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RPGs might just be the best genre to take up the mantle of storytelling. You get to experience the story of some other person, often creating your own memorable experiences along the way. With the years, games have become more sophisticated at story-telling, often allowing you to craft your own experience from scratch rather than seeing it through the eyes of some random person. Some people still want to get back to the good old times – when games were much simpler and easier to comprehend. That’s exactly what a few indie developers have sought to accomplish – bring the roots of the genre back to the present. Turns out that reinventing the wheel might not be the best way to get an audience. We’re looking at one such game called Loop Hero, which tries to bring in the nostalgia factor to appeal to an audience and almost succeeds at doing its job.

Loop Hero is a two-dimensional RPG that tries to take the genre back to its origins. While the game prides itself on being an RPG with a focus on storytelling, many of the game’s mechanics work out like a roguelike. Loop Hero is scheduled to come out on March 4, 2021 for the PC on Steam – being developed by Four Quarters and published by Devolver Digital.

Dynamic World, Different Experiences

The game inherits a lot of stuff from other roguelikes. One starts their journey without any special powers or weapons and needs to improve themselves by beating enemies on their way. Every survived encounter makes you stronger. The world generated is completely random and will vary with every playthrough – even enemies generated differ at different points of the world. The world-building improves with every iteration as more and the map is reconstituted according to the choices made by the player.

The game is playable only in single-player mode. I doubt people would have difficulty navigating around the menu since there is no option that suggests that multiplayer is possible. The side effect is that even single-player options are not customizable to a great extent. The tiles used for decorating the world can be customized as more tiles are unlocked (more on that later), and that’s about it. I wanted to customize my worlds with custom seeds, and the lack of an option for that felt really lacking.

Pointless, Pointless Walking

All worlds that can be generated in this game are in the form of a loop. There’s a base that marks the starting and ending point for the journey. The main character starts from there and moves around the entire world. Whenever an enemy comes in contact with the character, a fight takes place. A victory ensures that the adventure continues, while a defeat forces the player back to the main menu. Each victory drops weapons that can be used to improve the player’s chances in combat. Victory even drops tiles that can be used to reconstruct the world. What’s wonderful is that the set of tiles that can be dropped can be used to modify the world to the player’s advantage (or disadvantage). The main catch is that the character has no memories of the world around him, so he has to rebuild the world as he sees fit. (That still doesn’t explain why he has the powers to reconstruct the world around him as he sees fit – is he literally daydreaming in a mental hospital?).

There are boss stages at periodic intervals throughout the game. The bosses, however, are typically as bland as the main enemies are. The frustration becomes worse when you realize that you can’t decide how to go about your attacks during a boss fight. It literally balls down to a crude rock-paper-scissors match to determine who wins.

The biggest issue that I have with the game is that there’s little to no interaction involved from the player. The character moves on their own around the world and beats out any enemy it comes across. Even the fights are automated and take place on their own. There’s little to nothing to do except for placing the tiles to construct the environment and for equipping dropped weapons on the character. The lack of interactivity was a huge let-down, and it might seem that way for most other folks who try out the game.

The game features some rudimentary amount of “base-building” (I guess the quotes should speak more than enough about the feature). Periodically journeying through placed tiles as well as placing certain tiles generate resources. These resources are used to construct buildings within the base camp and expand it as necessary (which seems to be the gathering point for refugees throughout the world, more on that later). These buildings grant specific benefits to the player when constructed. The construction costs felt really uneven and unbalanced and might need to be looked into.

Story? What’s that?

The game goes with the theme that somehow the Creator has decided to turn on its own creations and burn all the stars in the galaxy to a crisp. With the disappearance of the stars, our hero sets out to find what went wrong with the universe, vowing to restore order to it. That’s when his memory gets wiped and he finds that he cannot remember anything around him. The lack of our hero’s memory is the main theme for the game, as it gives him the special power to reconstitute everything around him. The player decides how to place the tiles of buildings, terrain, and other stuff in and around the path – strategic placement affects the rewards and survivability of the character later on in the game. The options granted for tiles can be set within the main menu as part of the “deck-building” offered by the game.

This may be the first time I’m actually surprised a game claims to be a pseudo-RPG and yet doesn’t have a properly framed storyline. The best path that might have been taken is by not going for any hint of a story at all. The story of God destroying everything makes little to no sense at all, especially since there’s no backstory given to back it up. There’s some amount of redundant lore on the several enemies that pop up during battles like goblins, vampires and even skeletons – none of which seem to add anything of meaning to the main story (seriously though, why would anyone care about the world if the game itself doesn’t?).

The only good thing about the story is the narration itself. The writing might just be the only saving grace for the game. Being a game published by Devolver Digital, you ought to expect some twists here and there, and Loop Hero doesn’t disappoint. I definitely love how the writers went for an edgy narrative style (which is going to make you laugh often while reading) without caring about what the players might think about it. Edgy dialogue isn’t uncommon in Devolver Digital games (and even within the company’s E3 presentations themselves), so that might be something that’s expected. Despite the fact that I hate how the main character is an average rebellious teenager wanting to save the world from certain destruction I like some of his dialogue – which seems well-written for the most part.

Nostalgia Infinitum!

Loop Hero relies on a weird retro graphical style to sync players in to buy the game. Most players who are into retro stuff would take the bait, only to realize that they have been “fooled” later (well, for the most part, anyways). Even the music played resembles the 8-bit games that I used to play back when I was small. The game’s music does give creepy vibes at times, almost as if it is somehow being used to summon a demon for the players currently playing it (I did get some weird unexplained noises in my apartment late at night while playing it, who knows?).

The game ships with a host of accessibility options out of the box which is really nice, especially for people with disabilities. The readability of the fonts does matter a lot for peeps with color-blindness, and I admire the developers for coming out with options like that.

Rogue-like, not roguelike

Loop Hero might be advertised as a roguelike and as an RPG, but it seems quite distant from either of the two genres. It tries to craft a genre of its own by forming a bridge between the two and fails horrendously in doing so. You can get yourself hooked into the Tor browser and get some cheap “thrills” from the dark web – or you can get this game and conjure a demon in your home while you’re playing it. If that’s not something which is fine with you, stay away from it.

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