Title: Class of Heroes 2
Developed By: Acquire / ZeroDiv
Published By: MonkeyPaw Games
Localized By: GaijinWorks
Based On: The Class of Heroes series
Console: Playstation Portable
Genre: Dungeon Crawler
Classification: This title has been rated T by the ESRB for Violence, Suggestive Themes and Mild Language
Review Conditions: North American Edition, Playstation Vita, Digital Download Copy
Special Thanks: MonkeyPaw Games for kindly providing me with a digital download code
First a History Lesson
During June 2009, North American video game publisher ATLUS USA released the very first Class of Heroes title to the Playstation Portable console, building upon a number of dungeon crawlers released by the company during that time such as Etrian Odyssey. Unfortunately while challenging, it didn’t seem to appeal to everyone, and while the franchise did receive many additional releases in Japan by Acquire and ZeroDiv, unlike Etrian Odyssey the fate of the Class of Heroes series internationally was looking grim. This was until GaijinWorks and MonkeyPaw Games came along and license rescued the series, acquiring the rights to at the very least Class of Heroes 2.
While their initial Kickstarter campaign for the game failed with only $96,951 out of the $500,000 goal achieved, the companies decided to push ahead release the game digitally. All this effort finally paid off, and earlier this week they were able to achieve this goal of having the game on the Playstation Store for the PSP / PS Vita. But the question is…. how does this game fare?
With the exception of a few genres, I always say that a good storyline is an integral component of any good game. However given the context of the gameplay system, Class of Heroes 2 does under-perform and may not be up there with the standards of other games. But that being said, it still does the job somewhat well complemented by a great and to some degree entertaining localization job by GaijinWorks.
In the game you take control of not a single character but entire parties of up to six students from the different Adventurer Schools around the game world – as you traverse through a series of labyrinths which are filled with traps and lethal monsters, all with the sole goal of completing in excess of 140 quests ranging from the simple “Find X of Y” and “Defeat Z Boss” to later in the game more complex and challenging ones. As you are left with a potentially ever-changing and non-linear set of characters, most of the actual storyline comes through the dialogue you come across before, during and after quests through interaction with the other eccentric students and even more eccentric teachers.
The writing for some of these quests were better than others, but the characters are interesting and overall does a solid performance of warranting a purpose and motivation to take part in this dungeon crawling experience.
As with the first Class of Heroes game, CoH2 features two very distinct art styles depending on what portion of the game you look at. Outside of the dungeons you are treated to some rather nice anime style environments and character designs, mostly aligned to what you would see in a visual novel release. While character designs do very little other than help identify your character and appear in a few general expressions during battle, they have crammed a fair few of them into the mix.
With 10 races and 2 genders you are automatically treated with 20 different novice character designs, and with 19 different races you are looking at 380 character design possibilities in total – and although all facial appearances are pretty much static their poses and attire change per class. Other characters utilized in the storyline have their portraits displayed visual novel style against a static background. Overall, the “anime” artwork style is perhaps a bit dated but otherwise appropriately used for a game of this caliber.
When traversing the labyrinths, you are placed into a first-person viewpoint and overall are treated to environments that are pretty unremarkable and uninspiring – but at the same time maintain a style similar to that of titles like Etrian Odyssey. The visuals are all 3D in design and come in different sets of styles depending on what area you are in. The only thing that adds some element of interest to the world are the occasional placement of events or treasure chests, leaving little else to serve as a landmark. That being said, this isn’t an uncommon thing to include in a dungeon crawler – but it may turn some people less into the genre off.
Music / Voice Acting
The one area that Class of Heroes really needed to work on was the music. The music was satisfactory and came across quite nicely at times as a modern (School) x fantasy (Labyrinth) hybrid setting. But that being said, there was a lack of any songs that were above average or helped set the mood and did eventually become very repetitive.
Aside from a few occasions where you can hear the party members shout when running into pretty much anything of any shape or size in the field, there is minimal voice acting in the game.
You begin the game as an omnipresent being with the power to create and enroll your own set of students into the Academy. These students can be made out of a total of ten different character races each with different initial stats and affinities towards other races. They can also be further be enhanced by the individual characters alignment (Good, Neutral, Bad) and a small set of initial skill points which will allow you to unlock your initial character class – ranging from physical classes such as the Warrior and Monk to more magic based classes such as the Sorcerer or Puppeteer.
While some races are evidently aligned to certain classes, it isn’t an overly restrictive system and you are given the option to change during the game depending on what stats you have developed your character with. Granted it does take a while to unlock all the other classes and even earning enough stat points to change your class can be a tedious job, but the element of variability is here and developing your perfect party can provide an ample challenge. Upon creation of your group of six students, you can assign them to your current team of three front and three back attackers and then go on your journey around the campus and into the games many labyrinths.
Don’t feel locked into one group of students however, and as you can have up to a total of 100 different students you can more than one group of them around.
The campus’ spread throughout the game serve as your usual hub worlds, while smaller towns and locations spread around the labyrinth also serve as smaller less exciting versions of these. On the campus you can usually manage your students, shop, synthesize, rest and more of those sorts of things. It is a simple, proficient system but is nothing out of the ordinary. I did like how every campus offered something different, not only in terms of aesthetic appeal but offered different items, quests and/or items warranting the occasional trip back to take advantage of what they have to offer.
But moving onto the labyrinth’s / dungeons themselves. Unlike some other dungeon crawlers the areas you visit are not variable in design each time you access them, however are by no means linear. Even the first area you access to in the game can lead to several different destinations. Given the simple visuals, navigating pretty much comes down to memorization or luck, later aided by the ability to use particular skills or pick up items that can auto-map the area for you. The labyrinths are also filled with traps and secret paths which mean that you are occasionally left to search every map square to get where you potentially want to go.
Generally the goal is to get to the next destination or undertake one of the specifics for an in-game quest, but for the most part the only collectable goodies on the map are treasure chests. These chests have a little mini-game attached to them that for the ill-prepared can get a tad frustrating at times. You need to determine if a chest is trapped and if so, what it is trapped with to be able to disarm it. If three party members say that the chest has been trapped with a Gravel Attack then you know there is a good chance they are correct – but it can be a hassle when all six party members say something different. But it is nice having that risk factor – although sometimes the traps can turn a successful trip into a need to be rescued by other students if not a game over.
Class of Heroes 2 primarily makes use of the usual random encounters system, although for quests in particular there will be occasions where bosses are marked on the screen with a symbol. The battle system is pretty close to the staple dungeon crawler RPG system you see in many games nowadays, with the front row being responsible for all the up-close and physical attacks as well as defending while the back row are responsible for ranged attacks and magic. This battle system relies primarily on its strength/weakness system as well as the number of character classes to provide difficulty during the game, and these elements work in its favor I think even if not groundbreaking.
Before writing up this review I also acquired and play-tested the first Class of Heroes game a bit. The difficulty of the game seems to have been toned down a bit even if the first few initial battles may come as a bit of a shock to those who are unfamiliar with the genre. While starting off reasonably difficult, the difficulty level fluctuates frequently during the game and there are times where you will come across an over-leveled boss as a warning to restart and follow another route. In addition, the element of risk is still present in this title – and when characters are defeated they can end up as “Mostly Dead”, and if not taken to a nearby clinic quickly can be permanently dead if not restored at a significantly higher price than usual. This happened to me twice in the first half and hour of playing, but afterwards didn’t seem to impact me as much. That being said, provided you don’t lose an entire party, levelling up a new character shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge although obviously not an ideal time-consuming route to take.
While a challenge, there were a few logistics issues I found within the game which reduced the challenge to a degree. For example, when you create a character you are assigned a random number of BP (Bonus Points), so if you are not pleased with the number of points you are given it takes a couple of seconds to re-open the character creation menu. Another notable oversight is the Dorm/Inn system where it is significantly cheaper to restore a characters MP than to heal each individual character. All you need to do is have a sorcerer or two replenish their MP and then heal the characters using their spells – saving quite a bit of money. While minor issues and easy oversights, to be a proper challenge these are not things I would expect to see go unnoticed.
GaijinWorks has evidently been hard at work localizing this game and it is clear to see this from their localization work. While there is nothing that overly sets Class of Heroes 2 out from their competition on the market, I am glad to see that there are still companies willing to license and localize the wealth of JRPG’s on the Playstation Portable platform that have yet to be picked up but still have much to offer in terms of gameplay. At the end of the manual it is mentioned mention that they are pushing forward with Class of Heroes 3, so I look forward to seeing how this expands from the solid foundations set by its predecessors including this title.