One Way Heroics: A Steam Sale Gem

One Way Heroics is a title that shouldn’t be good. An obscure release lacking any kind of momentum or attention in general, with shoddy graphics that are expressly reminiscent of the early 1990s in a sickly twee attempted “charming” manner – as well as what can only be described as remarkably obtuse game design with a cliche ridden premise — is surely a recipe for disaster, right? But it isn’t; it somehow manages to come together despite all of this to create something that is, well, good. And it deserves your attention.

After working through a rather basic character creation screen enabling the selection of key attribute points and ability enhancing perks, we’re swiftly dropped into the middle of a castle. Met by King Victor, we learn that “this world is being consumed by an unknown darkness” and that “we must defeat the Demon King in order to restore order to the land”. Oh, brilliant. But don’t fret, this is where things begin to get interesting.

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One Way Heroics poses as a formulaic classic Japanese RPG, with randomly spawning mobs that drop loot and experience points generously like an overzealous ticket warden, villages with all of the vendors one could expect, and even the occasional sprinkling of dungeon complete with sparkling chests to be smashed open. What pulls all of this from drowning within a sea of mediocrity is the aforementioned “unknown darkness” – a constantly moving wall of embodied death that drives the world, the player and the pace with unrelenting force.

Every time you attack, move, use an item, talk to an NPC character, loot a chest (you get the picture) this darkness will slowly move, encroaching on you from behind like an ever-present symbol of your in-game frailty. If you touch the wall – it’s game over, instantly. Now don’t get confused: this is most certainly a turn based game. You have the chance to sit down and plan your next attack in battle. You’re able to view the map and carefully plan the best route around a particularly confusing mountain range. But what One Way Heroics does that is effective – and impressive – is creating a real sense of threat that actually effects the player actions. I found myself at multiple stages during play completely forgetting that I had time to plan, playing the game as if it were real-time solely due to the unmovable mass of pain that was at my back. I’d attack without thought, press forward brashly, forget to talk to important vendors and often I’d end up dead as a direct result.

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This is the medium with which Smoking Wolf’s title uses to balance out and justify its other mechanics. It’s a Roguelike, meaning once you die you’re back to square one (although there are save points and items randomly dotted around the in-game world), and entire playthroughs will often last you a grand total of half an hour. Pure little chunks of gaming bliss, packed with a genuine sense of peril and a tangible sense of achievement when you manage to overcome it. It’s impressive, really.

That’s not to mention the sheer opportunity for a personalized experience that is thrown at you from the very first screen. With each of the 8 unlockable playable classes offering wildly different capabilities and approaches, you’re given a solid level of replayability. Perks allow you to recruit pets, breathe underwater and even become the Master of Unlocking (One Way Heroics unfortunately doesn’t muster up good referential humor). Worlds are procedurally generated upon starting the game each time, with daily preset challenges to keep people competing against one another in the highscores department. It’s ticking all the boxes here, isn’t it?

After taking a few tentative (yet wildly unsuccessful) punts at pressing towards the Demon Lord – who will appear randomly after you reach a certain point – players are made acutely aware of the decision making processes that constantly dictate your ability to complete the game. Running blindly forward is an option, but one which will lead to your untimely death at the hands of a powerful foe, so you’re forced to prioritize. Do I try to tackle this dungeon, knowing I only have 10 moves with which to do so? Do I waste precious turns speaking to this vendor, even though they likely have nothing I want? Is it a good idea to murder this harmless mountain goat for an instant 5 level boost, despite the fact that a mob of superpowered hippies will attempt to murder me as a direct result? The player is constantly strategizing on how they want to drive the story this time around, and it makes One Way Heroics all the more wonderful for it. It creates the kind of experiences you’ll excitedly share with friends.

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Independent titles often have a penchant for being exceptionally interesting, but flawed. Playism’s title is no exception. It lacks polish and arguably depth, but by capitalizing on its core mechanic to bolster everything surrounding it, One Way Heroics manages to give itself a distinct sheen among a genre that so desperately needs some form of innovation. A stalwart example that Japan’s indie scene is worth the attention of a western audience to a much greater extent than it currently receives.