And closing out our impromptu three-week Kickstarter Spree is Heart Shaped Games‘s Hero Generations. A game so determined to be on the cutting edge, it only came out while I was writing the previous review.
Hero Generations is the best kind of Kickstarter game, in my opinion: a game I liked from the pitch, backed, and then immediately forgot about. Having it show up now, unannounced, years after actually paying for it, is like receiving presents from Past Jarenth. And I like that! Thanks, Past Jarenth. For all the guff I give you re: occasional incredibly poor life choices, you’re a good dude from time to time.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium. Mechanical, high.)
(Game source: Kickstarter backer.)
On some occasions, when I launch an unknown PC game for the first time, I find I immediate develop the suspicion that the game in question was primarily developed, or at least co-developed, for a mobile platform. Have you ever had this? It can be any number of things that set me off in this, really: a screen layout with large easy-to-touch buttons, a non-fullscreen starting resolution, or a seemingly tacked-on options menu that provides only the absolute bare basics in terms of PC experience customizability.
In fact, this would be an apt summary of the Hero Generations title screen: three options that all involve starting games, two of which are significantly larger than any other buttons. A settings menu that ‘sets’ very little. A leaderboard that doesn’t seem to be connected to any kind of outside world, instead presenting what I’m sure are either developer scores or Kickstarter backer names. A credits list that isn’t even a hilarious movie or interactive minigame, I mean, jeez. It’s like you guys don’t even want me to watch this. And finally, links to the Heart Shaped Games site and to ‘Forums and More’. It’s likely I will never ever click that last link. Don’t take it personally, Heart Shaped Games. I’m just not much of a forum guy.
Oh! And in the center of the screen, visible whenever no options are pressed, stands a small grey guy holding two grey swords. No idea what his deal is.
Simple options and subdued title screens aren’t any kind of indictment, of course. From what I can tell, Hero Generations’ title screen functions primarily as a speed bump on the way to your next game. Which is fine, it really is; it just means I don’t have a lot to talk about in this particular segment.
So let’s move on to this one!
I have no idea how to play Hero Generations — I’ve even largely forgotten what the premise was. Yes, the premise that got me to invest money in it in the first place. Luckily, there’s a bright (matte) Tutorial Button right there in the menu! I click it, accept the warning that doing so will ‘overwrite my current saved game’ — did I play this game in Early Access? Was this game even in Early Access? I don’t think it was, and I don’t think I did. But it’d be something if I had a repeat of the Ironcast Prior Knowledge Scenario in just two weeks.
Anyway. I click the Tutorial button, and get this for my efforts:
“MY CHILD.” Wait, who said that? Who’s talking right now? Is it the doofy-looking guy on the screen? No, I think… I think that’s probably me, isn’t it?
“YOU ARE A HERO.” Well, geez. Thanks, I guess. I don’t really feel like a hero, not after all the nothing I’ve done so far. But I’m grateful for the show of support! Great for my self-esteem, and all that.
“AND IT’S TIME I TAUGHT YOU HOW TO CARRY ON MY LEGACY.” Alright, now we’re talking. Tutorial time! Time to make a name for myself in the world, guided by what I can only assume is the ghost of a dead parent. Hope I’ll make you proud, mom or dad!
The grey screen filter clears, and I get a good look at my fated protagonist for the first time. He’s… definitely something, alright. Blue hair, green skin. Skeevy look on his face. Digging the red gloves, he’s got that going for him.
Surrounding Unknown Hero — no, that’s actually his name — are forests, grasslands, and a whole lot of cloud cover. The forests block my path, and the clouds block my sight, but I can totally move into the open grass field if I want to!
I move from one field of grass to the next. Doing so changes the number on the giant stopwatch on the right side of the screen, the one right next to another image of Unknown Doofus, turning it from 50 to 49. Hero Generations informs me that this number represents my life expectancy. Moving through the world ages me, you see: every square traversed represents one year of travel.
Okay, so. Wow. First up: travelling that tiny bit of grass took a whole year? That’s quite a feat, almost heroically slow. And I’m not even out of the woods yet! But moreover: apparently, Unknown Hero knows with exact certainty how much of his life he has remaining? Because that is gruesome. Makes the Machine of Death relatively benign by comparison. Imagine living in a universe where every day, every year, you’re confronted with the knowledge that time is not just limited, it’s exactly limited. How would you deal with that? I mean… do you throw parties every time the clock ticks down? ‘Happy One Step Closer To Death Day’?
Alright, that’s enough fanfic. For now.
I mouse over the other elements of the rightward sidebar for a bit. The giant star up top represents the Unknown Doomed Hero’s Fame: it’s currently at 0, stacking up well against my personal best of 0. The red star and yellow-red stripes represent Attack Strength and Combat Damage, respectively. The gold coin is gold, surprisingly. And I can’t really work out what Traits and Items represent. If only there was some clue in the name.
I take another year-long step. 48. Hero Generations informs me that my lifetime goal is to achieve as much Fame as I can. Before the clock inevitably runs out. There are many ways to do this, it tells me: for instance, one thing you can do is scour random forests on the overworld for treasure!
I step into Ezra Forest. The tile map gives way for a side shot of the Unknown Hulkling walking up to a treasure chest. He opens it. 100 Fame, yeah! My first step on the road to significance. 47.
Another good way of gaining Fame: fighting monsters! Because life isn’t quite short enough yet, I guess: better get the unpredictable savagery of armed combat in there.
Battle takes place on a similar side shot to forest exploration, but obviously with a little more action. Emphasis on ‘a little’: I can either choose to engage in automated battle with the monster before me, or I can run away — taking a hit to the Fame in the meantime.
I hit the Attack button. The game rolls Attack Strength dice for both of us, generating a number from the random range I was shown above our heads. The Unknown Battler rolls… 1! And the monster rolls… 0! Whew, that worked out okay.
As the victor, I now deal my damage to the defeated monster. Damage is measured in lifespan, in this universe: my basic attack reduces the monster’s life expectancy by five whole years. Jesus. Given that the creature — Estson, its name was — only had four years left to live, this handily kills it immediately. My hero is awarded a tiny dollop of Fame, and a grim look into his own eventual inglorious end. 45.
But wait, what’s this? At the end of the — shockingly one-directional — forest path lies the town of Hilltrotter. The town of Hilltrotter has a 1-marked pink heart floating above it, which means that in that town lives on potential ‘mate’. Someone to fall in love with, marry, and start a family with? Averting the grim specter of my approaching demise through love, companionship, and raising the next generation? Can it be?
Turns out that it can! Brandon, the gendered-name-bucking potential mate of Hilltrotter Town, falls in love with me at first sight. She and the Unknown Casanova settle down in Hilltrotter together, and for a moment, all is right with the world.
Brandon and Hero run towards their new house. And no sooner have they reached it, than I’m asked to name their firstborn child.
In the Hero Generations universe, ‘genetics’ apparently takes the form of a four-by-five board of cards. I can flip ten of these cards; each card holds a particular stat bonus for the child. I get cards for Attack Strength, Combat Damage, Gold, and Life Expectancy; good genes, Unborn Jarenth! Moreover, while most ‘common’ cards provide only low stat bonuses, I luck out and find two of the three ‘rare’ cards on this board. Jarenth-To-Be, you are really getting all the advantages.
Their child all but set in stone, Brandon and Hero retire to their house.
Sixteen years pass…
Dour-faced, ponytailed Jarenth exists the house. In one last meeting with both his parents, he receives their final parting words of wisdom: the size of the world has increased! And an ancient treasure has appeared! Then he’s off, nary a look back, out to make his own place in the world. The second generation of hero.
Wow. The world has increased in size in the past 16 years. The forest borders are all but invisible. I wonder how big the world is now? Screen-sized? More?
With an increase in world size comes an increase in options. While the Unknown Relic’s Hilltrotter was a single-building town with no aspirations of greatness, Jarenth’s Hilltrotter — since renamed ‘Davis Town’ — is flanked on three sides by conspicuous dirt fields. These fields, I learn, are building locations. By earning enough money, I can have buildings be erected here, to boost and influence Hilltrotter.
For instance: I can build a Farm! A steady source of income, the Farm produces gold every 10 years.
Building the Farm — because what else was I gonna do — attracts a potential mate to Davis Town. This mate has high standards than Brandon did, however: they won’t fall in love with anyone with a net worth lower than 500 gold coins. And while I could sit around for twenty years and let my Farm do the work for me…
I explore the world, fighting monsters and plundering gold mines. As I do, the passage of time has its effects on young Jarenth: at set intervals, he ‘grows up’, advancing from youth to adolescent to adult and beyond. Growing up to adulthood involves both a straight Attack Strength increase and another stat card flip from a row of five cards, it seems. Growing even older than adulthood, on the other hand, decreases Attack Strength… but still provides a random card benefit. Which, yes, totally means you can get an Attack Strength Bonus card even as you grow decrepit from old age.
Gold in hand, Jarenth returns to Davis Town. Potential mate Odin immediately falls in love with Jarenth’s radiant golden personality, and the two of them retire to procreate.
Sixteen years later, their son Ysadora goes out into an even larger world. Fully square now, and filled with monsters, events, and towns, Ysadora is sure to have his challenges laid out for him.
But the exploits of this next generation of heroes, I think, should be a tale for another time.