To play Has Been Heroes is kind of this battle. A battle first against the game, where you are up against the odds right from the start. With game mechanics, spell and item management, and waves of random enemies in your path, the game is daunting. It’s a battle of attrition, as you die, then die again. It’s a battle of memory. Yours better be short, or long in some cases, to overcome events and remember that you can. Because there will come a time where you want to quit, and believe me, I’ve had those moments. But I don’t, and what I’ve found is…a brilliant game from top to bottom that has a difficult time getting out of it’s own way.
Has Been Heroes is great. It really is. And according to my Switch play time(220 hours), I might be one of the few people that can definitively tell you all you need to know. But I guess we should start with the basics.
What we’ve been told is this a Rogue Like lane based game; but the truth of the matter is it plays more like a puzzle game. One mistake while trying to solve the puzzle can easily make it crumble to pieces, as I’ve had moments early on where I would freeze, unable to do anything at all, as the waves took out a single member of my party. So solving each puzzle(battle) the most efficient way possible is really what the game is about.
Three heroes make up your team. A Warrior that does one hit per attack and the most damage per hit, a Mage that does 2 hits and generally are the weakest, and a Rogue that does 3 hits with average damage dealt. Each hero starts with an item specific to them and a spell. Items are passive, meaning they do not need to be activated by the player. Spells on the other hand must be activated and are then on a cool down. There are 36 possible heroes to unlock, and generally they improve, whether it be with max stamina, damage per hit, spell damage, critical hit chance, etc., with each new unlock. Still with me? Unlock them by getting through to the last boss and winning. One new character at a time.
Your heroes have green blocks next to their red health bar. These blocks are kind of like a shield, as you can’t be hurt until they are gone(except by elements such as poison, fire, and lightning.) The waves of enemies also have stamina, and this is when the puzzle aspect of the game kicks in. Enemies can be stunned by removing their exact amount of stamina prior to doing another attack. So if a Skeleton with 1 stamina is approaching, ideally, you would stun him with your Warrior(who does one attack per turn.)
Stunning does 4 things. First, the enemy stops moving forward, other than the very slow scroll of the screen which moves them a very small distance per second. This can buy valuable time at the very least. Next, you can now get to their health without a damage penalty. Because if you over hit an enemy without removing the stamina first, you will get -10% damage penalty for the hits that do connect to the health bar. Not only this, but the enemy is juggled only a short amount back, regaining all of their stamina as well. And finally, if the enemy is stunned, your hits will send the enemy flying to the back of the stage, while also removing one of their max stamina, giving you time and space to plan your next attack. Stunning before attacking is huge. There will be times you can’t or won’t want to stun though, but that is the meta game that only playing can provide.
But stunning is just part of it, because you will need to figure out how to move your heroes around the 3 lanes to line up your next hit. There is a pause button in the game(L on the Switch), and the game pauses automatically after each hit. You can only move your heroes in between attacks, so as a new player, do not rush this. Take your time to analyze the battle so you can move each character around where you need. And if you are flustered, pause the game. There is also a backslash damage. If your hero hits an enemy on the way back to position, he does damage. This can be very important, but I typically do not go out of my way to backslash. If it lines up, sure. And there are some enemies with lots of stamina but low health where backslash is quite useful.
Each area has a map that you must traverse before fighting a boss. These maps are hugely important and can easily be the difference between a successful run and a failed run. I can’t stress this enough, HIT EVERY CROSSROAD and every battle, if you can. Because you see, gold is so so so important in this game, and each crossroad has some sort of use. There are spell vendors, merchants, chests, locksmiths, Hp/stamina camps, gamblers, and alters. You need money for most of these, and the only way to get money is to battle. So while it might be against your instinct, do not avoid battles. There are at least 4 battles on every map, and you should attempt to get them all.
Of course, that isn’t always possible, because there is a backtracking penalty in HBH! Yep, just one more thing to think about. Candles are used when backtracking, and if you use a candle when you have zero in your inventory, the run is over. I found this out the hard way, and sometimes I would risk things hoping to get a candle from a battle or chest. Not worth it. And that’s a common theme in the game, determining when something is worth it. Worth the risk, worth the gold, worth the trouble. It’s part of the meta game which takes a lot of consideration.
Spells, items, elements
Perhaps the most intimidating part of the game is the sheer number of things to have to worry about. I’ll first touch on spells.
There are really 4 types of spells, and all of them are pretty important. A successful run can be contingent on these spells, which are based on luck whether you receive ones you find to be most useful.
I categorize them into these groups. Buffs, interrupting, nuisance, and devastation.
Buffs give your hero an advantage on the next Melee. This can be extra hits,(double strike) or element damage(poison, water, fire, etc.).
examples: Thunderstrike, Doublestrike, Last Stand
Interrupting spells are probably the most important for a successful run, particularly late in the game. These spells stop enemies from performing actions, like bosses giving buffs, or to stop healers.
examples: Fireball, poison dart, Thor’s Anger
Nuisance spells usually last 10-40 seconds and do element damage to lots of enemies over that time. Careful, if you haven’t gotten immunity heroes or items, you will be affected after hitting the enemies, as some elements transfer. Charm and Fear spells also fall in this category, where the enemy either turns and attacks his team, or turns and runs for a short amount of time.
examples: Charm, Electrophobia
Last are devastation spells. These spells either do massive damage or massive movement to the one or more enemies on the screen. So whether it be removing stamina or lane switches or sending the whole screen to the back, they spells are huge when it’s becoming overwhelming.
examples: Vortex, Hot potato, wet potato, earth stomp.
Spells also have slot perks for each hero. Not much to worry about early on, but definitely something to consider as you load up on spells
Spells are only part of the game, as items and management of who you give your items to become crucial. Items can be bought from merchants or can appear in chests. Giving an item to a hero automatically gives that hero +50 health. This is important to consider, as mages and rogues don’t start with as much health as warriors. Items typically provide buffs, but sometimes it can be a significant buff and also a nerf in one item.
Items usually provide element immunity or perhaps a plus 10 Melee damage. Maybe a 10% faster spell recharge or 5% plus critical by chance. Some can provide +max stamina or faster Melee recharge. As you play and win, you collect spirit orbs from the enemies you kill, which unlock items and spells faster for your team to use. These spirit orbs can also recharge all of your spells during a battle if you’ve collected enough during that particular battle. Late in the game, there are items that give +Melee hits, and these are probably the most important items in the game. Using these with double strike or last stand(100% attack on next hit) is ridiculously fun. I always give my spell recharge items to the rogue so that double strike is up as fast as it can be. It’s stuff like this that makes the game easier, and you need to think about that, because it is so difficult if you aren’t thinking.
And while the game offers all of these little nuances, it’s the gameplay itself which is so addicting. Because now I play fast, really fast, and my goal is always to wipe out the enemies during battle or to kill the boss as quickly as possible. This makes for some frantic moments, but to execute perfectly is always something I strive for. But the game is unrelenting, and even when I think I’ve mastered it, a new wrinkle comes my way, and I must adapt on the fly. It is very rewarding to complete a run, even now, as I still have 12 characters to unlock.
Has Been Heroes has provided me with more enjoyment and play time than a $20 game ever really should. It grabbed hold of me, and with every thing I had in me, I wanted to win, I wanted to improve, and I wanted to learn the best way to play. It wasn’t always fun, as I have often felt the game wants you to grind, wants you to lose, even when things are looking their best. But I keep playing, because I really believe the game is special, it just takes time, and a commitment to wanting to improve. I realize that a lot of people aren’t willing to sink that kind of time into a game, but for me, the stars aligned.
And arguably, the game doesn’t explain itself well. It’s not a game anyone can grab and instantly enjoy. But here’s something interesting…my 8 year old son adores the game. So it can appeal to a wide range of gamer, it suffers from not easily being able to convey that appeal.
It was a game meant for me, a game that came at a perfect time. And as I creep ever closer towards 100% completion, I wonder what I will play when I’m done? Or if I can still come back? This is my dilemma…not whether or not the game is worth while. It is a gem, a near endless experience for those who wish it to be. And if you have the patience to improve, to laugh off the hardships, to learn the meta, you will not be disappointed.