You know for a dead system the PSP sure seems to get a lot of games released on it these days, sure I’m playing them on my VITA but still it’s disconcerting. Regardless let’s pop a squat and take a look at today’s piece of new software on an increasingly anachronistic system, Class of Heroes 2, unsurprisingly it’s a JRPG but thankfully one that is refreshingly old school in its gameplay design. That of course is a mixed blessing, an amped up difficulty and focus on gameplay rather than squealing anime girls is certainly a plus but the old bugbear of the genre, being completely and utterly lost and having the game tell you nothing, returns in full force.
So the touchstone game that I would relate this title to is Etrian Odyssey, first person dungeon crawling with an odd penchant for cartography. Your goal is to complete quests by battling through large and uncharted labyrinths and basically just trying to fumble your way into whatever you happen to be looking for. This is the kind of game where buying a map doesn’t show you a map of the level, it just makes it so you can now chart out the level yourself, square by bloody square. At first this is a daunting prospect, especially considering the game makes no bones about throwing a bunch of crap in your way to make wandering blind an unpleasant experience. But once you’ve gotten the hang of things and have learned to always have a levitate spell going to deal with pits and hidden shock panels and to keep a thief on hand to disarm chests laden with wickedly devious traps, you’ll start to see the fun. Don’t ask me why but charting out levels has a weird OCD charm to it that is surprisingly enjoyable and being dropped in with little to no indication as to where to actually go is very freeing once you get past the initial stumbling blocks.
As for the combat, things are good old-fashioned Final Fantasy turn based style, you will press the X button a whole lot and hopefully get to watch monsters die. To be honest the majority of the combat you’ll be doing isn’t super interesting, for the most part you won’t be using any special tactics or techniques, you’ll be mashing the attack command as you’ll be trying save your MP for healing and bosses and just get back to mapping. Not that the combat is boring by any means, unoriginal for sure as it’s very much the standard kind of turn based combat, but it has a clean-cut and fast paced feel to it that makes quickly blowing through fight after fight even with just standard attacks a lot of fun. Of course this is only enhanced by the fact that the game is desperately hard early on with it being really hard to build a good base of experience, money, or decent equipment meaning you really have to step up your game to survive the opening few hours. This does mean a lot of grinding is necessary but they justify it with some really tough enemies and by constantly beating you down with possible but not thankfully guaranteed character perma-death. But honestly the real joy of a game like this comes with watching the numbers get bigger and bigger and making the appropriate risks to get those numbers where you want them so you can smile the shit eating grin that comes with good equipment and stat management and acting like some sort of medieval bureaucrat.
It’s sadly in those all important finicky details that the game starts to fail, mainly because it doesn’t really take the time to explain itself properly. A perfect example of this is the alchemy system which early on is the most feasible way of securing better equipment, basically it comes down to you combining a base ingredient with some extra material and getting a new item in return. The game lists all the things you can get from alchemy but only lists recipes for some, leaving you to figure out the rest on your own but unfortunately decent base ingredients are fairly rare and the process is just arduous enough that experimentation is not a lot of fun. They don’t explain if there’s any good ways to get recipes outside of experimentation, they don’t make clear what a ton of items do or even what type they are, and they don’t make this process user-friendly in any way. This lips sealed philosophy extends to item descriptions as well; a return ticket “Provides a labyrinth escape route” whereas a crystal ball “Provides escape from labyrinths”, what in god’s name is the difference between those two things and if there isn’t one then why are they phrased differently? You’ll see tons of stuff like this, weapons you’re aren’t sure of what type they are or whether they are one or two handed unless you look into an extra menu, items that restore vague amounts of HP or have descriptions that make them sound like they do something but turn out to be useless, and classes and races with strengths and weakness that are hard to discern from the get go and require trial and error to figure out. These issues don’t make the overall game bad but they do constantly rub up against your experience and slow you down in an aggravating way. There’s a great game here it’s just a little too buried in odd design choices and vague language.
Just to touch on them quickly, the story and presentation are exactly what you’d expect. The premise is the ever familiar and weirdly Japanese “kids going through crazy magic warrior school” cliché that we’ve seen in many a JRPG and anime before. That’s not a bad thing mind you, it’s a perfectly serviceable premise and realistically the game is called “Class of Heroes” after all, what were we expecting. In a nice change of pace though the story stuff is actually pretty light and you don’t have to interact with it too much, basically just a little skit between characters at the start and end of every quest and those quests can take a while so you’re mostly left to just enjoy the gameplay. As for the visuals it’s just kind of basic looking JRPG anime, no real specific or evocative style or colour scheme going on here, just the standard anime fantasy look to which we’ve all grown accustomed. And of course to complement such a look you get to hear a lot of anime squealing whenever your characters get hit in battle; again it’s basically exactly what you’d expect.
Fact of the matter is this game won’t be for everyone, if you’re not super experienced with JRPGs and have a low tolerance for grinding and overly vague systems then Class of Heroes 2 will probably just infuriate you. That said if you’re a connoisseur of the genre who can deal with its less enjoyable aspects then you’ll find a fast paced game with a lot of fun systems that is stupid long; seriously, I put at least 15 hours into this game and I don’t think I got more than a third of the way through. So for a good game that’s just sadly a little flawed in its execution, Class of Heroes 2 gets a 3 out of 5 stars.