"As it stands, Heroes of Ruin is unlikely to deserve a place in your gaming library."
Heroes of Ruin has arrived at a lucky time for developer n-space and distributor Square Enix. Considering it's one of only a few RPGs currently available on the 3DS, I'm certain it will benefit from sales it would not have gotten, say, in another year's time. Don't take that as a criticism though, as Heroes of Ruin brings a fair bit of fun to the table with loot-filled dungeons and robust online play. Unfortunately, much of it is rather bland and rough around the edges.
Ataraxis, the ruler of the city Nexus, is dying from a curse. With the promise of vast rewards, adventurers come from far and wide in an attempt to find a cure. Just like those who came before, you play the role of an adventurer who delves deep into dungeons looking for the only remedy that can save him. There is almost no plot or character development, and NPCs add little flavour to keep things interesting, functioning as little more than quest-givers. There are a few moments when the game attempts to endear the characters to you through "emotional" quests, but they all fall flat. Do not come in expecting a riveting, or even interesting, story.
Heroes of Ruin plays like a classic dungeon-crawler, somewhat comparable to, though more simplistic than, PC hit Torchlight. You pick one of four available classes, head off into dungeons, kill enemies, loot gear, ???, profit, or something like that. Character creation begins on a bit of a downer as there are only four classes available and all fit familiar roles: Vindicator, a balanced warrior; Gunslinger, a ranged attacker; Savage, low-defence, high attack warrior; and Alchitect, a high-powered area-of-effect mage. You can customise each in terms of skin and hair colour to make them somewhat unique, but your options are rather limited and even gender cannot be changed. I found the character design rather rough and unattractive, but there's nothing to complain about objectively.
Once the game begins, you can start up solo or multiplayer. Playing online is relatively easy, and as simple as entering the lobby and looking for a game with an empty space. Of course, you can create your own too, and friend codes are not required, so joining up with friends or strangers is easy. Considering the game is fairly niche and only out in PAL regions so far, I found it rather difficult to find other players. I'm sure this will improve once it's released in North America and elsewhere.
The only real problem I encountered in the lag-free online play was low-level players joining a high-level game. There are no restrictions on who can join which game, so I often had level 5s joining me in level 15 zones. The level difference isn't game breaking, but it's a little irritating at times. If you find yourself in a bad group, jumping out of multiplayer and into solo isn't difficult and can be done whenever you want. There's no way to communicate via typing, but voice chat is available if you want to turn it on. In short, multiplayer is fun, functional, and definitely the best way to enjoy Heroes of Ruin.
If online is out of your reach, or multiplayer just isn't your thing, then perhaps single-player mode is more up your alley. The game plays exactly the same, albeit somewhat more lonely, and sees you going from dungeon to dungeon as you complete quests and kill bosses. There's a good variety of themes used in dungeons, from damp caves to sinister forests to snowy mountains. Within each dungeon, however, rooms are frequently recycled and you encounter the same aesthetics multiple times in each set of dungeons. Sometimes the repetition was so bad that I was honestly confused about which section of a dungeon I was in. Considering the entire game revolves around dungeon-crawling, this laziness is more difficult to forgive.
Leaving the dodgy and generally uninteresting level design aside, the graphics are pretty solid across the board. Though I'm not a big fan of the character design, the scenery of each dungeon is rather well done. Nexus is a small, but visually interesting city with houses, markets and a castle. Likewise, dungeons feature interesting and attractive decorations such as coral, twisting tree roots, ruins, and even beautiful glowing plants. If only the environments had not been recycled as frequently as they are, each area would truly be interesting and appealing to explore. The 3D effect is a nice addition, but it only shines in a handful of moments, such as an encounter with a large spider boss that nearly seems to crawl out of the screen toward you. The top-down view is a little too zoomed in though, so when you're not in combat you'll most likely be tracking your progress on the map.
Combat is a key aspect of Heroes of Ruin and, fortunately, it's also its strong suit. Each class has a wide variety of skills and up to three can be mapped to the A, X and Y buttons while the B button is used for a standard, non-energy-consuming attack. The map sits handily and unobtrusively on the bottom touch screen, leaving the top mostly clear of clutter. I had a go of each class, but it was the Gunslinger I spent the most time with. Around level 10, I had acquired enough skills to really throw some great combos together. I would often open up with a couple of standard shots until the enemy came too close, toss a grenade, dodge backwards, and start shooting again. Combat is fast-paced, intense, and fun. Melee-loving players will find a lot to enjoy with the sturdy, Paladin-like Vindicator while berserk warriors will enjoy the Savage. Of course, if magic is your preference, the Alchitect is a master of area effect damaging spells. There are a couple of dozen skills for each character to learn as you level up, so there's plenty of room for finding a style that fits you.
After taking down a boss, as well as other standard enemies, you're rewarded with gold and loot. Loot in Heroes of Ruin, like most dungeon-crawlers, is the backbone of the game. It's hoping to find that next uncommon, rare, or even epic bit of equipment that keeps you coming back for more and gets you jumping around for joy when you finally do. Despite a good variety of equipment, almost all is class-exclusive, meaning most of what you find is useless.
If there's one complaint I have about the combat system, it's the repetitive nature of it. The vast majority of foes can be defeated with the same strategy and only occasionally will you need to adjust how you play. Likewise, though many bosses are impressive in stature, just walloping them while gulping down potions is usually enough to send them packing. Though some employ certain gimmicks, such as the early Leviathan boss with its tentacles, button mashing combined with running around is usually sufficient. The same can be said for multiplayer, where the best strategy is for everyone to go all-out with their damage, rather than play more conservatively with a healer, tank, and so on. Overall, the game is rather easy and also incredibly short at well under ten hours.
Once you start accumulating interesting equipment, you spend more and more time on the inventory screen managing it. And this is where Heroes of Ruin makes its biggest, and potentially fatal, mistake: managing loot is a slow and frustrating chore. Rather than a quick slot for each piece of equipment or a way to view it all at once, you need to manually click on each category (such as shoulders, helmet, etc.) to sort through that lot of gear. Worse, a brief animation plays between each menu, creating a slight delay. This would be fine if you rarely touched your inventory, but when you're sorting through menu after menu, it's incredibly slow. In fact, I often opted to ignore whatever I picked up in a dungeon until after I left so I could spend as little time as possible in my inventory. Not exactly a strong selling point of a game focused on filling it up.
Additionally, your inventory is rather small, so if you do a fair bit of exploring in a single dungeon, chances are you'll need to head back to the hub to free up your pockets. Frustrating, yes, but at least it's fairly easy to do. Throughout each dungeon are a number of waypoints that act as checkpoints and teleporters. By standing on one, you can teleport back to Nexus, sell off your goods, and then return to the dungeon at the same location. This works well with the portable nature of the game too, as it allows you to quickly quit without losing progress.
Throughout your adventure, you find plenty of quests to complete. Sadly, most are a simple matter of collecting a set amount of items or killing a number of enemies. If you're not a loot hoarder by nature, then there is probably little in Heroes of Ruin for you to enjoy, even if you are an RPG fan. Surprisingly, much of the quest text is actually voice acted too. As always, this is a nice bonus for a handheld game, but the voice work here is poor. Most lines are delivered monotone and without emotion, which often led me to laugh rather than appreciate the seriousness of whatever event was taking place. In fact, the sound quality across the whole game is rather poor. The ambient music for each dungeon is acceptable, but far from special, and the same can be said for the rather generic and bland sound effects.
All-in-all, Heroes of Ruin is a good bit of fun, marred by a couple of serious problems. The combat is dynamic and fluid, loot collecting is as addictive as ever, and online and multiplayer is done right. If only dungeons suffered from less repetition, the campaign was longer, and the inventory had been thoughtfully designed, it could have really shined. As it stands, Heroes of Ruin is unlikely to deserve a place in your gaming library. It's accessible for newcomers, but probably less interesting for genre veterans. On a long term basis the game's appeal wears thin and it does nothing to stand out from the crowd. Maybe come back for another look once the price has dropped in years to come.