Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos Review (Switch)
Release Date: February 23, 2021
File Size: 1.4GB
Developer: Heliocentric Games
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Let’s face it, randomized, run-based roguelite mechanics have become an easy way to generate addictive gameplay loops and a reliable amount of content. In this day and age, it won’t take you long to come across an indie title utilizing these systems – from Hades to Windbound, all the way to Into the Breach and Enter the Gungeon. It’s not a criticism – when these mechanics are combined correctly, they create extremely exciting and unpredictable combinations that often feel like “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” moments.
But while many take this run-based format and do little to expand it, the true standout experiences are those that mix them with compelling gameplay foundations that are tried and true in other ways. RPGs in particular tend to benefit from this concept the most, as the “Mystery Dungeon” concept has been around for a long time, but experience-based grinding is a staple of the genre and something that purists are willing to forgive.
With that said, it might sound surprising to see the roguelite formula mixed with Zelda gameplay. Though Windbound accomplished its combination of Wind Waker sailing and Breath of the Wild survival mechanics with modest success, a roguelite with the more traditional top-down perspective is lesser-seen. It’s not without good reason- while many roguelites use the top-down aesthetics because stout, chubby things are cute and endearing, the prospect of iterating on a legendary game series is a daunting task. Apparently, the only thing you need to do is just get the perfect balance of exploration and dungeon diving.
Which is what Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos does perfectly. And with multiplayer, to boot!
There are a few smart decisions that Rogue Heroes makes right off the bat – there is a Goddess Shrine in the center of its main town Intori that can quickly whisk you off to any key landmarks or locations you have visited, which also includes dungeons. It also ties sword swings to one of two stamina systems and the dodge-roll function to another, meaning you can’t spam your primary method of attack or your evasive option. Both of these functions tie into character progression and the likelihood of successful traversal through a dungeon. You’ll traverse the island of Tasos, a sprawling, Hyrule-like overworld with plenty of secrets and side-areas to uncover, as well as four major dungeons to explore.
The first of these four is explicitly pointed out to you by a friendly and hardworking carpenter named Griff, who will also help you reconstruct the entire town of Intori… for a price. This factors into the game’s main currency, gems, which can be found exclusively in dungeons. There are coins that can also be collected in the overworld, but they will mainly only factor into choices you make in dungeons. This curious two-tiered currency system is more or less used to increase the length of overall progression.
Dungeons themselves are of variable length depending on a run, and don’t necessarily revolve around a certain “theme.” You will encounter rooms possessing puzzles and enemies of a variety of types, and when a room requires the use of one of many of the game’s tools, you’ll find a glass version of that tool within the room itself. For example, the hookshot-like item will always be found in rooms where it is necessary to pass gaps, but you’ll only find one- which is important for multiplayer. Players will end up building a load out of glass tools during their run and will be tasked in completing challenges for the group if they all wish to reap certain benefits.
Because dungeon layouts are randomly generated, you’ll have to seek out the dungeon map either from a felled enemy or the in-dungeon merchant, who deals in coins, not gems. While the map isn’t required to complete floors, it’s useful for players who want to make a beeline to the next staircase. When completing a floor, you’ll have the chance to unlock a shortcut to the next one for a hefty sum of gems – if you’re aiming for completion and progression to the next dungeon, this might be a viable option.
Gems are retained upon death within dungeons, and can be spent back at Intori in order to build up the town further. There are a dizzying number of options for expansion – a host of NPCs will take up residence there as you progress the story, so you can invest in housing for them. However, gems are better invested on the clinic, blacksmith, or gym, which have NPCs that will boost your HP/MP, Strength, and Stamina, respectively. These aren’t the only options for the player, though, as you can also invest in growing crops, buying furniture for your own pad, and use Magic Thread to craft new jobs for your hero character.
I won’t waste space – these outfits have very superficial changes, seeing as the sword and dodge-roll function are constant resources. There are stat differences, such as certain jobs having more attack power or varying movement speeds, and they can also use tools with greater efficiency. The Ranger can deal greater damage and has higher mobility when using the bow, for example, but seeing as equipment use is less reliable than your basic options, these changes don’t impact gameplay all that much. This is because equipment either utilizes the magic meter or its own unique equipment count, both of which can – yes, you guessed it – upgrade by pouring gems into certain establishments. As stated prior, the amount of ways in which you can invest your gems is high, so you’ll have to be mindful of how you want to build your character for high survivability.
To say that Rogue Heroes is all dungeon-crawling would be disingenuous, however, seeing that the game’s overworld is rife with secrets and paths. If you become exhausted with the repetitive nature of dungeon dives, you can go off the beaten path and explore some areas in order to discover new side quests, areas, and collectibles. What is impressive about Rogue Heroes is its dedication to giving a truly Zelda-like experience with the addition of roguelite dungeon design, rather than letting any of these elements suffer – most of them, anyway.
Narrative and Aesthetics
When you first look at Rogue Heroes, you might mistake it for a mod of A Link to the Past, due to the very similar sprite design of the protagonist, many enemies, and the environmental details. In its forested areas, Tasos does seem very similar to Hyrule, but as you venture out further from Intori, you’ll see new locales and biomes that give the game its own unique feel. Still, the sprites are somewhat simple, though this simplicity does result in some impressive standout designs for enemies, most notably the lost traveler enemy designs. When the environments are at their most unique, such as the autumnal and tangled southern region, Tasos feels its most lively and enjoyable, but the aesthetics of the dungeons themselves are somewhat straightforward, with later dungeons taking on a specific environmental theme, but the mechanics in said dungeons never contributing much to their look or feel.
Music is fairly subtle in Rogue Heroes, with a dungeon theme that serves as only slightly ominous flavoring. The Intori theme becomes somewhat repetitive due to its continuous resetting upon exiting and entering buildings, but it’s never anything very grating. Similarly, there are some sound effects that seem oddly mixed in comparison with one another – the Witch’s blink ability, for example, has a… disturbingly loud sound trigger. But again, these issues are minor in the scope of the entire experience, which once again feels very evocative of Zelda with its own charms.
Though some of the side quest content is novel and unique, NPC dialogue lacks a bit of personality. Only the odd comment from a particular NPC gives implication of a personality, but most serve as straightforward archetypes – the rambunctious farmer, the dutiful wife-in-waiting, the stoic blacksmith, and more. This isn’t to say that the writing in Rogue Heroes is bad, but it is somewhat lacking. When the game does offer some of its more unique scenarios, such as rescuing giant frogs to hitch a ride in their mouths, witnessing a ridiculously dedicated mountain climbing expedition, or saving a family of ghosts from a mausoleum, it doesn’t embellish in the absurdity, presenting such events as par for the course on Tasos. Maybe it is, but the writing is the least endearing part of the title, which isn’t a major flaw – after all, the series from which it draws inspiration as a similar blank slate sense of adventure.
Impressions and Conclusion
Rogue Heroes strongly encourages maximizing its currency accrual via its penchant for wiping the slate clean upon entering any dungeon, and while this might seem like an odd choice, there’s no lack of opportunities to spend your collected gems. As the game progresses, you’ll get caught up in a more and more vicious progression cycle, as further improvements to all of your established enhancements end up costing more gems, which can be farmed from any one of the game’s four major dungeons. As you gain the ability to grow and sell crops, you’ll gain access to more of the golden chests located in dungeons, which give bonus gems to thrifty players. Currently, the in-dungeon merchant’s wares feature an odd glitch where they don’t cost any money, but this is likely a quick fix for the future and sort of alleviates the stress of the first dungeon.
Still, the game’s greatest strength lies in the fact that it actually has a fully-fleshed out overworld, possessing tons of looping paths and secrets that are worth picking up or making a mental note of. Though you won’t be able to go everywhere immediately, the tools to expand the scope of the world are made available relatively early on, and thorough mapping can prove a nice side quest for when you grow weary of smacking your head against dungeon walls.
Something I found particularly jarring were the usage of trap floors and the collision detection in early dungeons, which definitely has a learning curve. Players expecting a reliable radius of attack and hazards that can be easily reacted towards as they are in Zelda will find the mechanics work a bit different here, and retraining is necessary in order to make your dungeon runs safer. The potential cause for this could be the art assets used for parts of gameplay, which are much more precise and granular than Zelda titles and can often be hard to track even on a large HD television screen.
I often felt I was taking unexpected and surprising damage from colliding with enemies and actually missing pressure plates because the sprites for these elements either have larger activation hitboxes than their sprite implies or that action on the screen sometimes gets too hectic. As you continue to progress and both upgrade the reach of your attacks as well as familiarize yourself with how dungeons are designed to trick you into certain traps, you tend to avoid these pitfalls more and more.
Lastly, while the game’s multiplayer servers aren’t available prior to launch, I did have the opportunity to play a bit of co-operative campaigning and found the game to work extremely well. Upon traditional Zelda screen transitions, all players immediately warp to the next screen regardless of their location, and the game does an excellent job at keeping all players in frame while playing around in dungeons.
The revival mechanics within dungeons are smartly designed, and the game’s greatest benefit is that health, magic, and gem counts are all shared – in your communal town, you can cooperatively contribute gems to building structures, and then use your exclusive cache to upgrade your character. It’s very smart usage of the currency system and it encourages shared success and continued runs.
If anyone had asked me if I necessarily wanted a Zelda game with randomized dungeon layouts and an extensive character progression system, I likely would have been hesitant to respond. But the addition of multiplayer, a concept not seen since Tri Force Heroes and Four Swords before it, is truly what seals the deal in regards to Rogue Heroes’s appeal. While the game is an enjoyable solo experience, the addition and mayhem of friends makes it all the more exciting a prospect, and while I can’t speak for the online functionality just yet, I’m eager to give the game a shot on release.
RPGs with multiplayer functionality are a dime a dozen, and among that number, even fewer are perfectly functional. Although its role-playing systems are light, the steady and addictive character progression elements and solid environmental design outside of dungeons make Rogue Heroes a competent Zelda-like and an even more enjoyable multiplayer title.