Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption Review (Switch)
Every now and then a game comes along for the Nintendo Switch so rich in history and lore that we take a little extra time when discussing it just to appreciate the legacy that brought the game to be. Some of the best games in the world are Spiritual Successors (queue “Would you kindly play Bioshock?” audio clip). Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, like many titles before it, is a spiritual successor. It also happens to be one of the most playable point-and-click indie RPGs released on Nintendo Switch this year.
Let’s get the elephant in the room taken care of: I recognize point-and-click games feel dated for many. So a throwback PC adventure/RPG hybrid, no matter how good it is, may just not be for everyone. Thus, I have decided that if I cannot convince you to try out Corey and Lori Cole’s follow up to their original Sierra RPG/adventure games, The Quest for Glory Series (1989 – 1996), then I am at least going to try make you happy it exists and that it made it to the Switch.
Throughout most of the 80s and 90s, Sierra (their official name evolved a few times) was a giant in the industry. Today, gamers of all ages are familiar with The Odd Gentlemen’s successful modern adaptation of King’s Quest. Leisure Suit Larry has also received a recent entry as well. So even though Sierra Games no longer exists, their best loved games are finding ways to live on.
That being said, there is a significant difference between the King’s Quest and Leisure Suit Larry games and Hero-U: instead of the original title being worked on by new teams, the original team is back and this time making a spiritual successor. Additionally, instead of being simple adventure games, Hero-U, like its spiritual predecessor Quest For Glory (QFG), has its roots in tabletop RPGs.
You see, the QFG series was created by the husband and wife team of Corey and Lori Cole, the creators of Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. Before I get into the new title, let’s talk for a moment about the Quest for Glory games (or click here to skip ahead to the beginning of the review).
The Legacy of Quest for Glory: Sierra’s only RPG
It was 1991. I was in 7th grade and my favorite video game in the whole world was not on Nintendo. This was a new thing for young Clark and it was a *big* deal. Somehow, a Sierra game called Hero’s Quest: So You Want to be a Hero? released on PC had become my darling over Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, and Crystalis. In fact, I had beaten this new obsession over and over. I played through as a thief, a mage, and a warrior before creating a hybrid character with all the spells and skills I could possibly acquire. I did this because at the end of your playthrough, you could export your hero in the hopes to take it into the next game in the series when the inevitable Hero’s Quest II finally materialized. Alas, despite my excitement, Hero’s Quest II never did actually materialize. There was no true internet yet to clue a kid from Tulsa, Oklahoma into why what I felt was clearly Sierra’s best series just disappeared after one title.
But that all changed one day when I was browsing games at Electronics Boutique (it was not EB Games yet) with my best friend and fellow fan of Hero’s Quest. We stumbled across a game called Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire and noticed it had a big sticker on the box claiming it was the follow up to the hugely popular So You Want to Be a Hero? We lost our minds. Evidently, the game did come out – just under a different name (due to conflict with the name of the excellent board game Hero Quest which has no relationship to this series whatsoever).
We moved from shocked to determination like clockwork. As true gamer kids of the 90s, we pooled our funds and took the game to the cashier. Well, as you might imagine with two 13 year olds at the mall who were not planning on buying anything – we did not have enough. We were about a dollar short between the two of us. At this point, some adult at EB overheard our excitement and just gave us a dollar telling us he would make sure we got to play it.
When I got home, installed the game, and began, I had no idea how long the quest would last – at least 30 years at the time of this writing. It outlived both Sierra Games and the official Quest for Glory namesake. But back to young Clark, the highlight of my discovering QFGII was a reality was seeing the import character option. In fact, few moments in my time as a gamer live up to it. Progress carrying over from one game to the next? I needed to get out in the streets and tell people this was a thing.
As it happened, the scope and scale of the QFGII was so much grander and larger in scale that there was no going back to Spielburg. It was epic beyond my expectations. Filled with optional hidden secrets like a hidden school for Wizards and a secret hidden class you could only find if you maxed the new and unexplained “Honor” stat. Hiding amazing things for the curious is the hallmark of games like Dark Souls, but my addiction to pulling the thread that I knew shouldn’t be there began decades earlier in a desert city named Shapier as I hunted down an elusive dead end unlike any other in the city.
Next came Quest for Glory III: Wages of War. Not only did this game introduce a 256 color palette (a huge step up from the 16 colors of the first two games and actually the look that Sierra is best known for now), it also introduced an even more culturally diverse world filled with characters that strove to live up to their understanding of what it took to be a hero. This game brought about a renewed focus on character motivation and made Paladin a playable class for the first time in the series.
After that, Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness took the game in a darker direction. I, and most of everyone who I knew at the time, absolutely loved everything about the artstyle and location of Mordavia. QFG was now a fully lauded Sierra series that everyone wanted to play (recovering from the confusion of the name change). So many of my friends who couldn’t get into QFGII were huge fans of QFGIV. But for myself, the spooky setting, the gothic vibes, the cobblestone streets, the crooked architecture. In many ways – my eventual love affair with my favorite game Bloodborne was foretold here. As it had for three previous titles, QFG once again fully captured my adolescent imagination with QFGIV.
These were the halcyon days of QFG, before the shadow that fell across Sierra as a whole touched the series. By 1996 when QFGV was being produced, each title Sierra released was surrounded with more questions than answers. The world had shifted to 3D – not handcrafted 2D+ environments Sierra excelled at. Truth be told, the company never truly made the switch.
QFGV is as good as the first four in many ways, but it felt different. It felt as if it was trying to recapture what made the first four so magical and was unsure of its execution. The engine had changed to facilitate more realistic 3D environments, leaving behind the warmth of hand-painted scenery. This is perhaps one of the reasons I’m most pleased with the focus on hand-crafted art that is on full display throughout your time in Hero-U – they help the game feel more closely related to the art style of QFGIII and QFGIV.
Dreams of Quest for Glory VI would never come to fruition. This is despite the continued (though likely permanently stalled) efforts of a fan created game called Hero 6. Most forgot about QFG and moved on with life and other RPGs. But then Hero-U arrived 20+ years later, so let us see if this new entry can hold its own against the Glories of old.
Can Shawn possibly hope to fill the shoes of QFG’s beloved protagonist?
It will not take much time in Hero-U for longtime fans to discover you are in the world you explored back in the day. The same lore applies, and that’s a great feeling. Erana and the hero you played each have a statue in the school’s main hall. What’s more, throughout the game, you’ll encounter characters, paintings, statues, ghosts, and texts that will fill you in on the extremely rich history of the world the game is set within – including the castle your entire adventure takes place within.
This is a world of high-fantasy. Dragons, ghosts, wizards, minotaurs, goblins, kwirks, and much more inhabit this sprawling world. What’s more, they all seem to have found their way into the Hogwarts-like castle where the school for heroes, your character, Shawn O’Conner, is a student. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the rich lore of the world is how small your part in it feels. That being said, the story hits all the personal notes it should for Shawn’s story while also serving as a soft-reboot into a school/dating-sim time-management title (think Persona, etc.).
Whereas in QFG, you could let your adventure go on for many days as you like (if I’m remembering correctly), here you have a more rigid schedule over two semesters of 25 in-game days. After this, the school year ends and your adventure along with it. This means scheduling tests, breaks, electives, social activities. It also means spending your free time leveling up your stats in a way that feels alot like any of half a dozen JRPG/school sims.
In Hero-U, it seems, much of your success or failure depends on whether or not you discovered and took part in whatever timed event was taking place on the day in question. Though missing some leads to failure, other events proceed without your interaction, albeit quite a bit differently. Given one of your primary goals in the game is to win the coveted Rogue of the Year title, trying to take part in and resolve these events should be a major focus. However, the game won’t always force you to get involved if you are super focused on doing something different in a different part of the castle.
It takes a while for the notes of the story to hit as they are parceled out one at a time during class, at dinner, or when talking with classmates and other NPCs. By the time the story does come together, I found myself wishing it was more focused than the series of episodes about Shawn’s life at school it turned out to be. This plot structure struggled to match the grandeur of the more focused narrative entries in the series (Looking at you QFGII).
This doesn’t mean these episodic-like timed events aren’t entertaining or rewarding. Almost all center around heart-warming moments where you learn some deep truth about a classmate. Shawn grows closer to those around him as the story progresses – especially if you are leveling your stats enough to access the otherwise inaccessible areas you’ll need to reach to eventually help your classmates out. It’s clear the students and faculty at Hero-U (for the most part) care about one another and the game is better for it. The most memorable parts to me now as I look back are those where Shawn and his friends go out of their way to help one another. This is where the game felt special, which is as authentic as you can get for QFG because the Coles have always loved their characters.
It is true that many characters are built upon familiar fantasy tropes (one is a gypsy who disappears during the full moon, another the descendent of Pirates searching for lost family treasure, another a would-be paladin unsure of their worthiness, etc.). But these tropes prove to be starting points that help solidify the feeling of high-fantasy without taking away from the earnestness of their motivations. There are a few misses, but it mostly works.
Thankfully, the day-to-day class schedule keeps things moving forward during the early, grindier stretches of game play when you cannot access the game’s larger dungeons yet and thus are basically grinding stats to the level needed to survive once you do. Without spoiling the ending, there was, unfortunately, no option to export your character progress for a potential sequel. This makes it hard to say if Shawn will come back for a Sophomore year. Still, many characters discussed the next year towards the end of the game, so we will have to wait and see.
Point-and-Click + 3D Turn-based Combat + Minigames + Relationship/Time Management = Hero-U
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, like QFG, is a point-and-click, fantasy adventure game with lots of RPG elements. Yes it’s a fully fledged RPG – you can’t do anything without leveling stats, you’ll find better gear and weapons as you proceed, and you’ll endlessly complete quests you track in a journal. What’s more, most of the game’s climactic moments can be decided via battle, and, other than a few scripted events, you will have an incredible amount of freedom when it comes to your time between classes, dinner, and bedtime at Hero-U.
Just like QFG, most problems or puzzles in the game can be solved in multiple ways. These typically include combat, stat-dependent options to charm/intimidate NPCs, cleverly using an item/discovering a hidden item, etc. Things aren’t so delineated to the roles of mage, warrior, and thief like in QFG, but there are science, magic, and healing electives that mirror three paths and support whichever playstyle you prefer. For example, if you want to fight your way through the challenges you’ll encounter, the healing elective makes a great complimentary choice because you’ll get all kinds of healing potions and buffs for free.
Unfortunately, the magic elective has diminishing returns and only unlocks runes (no true spells like QFG), but from what I read online, Science offers a robust addition to combat. At the end of the day, Hero-U is likely not a game you’ll replay 2 – 3 times. This is especially true given no ability to export your character to a potential sequel.
Combat, Stats, and Character Progression
Speaking of RPG mechanics, let’s talk about combat. The combat in QFG was never exceptional. It was more that it even existed in a Sierra game than anything. That tradition continues with Hero-U. It’s hard to find a lot of things that hardcore RPG turn-based battle fans will find addicting here. But let’s look at it all the same.
Combat takes place on a battlefield where you have limited movement per turn. Your position in relationship to the enemy you are targeting dictates whether or not you can use a ranged or melee attack. This means you can face several foes at once and even use kiting techniques. I never actually needed to kite anything, however. I just closed in to finish whatever it was off with melee attacks. Sure a few fights needed more strategy than this, but by and large, grinding my stats daily and discovering the better gear the game gave me always put me in a position to overwhelm enemies.
I must qualify this by admitting I was obsessively efficient with my daily grind routine. How you spend your time on a day rewards you with permanent bonuses to different stats. You do not earn XP in Hero-U,. Instead, like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, when you perform an activity, the associated stat occasionally goes up. Listening at locked doors raises perception. Climbing the rope in the practice room raises climbing. Being nice to people raises charm, etc.
Some stats are far more advantageous than others, so I prioritized daily activities that raised these (fitness, agility, lock picking) and had them capped by around day 30ish. This gave me extra time for the final three ish weeks of the game to do whatever I hadn’t accomplished yet. So if you fail to level fitness and agility religiously, greater caution in combat will be required. You’ll also want to raise Luck and Gaming which allow you to make lots of money in one of the games biggest minigames: Poobah.
Minigames and Time Management
One of the highlights of how you spend your days at Hero-U are the minigames. In fact, I liked them enough that I wished there were more. While some are rather basic adventure game tropes (find the hidden exit and how to open it), others are quite involved like Poobah and Trap Disarming (both pictured in this article). These games-within-the-game have always been part of the QFG series. While Poobah serves as a great way to earn lots of money (especially in the first semester when funds are much harder to come by), Trap Disarming is basically Hero-U‘s take on lockpick mini-games. My only real complaints about these two minigames are that Poobah is a bit too RNG based while the Trap Disarming game doesn’t come up near enough.
There are also stat-based challenges you can take on as well. For example, you can try to out play different classmates at things like darts, cards, and billiards. These give your daily grind direction. Want to win at darts? Practice activities that require throwing. Want to win at Cards? Figure out an activity that will raise your Luck. This makes it a bit easier when trying to decide what stats to prioritize and which to leave alone until the more important ones are high enough/maxed.
The gameplay loop of Hero-U is built around your decisions about what stats you want to level and figuring out what activities raise those stats. There is lots to discover and many things I thought I understood I actually figured out more completely on down the line. So if Persona-style manage-your-time-and-studies-to-maximize-your-stats sounds fun, the gameplay loop will likely sink its teeth in. When things get a tad boring, just have Shawn take a nap or go to bed to move to the next day. I think this is a nice way to let the game pace more quickly when needed.
The game does take place over 50 days and almost all of that time is spent inside the Castle (the game reveals this fate fairly quickly). Without the ability to move forward to the next event by taking naps and going to bed early, time management would be a real drag by late game. The good news is that you don’t really need to level any stat above 75-80 (max is 100) and several stats can be ignored. So if the routine is boring at any point, sleep a bunch to skip on to the story bits or just go exploring in one of the game’s dungeons instead.
Solid, bug-free performance with reasonable load times in handheld mode and a graphic style far closer to classic Sierra Games than the new King’s Quest.
The artistic style of Hero-U is completely reminiscent of the QFG games. In fact, the sneak animation is nearly identical. The colors are vibrant and warm in the castle while also appropriately fitting the dark and deadly environments of the game’s monster filled dungeons. But all this may look a little dated to someone not familiar with Sierra’s point-and-click adventures. I think this is the right way for the game to look given its role as a spiritual successor and how large a part of the development the fan base played through kickstarter and other funding initiatives. It’s not out of place for an indie title on Switch and I feel they successfully pull it off, even if I wish I was able to see more environments other than the inside of the castle.
I only encountered one bug in my 40+ hours with Hero-U. Once, during combat, my character walked through a wall and then was stuck outside the playable area. Thankfully the game autosaves whenever you walk into a new room, so I only lost about 5 minutes of play time. Other than this, I had no issues with the performance on Switch – both docked and in handheld mode.
I really liked how the touch-screen functionality worked in hand-held: Just touch the clock for a readout of the time and to pull a menu up that you can navigate with one thumb. It also felt closer to the old point-and-click than using the pro-controller did while playing in docked mode. That being said, I had almost no issues with the pointer movement. Sometimes trying to line up the pointer with an enemy so I could click on it before it got the first attack failed because I clicked next to it instead. This would auto-initiate combat with the enemy having their first attack. This really only happened about 10% of the time – normally when I was being careless.
Lastly, the soundtrack was well produced and really fit the game’s environments. Compared to the old QFG games, only QFGV scored so well. There are many rooms in the castle that I cannot think of without hearing their theme come to mind. Each sets a mood that reinforces the magical nature of the world and adventure that is Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. When things get serious, for example, during a certain time late game when the castle is under a kind of attack, the music really underscores the urgency and helps elevate my sense of fun. This is also true of the in-game “Holiday” event. I don’t want to spoil it, but it really made the castle feel like an authentic location with its own unique history and traditions in a way that is a hallmark of QFG.
Is Hero-U a game newcomers will find as engaging as long time fans?
When comparing it to its legacy, Hero-U is not a perfect game. There are some things it does extremely well, yet there are also disappointments. You won’t be exporting your build of Shawn to continue to shape him in new adventures. You won’t be able to explore the countryside or even see the city. You also won’t be able to replay the game as a completely different class (though you can take a different elective which does change the game enough for hardcore fans to consider replaying a time or two).
But it also gets alot right. The comedy that was so ubiquitous is here in droves and just as good (or bad depending on your opinion of Dad Jokes). If you like bad puns, this game is for you. The dungeons are filled with unique loot like a flaming dagger, a cloak that makes sneaking easier, and unique objects of power. Almost all big bads can be dealt with through combat or via an alternative solution.
Despite all this, I don’t honestly feel the game is going to make anyone who doesn’t already feel drawn to point-and-click adventure games a fan of the genre. Furthermore, I’m okay with that. In fact, I’d be very okay with a sequel that just does a bit more than the first did in the same way QFGII improved upon QFGI. So while I’m not going to recommend this game to everyone who owns a Switch, it is easy to recommend to anyone interested in trying out a point-and-click style game from one of the teams that helped make the genre famous in the first place.
I want to end by saying thank you to Corey and Lori Cole for coming back to these games and giving us at least one more go around. Thank you also to the fans that backed the project and especially thank you to those that helped bring it to Nintendo Switch so that a new generation of gamers can learn a little bit more about how the industry we love came to be.
Before I go, I want to share a link to a hint book created under the supervision of Lori and Corey Cole themselves. It’s created in the spirit of the hintbooks you used to be able to buy for Sierra Games. They always had a decoder to reveal spoilers, and would offer smaller hints without offering the direct solution (at least sometimes). So if you want to make the most of your time with Hero-U and avoid spoilers when you need a hint, check out the only authorized guide here.
Also, if you have a PC, you can procure QFG I – V on Steam, GOG, and other places. There is even a fan-made 256 color upgrade freeware version of QFGII, my favorite in the series, that brings it to the level of quality of the other games in the series (Sierra itself upgraded QFGI to 256 colors back in the day). So if you enjoyed Hero-U and want to learn more about its characters and world, there is a whole series waiting to be discovered.