keeping the earned gold and experience.

A ton of new enemies and environments have shown up since the beta version we previewed, but one change I wasn’t happy to see lies in gameplay balance: enemy stats and crowd sizes are skewed so heavily against the player that it’s really dampened the fun factor for me. Simply put, enemy endurance is too freaking high compared to how fragile the heroes are! This goes way beyond encouraging In-App Purchases — no hole in your wallet can be big enough to keep these chibi warriors alive, because they burn through revivals within seconds even if the player’s taken care to outfit them with the latest equipment.

Nay, only the dreaded Level Up grind can aid these heroes in their quest to thwart evil. Granted, proper strategy plays an important role too; air dropping the right hero behind enemy lines or using one as a decoy to draw projectiles makes all the difference between a well-played level and an outright slaughter of the player’s cute squadron. But I never felt as rewarded for my brainier stunts in the final as I did in the beta, because even the meekest vampire bat takes forever to whittle down now. Well implemented strategies don’t bring crippling blows upon enemy hordes, and there are no heroic last stands by a single surviving character unless spending an entire hour repeating the same patterns in a boss battle is your idea of fun. My point is, real-world military commanders devised maneuver warfare to knock out key enemies quickly, and yet Hero’s Way has ended up feeling like a severe exercise in attrition despite its wonderfully fresh approach.

There’s no question that Hero’s Way far exceeds the expectations of its price range aesthetically. Its environments, enemy selections and soundtrack have grown even richer since the beta, and even before I gave the final a download, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor when I learned this one would be completely free to play. Likewise, the size of its campaign – 60 levels all told – furnishes lasting entertainment if you can get over the Level Grind aspect that currently holds it down.

iFanzine Verdict: Its fresh approach to Action RPG gameplay, sheer amount of content, and production values make Hero’s Way a tour de force at the magic price of free! However, this one still has plenty of room to improve in updates. The developer’s going way past full throttle on enemy endurance has dampened the appeal of its new system, effectively leaving the release version of Hero’s Way feeling more tedious than challenging and rewarding despite everything going for it. If this hurdle can be addressed in updates, it will surely become a must-have for genre fans.

[xrr rating=4/5]