Heroland is a curious little game. Published by XSEED Games and developed by FuRyu, Heroland is packed with veterans from the Japanese video game industry. Those credits include director Takahiro Yamane (Fantasy Life), writer Nobuyuki Inoue (Mother 3), and composer Tsukasa Masuko (Shin Megami Tensei). That’s quite an eclectic blend of resumes, and the result may not be what you’d expect. Heroland is a small-scale RPG with more in common with mobile games than anything mentioned above. But it has a big heart, bursting with quirky humor and strange ideas for both play and story-dressing. Both fun and harrowing (especially if you’ve ever worked in service), Heroland is one of the stranger RPGs on offer this year but if it clicks, there is a lot of substance to dig into.
The titular Heroland is a Jurassic Park-like fabrication of RPG romance, located on its own island out in who knows where. A vast array of strange characters and creatures serve a mysterious CEO as part-time employees whose job is to make guests feel like heroes. These workers act as dungeon tour guides, allies in combat, and of course enemies and bosses. Customers pay to go on their own lifelike dungeon-crawling adventures, complete with loot should they manage to save the day. Once the sun goes down, Heroland closes its gates and the giant slugs, anthropomorphic otters, and dudes in bear costumes go “home.” Home isn’t really home since everyone lives on the island with nothing to do but earn minimum wage getting clobbered by tourists.
In Heroland, the player isn’t a guest. You play as Lucky, a downtrodden afro-sporting silent protagonist who finds himself washed up on shore and desperate for work. Lucky is hired as a tour guide, tasked with guiding adventurers through dungeons, providing them with equipment, and occasional guidance in combat. Lucky also gets to distribute loot as he sees fit, including keeping it himself for his quaint digs. But if the guests aren’t happy, they won’t dole out as much appreciation, and the payout (of currency only usable on Heroland, natch) suffers. So it’s a balancing act, between keeping customers happy and padding out your collection of stuff. There are benefits, as collecting certain items can open up equipment opportunities.
And equipment is crucial, since Heroland is half silly dialogue and half RPG combat. However, Heroland takes big-time inspiration from mobile games, robbing direct control from the player. Instead, the party acts mostly on their own with the tools they have. Lucky, surprisingly capable, has a meter that lets him give a single order once it’s full. Will he give one party member a specific command, use an item, or suggest a party-wide tactics shift? It’s all up to you and the strength of your tour guideiness.
If mostly watching all the action sounds like a drag, Heroland won’t be for you. While leveling up gives Lucky more opportunities to act, the early game is much slower. Heroland is more about managing the bigger picture of a dungeon run, staying out of the way while the guests have fun but stepping in to make sure nobody dies. You do get to interrupt the action on demand once your meter is full, so a lot of the early moments are about assigning tactics in response to specific situations, or dunking a clutch health potion over someone’s head so they don’t leave the theme park in a body bag. There are plenty of cute distractions from the inactivity, with fun, flashy animations, random dialogue triggers between characters that lead to special moves, and crucial moments that practically require the player to issue specific orders at the right time. There’s also a fast-forward button, which makes grinding a cinch.
Most of Heroland’s appeal lies in how laid back it all is. With a few exceptions, you can pick at least one character for your party from your growing pool of adventurers, and kit them out however you like. They have preferred classes, but weapons dictate their skillsets. Weapons can break though, and the more SP you waste the more you risk losing your favorite. Heroland never gets mean or out of hand though, so weapon durability feels like more of an addition to the overall bit than a mechanic worth genuine worry. It’s a very low-pressure experience, perfect for spoiled tourists who thrive on inserting themselves in situations they shouldn’t be in.
We Got Jokes
Heroland is funny, but it isn’t without a little bit of bite. Much of the early game, for example, is about a bunch of whiny members of a giant royal family bickering over their spot in the back of the line of succession. Naturally, it gets taken out on the workers, as the princes make unrealistic demands that often spiral out of control as the workers try to meet them. And as you find out more about the secrets behind Heroland’s management, let’s just say that there’s some decent commentary on things like labor conditions hidden between all the gags. You won’t get a deep takedown of capitalism or labor abuse here, but Heroland does have a bit of substance under the surface. That helps the comedy, which is a growing collection of running gags, stand out and land a bit better. The localization is great, and even when it’s trying too hard, it comes off as part of the joke.
Heroland is an excellent “podcast game.” You can take your time with the actual important parts, paying attention to new boss battles and enjoying the story, then zone out with a show or something while you grind older levels to get your party up to speed. You never feel rushed or burdened by Heroland, even though the actual situation is kind of terrifying by real-world standards. It isn’t the most active or deep RPG to come from Japan, but it is well-made, deliberately designed, and full of cute and funny writing. It’s the kind of experience that could have easily been a free-to-play mobile game, but the extra shine, polish, and meat on its bones justify its spot in the PlayStation 4 library. It’s also perfect for Remote Play, even on devices (like Chromebooks) that don’t support DualShocks just yet.
Heroland review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a Standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.