It isn’t the most cheerful game, but Hero must die. again is a fitfully fun and refreshingly unusual JRPG with a time management focus that’s perfect for the flexibility of the Switch. See, the in media res opening scene depicts your intrepid hero defeating the Dark Lord, but suffering a fatal wound in the process. Despite shuffling off this mortal coil, a benevolent angel appears to our hero and explains he has been given a five-day reprieve, giving him a chance at a victory lap and a last look at the world he saved.
In gameplay terms, this unusual premise amounts to a fairly open run around a fairly traditional fantasy world, killing monsters and finding treasure chests. The twist is that you start with an “endgame” character – a maxed-out wallet, devastating magic and generally high stats – who gradually degrades in power as his time inexorably ticks away. Traversing the world map between areas will cost you several precious in-game hours while navigating the villages and dungeons sees your time continue to tick away. There’s no reprieve; you’ll forget your most powerful spells, your armour will start weighing you down, and your other party members will have to rise to the occasion.
The ideas here are definitely fascinating, and it all looks perfectly pleasant (if unspectacular), running at a smooth 60fps in both docked and handheld modes. We’d be lying if we said the meat-and-potatoes design here lived up to the concept, though. Outside of the “pick-a-level” style world map, Hero must die. again adopts a side-scrolling approach reminiscent of PS1 classic Valkyrie Profile, but that’s where the comparison ends. The dungeons are pretty rudimentary, with their labyrinthine layouts and limited interaction creating a feeling akin to busywork. Generic green “monsters” walk their paths and approaching them throws you into traditional turn-based combat so generic that it would be a waste of time to describe. You attack, defend, cast spells and use items. You’ve played it before in so many other games.
But then, maybe that’s the point. You’re on the clock, after all. Getting lost in dungeons is a waste of your precious time, and the quests are effectively optional anyway. That’s the hook; you can choose to spend your time how you want, which gives the game a lot of leeway. You can travel the game world soaking in conversation with everyone you meet, donate all your money to charity, help other heroes with their own quests. You may even find time for a roll in the hay with a ridiculously pneumatic warrior woman. There’s a lot to do and little time to do it in.
When you die – and you will – you’re taken to the scene of your own funeral, then “scored” based on how many people attended and how many of them cried. It’s both brilliant and ghastly at the same time. Naturally, you’re then able to play again, taking a totally different path if you please, or trying to refine your previous effort and have a more meaningful final five days. Hero must die. again is better than the sum of its parts, with its genuinely emotional premise and a strangely relaxing feel despite the time constraint. There are far worse ways to while away the hours.
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