Class of Heroes 2
Publisher: Monkeypaw Games
Genre: Dungeon Crawl
Release Date: 6/4/23013
Class of Heroes II has been an interesting saga from day one. The first game in the series was published by Atlus and it was not well received by fans or critics. I myself savaged the game. Generally, when that happens, it spells death for a series being brought stateside and localized. Undaunted, Victor Ireland and Monkeypaw Games felt the sequel was so improved that they could drum up interest for it through a large Kickstarter project, which, at the time, had the highest goal for video game Kickstarter ever – $500,000.
They failed miserably.
You would think that would have been the end of it, but NO! Monkeypaw Games continued onward, and still managed to secure enough preorders of a physical copy (2,500). So even in the face of two big failures, Class of Heroes II has made it to my (and perhaps your) grubby little hands. Even though I didn’t care for the first game, I was one of the few that backed both the Kickstarter AND pre-ordered a physical copy. Why? I’m a huge dungeon crawl fan. I cut my eye teeth on Wizardry andThe Bard’s Tale. I slaughtered the laughable easily Etrian Odyssey series, plowed through The Dark Spire, devoured Elminage Original and as a child, was one of the few people to ever beat Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna, which is almost universally cited as THE hardest game ever made. I’m not alone here. Chuck Platt, Mark B., Joel Rose, and many others on the staff are pretty hardcore into this RPG style, which is not only one of the earliest form of video game role-playing, but also is as Western as RPGs get, which is why it’s so funny when anyone touts a Wizardry clone as a J-RPG series. Know your history people!
So, after a week with Class of Heroes II and having battled through multiple locations, quests and min/max’ing characters left and right, I can honestly say that Victor Ireland is right, and that this game is noticeably better than the original Class of Heroes. Is it a good enough improvement for Dungeon Crawl fans to purchase it though? It’s time to find out.
There isn’t much of a story to Class of Heroes – not even an overarching story like in most dungeon crawls. Instead you are given a hook, that of being students attending a school for intrepid heroes, and then you’re on your own. You can explore all the different dungeons on your own, or do quests which you can pick up from the “Bulletin Board.” These quests have you performing actions for people at the school (or in other locations later in the game). They are equivalent to fetch quests in other video games. You have to find item X, kill enemy Y, collect Z number of a specific item and so on. There’s a set up and a resolution to each quest, but no more (and usually less than you find in other RPGs, both from other subgenres or even within the dungeon crawl format. However, most people don’t play dungeon crawls for the story. This is hack and slash first, and plot is window dressing, more or less. The good news is there are roughly 100 quests and that some connect to tell their own little mini story of sorts. As well, you do eventually get the whole “Save the World!” quests as you reach the end of the game, so for those that like those sort of things, there you go.
Graphically, Class of Heroes 2 isn’t that impressive, even for a PSP game. The original Japanese version came out in June 2009, and even back then, COH2 didn’t wow anyone visually. Now, in a day and age of 3DS and Vitas, the game’s graphics are far less likely to impress, especially those new to the genre. The big reason for this is because all the graphics in Class of Heroes 2 are static images drawn with a very anime feel to them. There is no animation. Even spells are just, say, a big thing of ice or fire appearing on your screen, moving up and down slowly. That’s the extent of moving images in the game, and I’d hardly call that animation, you know? Your first reaction to this visual style might be “Why are they skimping on the graphics?” but in truth, this is how most games in the dungeon crawl genre look. You are given a first person view point, and backgrounds, characters and monsters simply don’t move. This is static image central. Now granted, some of the genre moved away from these conventions, especially the roguelike hybrids like Azure Dreams and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, but first person dungeon crawls have kept these conventions, including the more modern releases like Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey and Etrian Odyssey. In fact, the only first person style dungeon crawls I can think of that weren’t pure static image based are the late Wizardry games put out by Sir-Tech, while the Japanese games using the same branding, like Tale of the Forsaken Land stayed static. Static images are a purposeful throwback that helps the genre stand out from other styles of video game RPGs, and it’s a nice bit of retrostalgia for those that enjoy the genre. Are the graphics below average for what the PSP and Vita are capable of? Oh my, yes. Does that make the game any less fun to fans of the genre? Oh my, no.
There isn’t a lot to talk about aurally with Class of Heroes. There isn’t any voice acting, but there rarely is with this genre. That means the only things to talk about are sound effects and the soundtrack. There aren’t a lot of sound effects. They mainly consist of a character screaming when hit or the sound of a weapon or spell doing their thing. Traps might make a noise, but for the most part you’re just going to hear the footsteps of your own characters trudging along. The soundtrack is quite nice though. Each dungeon has its own track, which is quite nice to hear. The same is true with most towns. So what the game lacks in effects and voice acting, it more than makes up with background music. These tracks really help the game to come alive at times, and may balance things out for those who tend to need more visual stimulation from their games.
Gameplay-wise, a dungeon crawl style game is pretty close to a tabletop hack and slash/Monty Haul experience. A team of adventurers goes through dungeons with very little story and kills enemies while looting treasure chests and avoiding traps until the goal of the quest is found. Repeat hundreds of times until you’ve done all there is to do in Class of Heroes 2. You progress through dungeons via first person viewpoint. You use the D-pad to turn at ninety degree angles and the shoulder buttons to strafe. Battles are random and combat is simply picking commands from a drop down menu and then repeating until one side is dead or has fled. That’s really all there is to it. Remember, this is a genre that has remained largely untouched since the dawn of video games. Before there was a NES or SMS, there were dungeon crawls for early PCs. The end result is a very simple, and admittedly shallow, gameplay system that has withstood the test of time for decades.
Where the game gets deep is not with combat or dungeon progression, but in character customization and weapon creation. Min/Maxing character races and classes pretty much determines how good you will fare at the game and the amount of bonus points you get per character determines how often they will live or die. I posted a short min/max guide for the early part of the game, featuring the starting classes and the advantages of each races, along with an explanation on bonus points here, so feel free to look that over for a four page commentary on how it works. I could have probably gone for another TEN had I included the middle and late game and/or the prestige classes hidden away in the game. You’ll be changing classes and combining skills and magic from each, similar to Final Fantasy Tactics or Knight of Lodis. Start as Warrior for a massive amount of hit points, then turn said character into a Sorcerer so they can take more than a single hit. That’s just one of the many examples of things you can do. Imagine all your characters having healing or buff spells. Just keep in mind that race mixing and alignment plays a part in something called Affinity, which determines how likely you are to get stat boosts when you level up… or stat decreases.
With all this in mind, no matter how well you plan, at some point characters will die. Some more than others, but death is pretty common in a dungeon crawl, far moreso than in even games like Demon’s Souls. They key is to prevent a TPK, or Total Party Kill. A good way of doing this is through balancing your party. Have at least three meat shields and at least three characters that can cast magic spells that affect entire rows, or even all of the enemies on the screen, and you should be okay. Keep in mind, though, that bosses tend to be crazy powerful, so a combination of grinding and making sure you have the right skills and classes (Dragon Knights!) can be all that keeps you alive in these big battles. The early part of the game can be a cakewalk, the middle part a bit tough as you try out new classes and mix and match to give your characters a bevy of skills, and the end game can be insane as you may need a specific class with a specific skill or spell to actually survive.
Because of all the customization and options available to you character-wise, Class of Heroes 2 offers a crazy amount of replay value, even within the same game. You can constantly make new characters if you didn’t build your old ones correctly, and you there is always something to do, even if it’s leveling up new characters or grinding so your guy has the stats you want for a class change. That said, I found Class of Heroes 2 to be one of the easiest dungeon crawlers I’ve ever played, even more so than the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon titles. I never once suffered a TPK and pretty much cakewalked through the game. The hardest part was generally finding the right location for a specific quest or getting the random drop item I needed. Even in the late game I was breezing through things, and while I’ve been playing dungeon crawls since the genre was invented, they’re generally a lot harder than this. The good news is, that means CoH2 is far more inviting that most of its brethren, but the bad news is that that people looking for a strong challenge may be disappointed. Truthfully though, the genre has gotten pretty easy in recent years. The Etrian Odyssey series is pretty much jeered by the entire staff here at Diehard GameFAN as a wimpy version of the genre. The Dark Spire and Elminage Original are close to how difficult these games can be, but true DC fans will probably want to stick to the Wizardry branded games for the insane level of challenge the genre is known for. CoH2 is on the lower end of the difficulty scale, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as some of the things that make the game easier, like the option to save anywhere at any time, are a godsend, especially for a portable game.
After all this commentary, I can definitely say that Class of Heroes 2 is superior to the terrible Class of Heroes 1 in every way. The game is far more inviting to newcomers while offering all the things long time fans of the genre love. Newcomers may be put off by the static images, minimal story (which is unusual for an RPG) and the fact the game is 99% hack and slash, but they should also love the amazing amount of character customization and the sheer amount of exploration the game offers. I will say that Class of Heroes 2 is all but devoid of originality, as it’s basically a paint by numbers dungeon crawl that offers nothing new to the genre save the aforementioned ability to save at any time. So people who love dungeon crawls for the sake of dungeon crawls will be happy that it doesn’t deviate from the tried and true formula, while others will have a constant feeling of, “Haven’t I played this game dozens of times before?” Class of Heroes 2 DEFINITELY isn’t for everyone, but unlike its predecessor, it does a lot of things right, and I can recommend it to fans of the genre like myself. I enjoyed my time with CoH2, and while I definitely wouldn’t put it in my top ten (or even twenty) dungeon crawlers of all time, it is still a solid, well made game, and it’s nice to have an alternative to Elminage Original for my PSP and/or Vita. Monkeypaw Games and Gaijinworks did a great job with the localization process, and after all the false starts and stops this game went through with the physical copy of the game, I’m just happy dungeon crawl fans have a new game to enjoy. That said, I’m going to enjoy seeing the UMD arrive in the mail eventually.
Short Attention Span Summary
While Class of Heroes 2 is pretty much a paint by numbers dungeon crawl following the basic format and trappings of the genre set in place since Wizardry and The Bard’s Tale, it’s a solid experience in all respects and is sure to delight diehard fans of this hack and slash subgenre of RPGs – as long as they aren’t looking for anything new or innovative here. People new to the genre may be put off by the static visuals, minimalist story and the fact the game is 99% hack and slash exploring, but no one ever said that dungeon crawl RPGs are for everyone. The important thing is that Class of Heroes 2 is a noticeable improvement on the first Class of Heroes in every way, and I’d definitely recommend it over ANY of the Etrian Odyssey games, but long time fans of the genre may find it’s nowhere as impressive as the Sir-Tech penned Wizardry games for the PC. As one of the last releases for the PSP, Class of Heroes 2 is certainly worth a look, and the UMD version will fetch a pretty penny on the secondary market if you’re one of the 2,500 or so that preordered it, but what really matters is how good of a game it is, and truth be told, Class of Heroes 2 is a pretty decent dungeon crawl.