"Little Town Hero is far from a heroic quest for Game Freak."
Game Freak first showed "Town" during the Fall 2018 Nintendo Direct. At the time of its reveal, it looked like it could be an interesting RPG. However, when it was shown off again this fall, it seemed a little bland and didn't look like the game I thought it might be when it was first unveiled. Nevertheless, I still wanted to see what Game Freak could do with an RPG that wasn't Pokémon, so I decided to find out what Little Town Hero was all about.
Axe dreams of one day adventuring outside of his village to discover what lies beyond. The only way out is through a castle that has been built to protect the villagers from the "monsters" that lurk outside its gates. After meeting a soldier from the castle, Axe asks them if he can be trained in combat so that he can one day work there too. During the training session, Axe accidentally injures the soldier, and shortly after, a monster appears in town with no warning. Left with no other choice, Axe fights the monster and kills it. Left with the mystery of how a monster got into town undetected, his adventure begins... at home!
Even though Little Town Hero calls itself an RPG, it's more of a card game. You have "Ideas" that can be used in battle, each one having a "Pow" value associated with it, dictating how many of them you can use in a turn. Each Idea has an attack and defense value that you use to fight the enemy's Ideas. If an Idea loses all of its Defense points, it breaks and will be replaced by another from your "Headspace" (deck). There are Ideas for attacking, defense, and support; and you'll need to use them all effectively in order to win. In addition, after every turn, you move around a board with some tiles having certain effects — like having a town member assist you, or using a certain Idea to blow up a barrel. There are no optional fights besides training battles, so you have only one way forward. With each story battle, you can "Eureka" points, which will upgrade your Ideas, either increasing their attack and defense values or giving them an additional effect.
While this battle system is pretty cool and I like how strategic it can be, it suffers from the same problems that other card games have. Sometimes, you have the Ideas you need right at the start of the battle, and its smooth sailing for the rest of the fight. Other times, you might get dealt a bad hand, and you have to claw your way back from an early deficit. Falling behind in Little Town Hero's fights can be costly. If you're not breaking an enemy's Ideas, they can be used again in the next turn, which can put you behind very quickly. Sometimes, you'll go through a fight for a half hour at a disadvantage only to realize it's almost futile to keep going. Boss fights at the end of every chapter can be marathons. A couple of times, my battles lasted well over 45 minutes as I thought through my every move, not wanting to redo the fight if I made a mistake. You also only have so many cards in your Headspace, and the only way to get new cards is to either take damage or consistently break all of your opponent's cards each turn. So the goal is usually to try and win as quickly and efficiently as possible, which will sometimes be impossible with the hand you're dealt.
When you're not fighting bosses, you may have to battle some sheep or... your rival, Matock. I lost count of the number of times I had to fight him in every chapter. At one point, I had to fight him three times pretty much back-to-back-to-back. I fought him on my way somewhere to complete an objective, fought him on the way back, and had another fight later on in town. These kinds of battles just feel like padding that really adds nothing to the game. I'm sure they're mostly for testing out strategies for the main boss encounters, but battles in general are slow and tedious, which makes me want them to be limited to only the end-of-chapter fights. I know it sounds contradictory for me to like the battle mechanics yet still find the experience tedious, but that's the way the system made me feel.
The story of Little Town Hero takes a while to ramp up, but it's not a bad story once you start learning about the mystery of why monsters are appearing in town. Unfortunately, I always say a story needs to have good characters for me to care what's actually going on, and Little Town Hero has mediocre characters. Having a cast of troublemakers isn't a good starting point, especially if they don't really grow. I am glad that Axe, at least, shows character development; otherwise, I would feel way worse about the story and its characters.
Game Freak has mentioned in the past that they were struggling trying to develop for the Switch, and Little Town Hero shows that. This doesn't look like a particularly demanding game at all, yet it will chug randomly, dropping to what looks like 5-10 FPS, even when just walking through town. Battles can also sometimes slow down, especially when Axe and a monster collide for an attack, or when Axe goes for a direct attack on a monster. At a couple of points in the game, the game's audio cut out altogether. It's pretty puzzling that this game could have gone through QA with this low level of quality. The boss designs, however, are the highlight of the art of Little Town Hero, coming in a nice variety of cool-looking beasts.
The sound department is the best part of the game, but it didn't blow me away. There isn't much music variety, as there aren't many areas to explore, but at least the one town theme will change depending on which part of town you're in. The only thing to look forward to is the boss battle music. Toby Fox does a good job with the soundtrack, but it's no Undertale. There's no voice acting in this game, unless you count the beeps and bloops that come out of the characters' mouths whenever they speak.
Little Town Hero is far from a heroic quest for Game Freak. It's an interesting concept for a game, and it does feel unique, but the monotonous pacing and poor cast of characters could never keep me in its world for long. While it's nice to see Game Freak expand their RPG muscles outside of Pokémon, this is one entry I can do without.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.