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A wonderful trip back to the land of Old-School.

Years in the making, Kentona’s charming RTP project hopes to recall some of the nostalgia of the old games of yore that we used to play by candlelight because there was no electricity. Does it succeed? Well, let’s find out. Warning, this is a lengthy game so it shall be a lengthy review, and some spoilers may follow. Now, on to HERO’S REALM, the game where there’s a REALM with HEROES in it! Okay, that’s the last time, I promise.

The game is divided into five chapters. Each of the first four chapter begins with your pre-made hero gathering a team of generic extras to help him/her in the coming battles and completing each hero’s given quest. You pick these allies from a list of unique classes that all play in very different ways. Part of the fun is trying out a new combination of characters, and since you put 4 such parties together during the game there’s plenty of room to experiment. In the final chapter, your four parties join forces to combat the evil King of Demons, who wants to conquer the world because that’s what demons do.

Balance 3/5:
This game tries to be old-school and occasionally that means old school difficulty. There’s at least one point where one of your heroes is wandering around on the world map alone where almost any encounter means death. Fortunately, once you put your party together battles become quite fun, if not a little slow. Your main character of each chapter has a basic, well-rounded skill set that can enable you to stay alive regardless of your party configuration. Because you start with little money and better equipment is expensive, resource management is a little more important than in most RPG maker projects. Leveling is sometimes a little slow but usually rewarding. Enemies have a wide variety of strength and weaknesses and it can be very rewarding to discover one of your party members has the perfect skill to deal with this threat. In this sense, battles in themselves can be very rewarding.

However, those who remember some old school games remember that reviving characters needs to be done at churches, and that’s what you must do here too. It essentially amounts to an extra stop you have to make in town in a game where you already must retreat to town fairly frequently when you start out. Reviving is also quite expensive and can slow you down early on. While it’s true this is old school tradition, it’s important to remember that some conventions in older RPGs were abandoned for a reason.

My only other complaint is that choosing a new class for a hero obliges them to start over at level 1, which can be a major problem if you discover that a party you picked isn’t well suited for the current task or if you just wanted to try something new. The leveling curve is so high that it discourages experimentation in this regard and you are obliged you to spend a long time catching a character up. With such a unique and interesting class system at work it seems a shame that the player is essentially punished for wanting to try out all the classes.

Level Design: 4.5/5:
The game is almost entirely RTP and all the characters and enemies are ripped directly from various Final Fantasy games, which achieves the effect the author was going for. Each chapter offers several fun side quests for you to accomplish and such quests even include a built in reward system which gives you extra experience and gold, and occasionally other rewards. This can make it quite fun to search around for new objectives while searching for clues about where to go on your main quest. MY only complaint is the game makes excessive use of the same 2 tile wide stone corridors in almost every dungeon in every chapter, which not only gets very repetitive after a while, but can look rather jarring if you are in what should be a natural cave formation with a decidedly artificial looking structure. It does make some interesting design choices in other dungeons though, such as a tower in Chapter 1 that reminded me strongly of the original Lufia and the fortress of Doom, so….nostalgia achieved.

Towards the end of the game you are given the opportunity to use all four of your parties simultaneously in some dungeons, making for some very interesting and creative puzzles that give this category a boost. My suggestion though, is that many of the objectives in the latter part of the game could theoretically be completed non-linearly but the game obliges you to do this in a specific order. If you ever consider modifying or continuing to work further on this game, you might consider making the order of some events in chapter 5, or even the order of the first four chapters, be up to the player.

Characters 2.5/5:
While obviously the generic extras who fill out your party don’t require any depth or development, the game makes it clear that your main hero in each party is an individual with a history, their own unique abilities, and occasionally their own goals, thus I was somewhat saddened by the fact that these four individuals were given naught but the bare minimum of lines when some of them had such potential to be interesting. Considering the rest of the game has such an emphasis on custom parties, I thought it was an unusual choice to have a pre-set hero for that chapter if that hero was going to be as blank and lifeless as the rest of the heroes.

Beyond that, there’s little else to say. Some NPCs have very fun conversations, and the villains revel in their stereotypical villainy-ness, but their dialogue is always flavorful. And special mention must be given to the most awesome character I can remember, a fisherman who talks your ear off for 3 whole in-game days.

Storyline 4/5:
Surprisingly enough, the game does not start by simply telling us “You are the legendary hero!” Instead, we start with four separate, competent, and relatively well-known professionals of various crafts who are called upon to deal with various crises throughout their kingdoms in the first four chapters. Completing all four brings these heroes together as they BECOME the legendary heroes who lead the Army of Light against the wicked Lord of Demons. The final phases of the game revolve around securing various artifacts and allies to destroy the Lord of Demons once and for all.

I should note that one of the most intriguing ideas at work here is it is clear that your particular heroes are not the ONLY heroes working to save the realm, just that they happen to be the best.

This is also a fairly lengthy game, since it tells five different stories, really, and each chapter centers around a different theme as each country represents a different culture, such as the far east or ancient Arabia. This adds a lot of flavor to the world and livens up the otherwise fairly generic fantasy quests. My only complaint is certain parts of the game suffer from an overabundance of references to various anime, video games, or even other RPG Maker projects, which served to distract us from the nostalgia, not enhance it.

Music 5/5:
The music in this game is, in essence, perfect. It draws from various final fantasy games which help achieve the effect the game is going for even if you do recognize the songs. And you will recognize a LOT of songs in this game, but they set the mood so well that you don’t even mind, such as the use of the Arabian Nights theme from Aladdin in the desert chapter. A great deal of thought was put into each piece of music in every area, and every single one enhances the atmosphere. Dungeons tend to have the same kind of music that establishes internal consistency while enhancing each area. The soundtrack is rounded out by some original and compositions from Bjorn Lynne, so there are a few songs here you won’t recognize. Finally, the sheer gall of putting a BeeGees song in this game means I had to give it a 5/5.

Overall 4.5/5
The game sets out to complete a goal, and indeed completes it very, very well. Twenty years ago, this would have been a best-selling commercial game. Anyone who likes old-school RPGs, custom class systems, or cheesy epic fantasy storylines will probably like this game a lot. It has all the elements of a classic RPG with plenty of humor and fun extras thrown in. Definitely recommended.

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kentona
One of RMN's Top 10 Admins of all-time
20511
Twenty years ago, this would have been a best-selling commercial game
If only!

I'm really glad you liked the story I crafted. You're the second person to notice that I did all I could to make a traditional RPG without appealing to the crutch of "Chosen Ones." Being the saviors of the world is much more satisfying because you are kick-ass rather than pre-ordained. I blame traditional fantasy literature for the view that the battle for the end of the world must be small, insular and hinge upon 4 unlikely heroes. If the signs of the apocalypse were apparent I would think that the realm would try to organize a resistance however it can.

On the flipside, the demons would do all they call to disrupt and destroy those plans, hence the machinations of Murzhor and the other Dreadlords.

And yes, if this were a professional or commercial endevor, blatant references and 4th-wall destroying scenes would be removed. However, this game was like a massive homage to my childhood and written with "tongue-firmly-in-cheek".

I must also note that it was very difficult at times to maintain the blank-slatedness of the primary heroes (especially maintain muteness) and still progress the story. But at the same time, I needed to have these characters concretely exist with a history and goals of their own (mostly to avoid the whole "Chosen Ones" thing again). I suppose I could have created greater characterization for the leads, but I have to admit that I like to assume the role of the hero while playing the game, rather than just acting out the designer's whims.

While I received complaints about HR not being customizable enough (really?), if you want 4 complete blank slate characters, play my other completed game Generica.

Oh yeah, the slow EXP growth at the start bugged me too, but the stupid way RM2k3 manages EXP curves prevented me from excercising complete control over that aspect. Trust me, I spent a lot of time wrestling with EXP.

But, I must say this is a wonderful review and really appreciate it! Thanks, Solitayre.
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