It’s Westworld for JRPGs, but without a lot of depth and fun.
Heroland is a quirky RPG with a great pedigree, heralding talent from games such as Mother 3 and Fantasy Life. Sadly, the storied experience of the developers behind this XSEED Games-published Switch release doesn’t quite gel with the finished product. Heroland has an endearing hook and setup, but overall, it’s a repetitive adventure that wears thin quickly and winds up being more disinteresting than engaging in spite of its good presentation and localization.
Story is a major focus and thankfully XSEED’s localization threads the needle between being goofy and referential at a well-paced clip. The writing might be one of the best parts of the experience, regularly clawing at video game and fantasy tropes while sneaking in a good amount of subtle gags. The story kicks off with your hapless hero, nicknamed Lucky whether you like it or not, becoming a tour guide at Heroland, the titular theme park where all sorts of budding heroes can try their hand at turn-based RPG battles in dungeons. It’s like Westworld but for Final Fantasy. Much like Westworld, things get weird and surprise - Heroland’s harboring dark secrets that you are forced to uncover.
Lucky is swindled early on into debt a la Animal Crossing that keeps him embroiled in his thankless job, but a routine starts to emerge as you make your way through Heroland. You assemble four-character parties of guests to tour different dungeons in a management-heavy, hands-off manner. Dungeons are on a point-to-point map where you very specifically go between events and battles with the occasional choice of direction. Events are just short dialogue sequences while battles are typical turn-based battles, but with a monotonous twist. The four characters you assemble all automatically fight on their own; you can offer guidance in the form of picking a specific ability for one character, setting party-wide strategies, or tossing out helpful items, but all of the battles involve a lot of waiting. An easily toggleable fast-forward option can help keep this moving, but in general, the interaction level with battles is so low that it just becomes stale. An emphasis on grinding through some generic quests to raise the level of your party helps make the experience even worse over time. It often feels more akin to a clicker mobile game than a deeper RPG.
Outside of dungeons and battles, you can do a lot of purchasing and maintenance on the equipment that your parties can wield while also leveling them up. In-game currency and battle spoils can be used to spruce up your apartment and increase friendship with characters, the latter of which opening up side quests and new abilities for them. As you do your guiding, you’ll be able to do more in battles, but it just never dramatically improves. At best, the flow of the battles moderately improves as you get more options and opportunity. Most of my joy in Heroland was found in the cute narrative vignettes and in the overall management of my broader team. While Heroland is more complex than the Pokemon Jobs mechanic in Pokemon Sword and Shield, the combat in this game is much closer to Pokemon Jobs than it is the actual Pokemon combat.
Heroland relies far too much on the style over substance, and while I do really enjoy the style, especially the Paper Mario-esque pixelated characters, I’m let down by how unsatisfying the game is overall. It’s imminently cute with a solid sense of humor that just unravels into a slog of an adventure that is mostly worth it for the charm of the presentation and not much else.