It’s Been A Rogue Day’s Night…
HIGH Learning to sneak past the evil school principal.
LOW Having to leave a dungeon because my character has to eat dinner.
WTF Getting stuck while trying to open a door.
The Quest for Glory series from Sierra is one of my major gaming influences. As a teenager I loved the freedom, the romance, the hybrid point-and-click/RPG play, and especially the puns and double entendres which contributed (for better or worse) to my English. It’s been years since the last title in that series, but its developers have gone back to their roots with Hero U: Rogue to Redemption.
Hero-U is a fantasy role playing adventure in which the player steps into the squeaky shoes of Shawn, a young rogue caught while robbing a house and subsequently forced to attend a school for heroes. There he will meet several quirky and interesting characters while learning how to fight, sneak, and charm his way through conversations.
This RPG was successfully Kickstarted in 2012 but was first released in 2018 after a series of development issues. Unfortunately, even now, three years later, it still has issues. It’s a shame because the writing stays pleasant and optimistic throughout — a much-needed pick-me-up when most RPGs these days tend to be on the darker side.
It’s clear from the start that Hero-U is a love letter to fans of this genre and of these developers. It doesn’t bother wasting time trying to appeal to modern players, and is unapologetically text-heavy, enamored with its own puns and full of references to previous Quest for Glory titles. Unfortunately, the role-playing side is both severely limited in scope since it takes place almost entirely in the school, and also longer than it needs to be, as the story happens over the course of 50 days.
As a longtime Quest for Glory fan I initially felt at home thanks to the clever writing and interesting relationships between well-written characters, but I was soon turned off by the absence of an organic learning model. By this I mean that as a student, Shawn needs to learn how to do most things and (as in real life) practice is required to get better. However, instead of improving through exploration or play, it feels like actually being in school — pay attention in class or Shawn will fail his exams and be expelled.
Once class is over for the day, the player has a few choices. It’s possible to explore the University or ( a smarter move) go to the practice room in order to improve Shawn’s stats. Unfortunately, none of the dagger throwing or rope climbing sessions are interactive experiences — the player just watches a still-image of Shawn practicing.
This rigid structure not be a problem if Hero-U clearly communicated the workings of its mechanics and gave the player some choice whether or not to participate, but there is no alternative to abiding by the school rules. Each day Shawn will be forced to wear the school uniform or get demerits (100 demerits and it’s game over), he can’t skip class to wander around the school, and so on.
Time is also a major factor, since everything Shawn does uses up a chunk of the day, whether in or out of class.
As an example, looking through the keyhole of a door uses almost 20 minutes, but there’s no clear way of knowing beforehand how much time will be spent doing one action. Also, many quests are time-locked, and there’s one early on that can’t be solved until very late in the campaign. Hero-U fails to communicate this to the player, so it’s highly probable that someone will waste hours making ill-informed choices or by trying to solve something that’s impossible.
The isometric turn-based combat against enemies found in the university’s dungeons (rats at first, then more dangerous creatures) is pretty ordinary and repetitive, and the player will soon learn to employ the same tactics over and over in order to kill enemies as quickly as possible. Luckily, combat can actually be skipped, but sneaking around enemies is so painfully slow that it felt a bit like trying to kill myself with a spoon.
The problems of Hero-U aren’t just in its gameplay. Graphically, it’s a hybrid of hand-drawn 2D and 3D, but none of the sequences (like going to dinner or the endless going up and down steps) are animated. The images themselves are delightful and reminiscent of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but the visuals are quite limited and the sprites don’t change even when switching the character’s armor or dress.
Hero-U is an imperfect experience that it is difficult to recommend, even to fans of these devs’ previous work. It might be an interesting proposal to those looking for something far outside RPG norms, but there are too many other choices out there to give this one a general recommendation — if nothing else, I’d suggest tracking down the original Quest for Glory titles instead!
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Tran Solar Games. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is rated T by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence, Simulated Gambling, Suggestive Themes and Use of Alcohol. While Hero-U is devoid of gore and complicated political themes, the abundance of puns and double entendres make it definitely recommended for a teenaged audience.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There is no voice acting in Hero-U nor is sound ever used for any of the puzzles. There are subtitles present (see examples above) but they cannot be resized or altered. Overall, this is definitely fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable. When playing with a controller, the left analog stick moves the pointer and the A and X buttons are used to move Shawn or to interact with objects. Things are more direct in handheld mode where it’s possible to click on the screen to move the character or interact with things.
Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple.
He's a sucker for great stories in gaming, he loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs.
Damiano's been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on Twitter at @damgentemp, or on his blog https://genesistemple.com (now dedicated to the history of video game design).