Heroes of Ruin marches in the footsteps of every dungeon crawler that came before, of icons like Baldur’s Gate and Diablo that put these overhead-perspective lootfests on many a gamer’s map (and hard drive). The PC knockoffs continue unabated in the meantime, but the team at n-Space defies genre protocols to bring their action RPG to Nintendo’s handheld and capitalize on the system’s social functions. One may immediately cross the overly elaborate plot, cornucopia of loot, and fairy tale setting off their handy itinerary, but everything else about Heroes of Ruin screams budget.
The campaign works to provide a complicated narrative, as players only uncover the true villain among numerous backstabs and alliances within the game’s closing act. Eight hours prior, Ataraxis, the Ruinlord and founder of the hub town Nexus, becomes stricken with a paralyzing curse. As the glory-seeking protagonist, the job falls to the player to rid the man-sphinx of his affliction where previous travelers failed. The four hero types – Alchitect, Gunslinger, Savage, and Vindicator – vary in motive and origin, and react differently to the townsfolk pleading for aid. The dungeons do not share that complexity. Territories include sunken coves inhabited by Tiburs (Street Sharks, for you children of the '90s), hexed woods haunted by restless spirits and arachnids, and frosty mountain paths pillaged by waist-high goblins.
Each act centers around one particular biome. Procedurally generated dungeons imbue the branching floor plans with a hint of variety, yet there is no visual definition to the icy, monochrome trails or stale, leaf-strewn undergrowth: white means snow, green means forest. Towering hills and rocky coral thwart adventurers from prospecting off the beaten path, and recycled architecture just two dungeons deep embitters the odyssey with dreadful familiarity. You may not even notice the randomization, however, should you accept all available side missions before departing to the story’s next destination, giving no cause for a return trip unless you invest the time in the handful of daily challenges.
Despite the swashbuckling influences, the realm of Veil is deprived of any interesting legends, myths, or sea tales.
Another Diablo-chasing lootfest, Heroes of Ruin rightfully floods players in a cascade of belts, boots, and bracers, though 90% of the drops remain useless. All my equipped outfittings were pried from end-level bosses or the rare merchant expenditure, buy any unwanted loot can be sold with a simple hold of the down direction on the D-pad regardless of your current location. Still, I maxed out my wallet’s carrying capacity very early, leaving me to buy frivolous clutter from Nexus salesmen for the sole purpose of freeing up some room in my coin purse.
While not farmable like the Real Money Auction House simulator misleadingly referred to as Diablo III, Heroes of Ruin boasts its own version of an in-game economy. Daily challenges reward explorers with valor points – necessary when buying statistically overpowered gear – but with only four per day and the guarantee that at least one missions will require a certain class, I ignored these late-game objectives in favor of progressing the storyline. With wi-fi connection enabled, players may also purchase/trade equipment previously sold by other gamers to the merchants of Nexus. Like the challenges, the gear remains completely random.
Heroes of Ruin does support the addition of three other adventurers to your quest, both locally and online, making the already breezy encounters a stroll through cursed lands. If Diablo III’s Hell and Inferno difficulties seared one painful lesson into my brain, however, it’s that fun lies with slaying together, not respawning together – a practice Heroes of Ruin graciously takes to heart. The chaos unfolds in a mixture of stun bombs, elemental spells, and claymore cleaves, shattering any hints of strategy, as well as imps, gargoyles, and yetis. My journeys through other players’ worlds remained decidedly smooth too, as evidenced through my chats with some UK blokes using the 3DS’s built-in microphone.
Anthropomorphic sharks: not as terrifying without laser beams attached to their frickin' heads.
The hack-and-slash combat combines the powers of three mana abilities on the X, Y, and A face buttons, while B succumbs to the most wear and tear as the default, and most powerful, input for attacks. Sadly, a low level cap of 30, around two dozen active skills, passive skills, buffs, and no New Game Plus leaves players no freedom to experiment. I rarely made use of my three active casts, however, due to the game’s juvenile difficulty curve and frequent excess of health and magic potions. Every jar, crystal, or chest smashed coughs up some form of elixir. Not even the unique boss fights could reduce my potion count – a hearty 20 each. And yet, dodging an Eldritch Bear's rampage as he tramples shield totems, or toppling frozen pillars onto a dragon’s head, show creative promise in the face of normally trite onslaughts.
Draw distance can become a major thorn in the side. Minimizing the option's slider zoomed the camera out mere inches, still limiting the player’s line of sight to an oppressive degree. Based on my time spent testing the demo, I knew beforehand that ranged classes like the Gunslinger would possess an advantage over their Herculean counterparts. While the melee-focused Vindicator and Savage receive high armor marks, wisps, skeletons, and goblins do not hesitate to launch assaults off-screen, docking several points of health before players even react. To contrast this defect, the finely attuned auto-aim allows gamers precision control of their strikes in a mosh pit of claws and fangs.
Seems like an ideal location for brainstorming evil-doings.
The developers did not make the best of the system’s graphical capabilities. Other third-party titles, like Resident Evil: Revelations, advertise better lighting, shadows, and anti-aliasing. From repetitive enemy design to rigid animations, Heroes of Ruin’s N64 (I’m being generous here) visual “stylings” plain underwhelm. Although players customize their hero prior to the prologue, the rudimentary facial changes go unseen as the aerial camera details nothing beyond the character’s backside.
The worst part of the package, audio problems surge from the 3DS’s speakers. The soundtrack drops more than the bass in a Skrillex album, sound effects distort into hideous static during the use of abilities, and vocal performers feign posh, regal accents. Straight text might have been a better option, as I laughed several times at my Gunslinger’s cocky disposition and obvious disregard for the woes of NPCs unless their quests entailed some sort of reward.
Not to be outdone by genre heavyweights, Heroes of Ruin rides the coattails of the renowned Diablo II, yet this hack-and-slash dungeon crawler still delivers considerable bang for your buck at near-Diablo III prices. Given its handheld premise, four distinct protagonists, randomized instances, a bounty of colored treasure, and stable network connectivity, Heroes of Ruin rockets through most of its blunders. Just expect the occasional backfire to detonate on the launch pad.
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: July 17, 2012
Number of Players: 1-4 (Campaign)
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS (Reviewed)