One beauty of RPGs is the genre’s focus on storytelling. Similar to novels or film, RPGs can capture our imagination and inspire us to be better people. They provide lofty ambitions to live up to by using storytelling to empower us. Brave Hero Yuusha EX takes a similar approach, but it examines the kinds of stories often told in old-school, 8-bit RPGs, specifically the first few Dragon Quest games. While it’s a simple, short RPG, Brave Hero Yuusha EX plays with the conventions of those classic quests in fun ways that are worth experiencing for fans of older RPGs.
Brave Hero Yuusha launched four years ago as a free-to-play RPGMaker title. Now, Torch60 has brought us the EX version with added content, including an upgraded soundtrack, a slightly tweaked story, and a plethora of post-game content.
The story opens in a familiar manner: on their 17th birthday, a young hero is called before the king and told they must face the Demon Lord — whose castle you can see from the starting area (think Dragon Quest I) — and save both the princess and the world from his evil plans. That’s when things go awry. Instead of sending the hero on a quest to obtain all the items needed to reach the castle, the king throws the hero across the water to face off with the Demon Lord right away. Immediately, everyone knows something is wrong, including the princess and the Demon Lord. Someone is altering and removing parts of this tried and true quest. Where is the epic journey? Don’t we need to create a bridge? When an evil trickster appears and removes the Demon Lord’s castle from the story, the real villain is revealed, and the three unlikely allies set off on a journey to defeat the trickster and restore order.
Turns out, this quest is part of a story being told in our world, which frames the events that happen within the game. Needless to say, the real world and the fairy tale eventually intertwine. The base story is fun; it takes all of our expectations for the typical quest narrative and inverts them in entertaining ways. The world is filled with references to Dragon Quest games, the dialogue is clever, and the story even takes on some of the sexism inherent in those narratives. Torch60 honors what we love about a good quest and simultaneously uses those expectations to surprise us. I had a good time with it. Unfortunately, the way that these worlds intersect never quite works. The motivations of the characters in the “real world” are never believably fleshed out, and thus they don’t make much sense. Still, it’s not enough to tarnish an otherwise clever story.
If you’ve played the first few Dragon Quest games, Brave Hero Yuusha EX’s gameplay will feel familiar, but it has a few twists. As the hero and their party explore the world, you’ll enter dungeons, upgrade equipment, save towns, and fight bosses. The clever addition here is that each time the party reaches a town, there are areas and people that are “missing.” In each dungeon, there are missing pages from the story, and as you collect them, parts of the local town are restored. Restoring towns is a satisfying, fun addition to the typical formula found in these kinds of games.
Unfortunately, combat is this game’s weak point. Battles are random, but once you reach a high enough level, you’re given the option to forgo them. Additionally, you’re allowed three members in your party, with roles similar to those found in Dragon Quest II, and the fights boil down to mostly magic and physical attacks. There are some other additions beyond what is found in Dragon Quest games, like damage over time (DoT) attacks and other kinds of buffs and debuffs. However, none of these tools are really necessary — even on the highest difficulty setting, the game is a breeze. I never needed to think of additional strategies to defeat even the nastiest bosses; they went down without much of a fight. Given all the skills and options presented in battle, the lack of difficulty is a little disappointing.
The look and sound of this game is a clear throwback. Graphically, Brave Hero Yuusha EX looks almost exactly like its 8-bit forebears. Which makes sense, since the game is going for that fairy-tale, old-school look. As for audio, there are two options: the 8-bit chiptunes from the original release or a remastered version. The remastered version sounds great, but I found myself going for the chiptune sound; I wanted my experience to fully reflect the nostalgia trip I was on while playing Brave Hero Yuusha EX. Either way, the soundtrack is excellent.
Beyond the upgraded music, the other additional content works well here. Similar to mini-medals, there are “moon gears” to collect that provide strong rewards when cashed in, and they’re not nearly as difficult to find as collectibles in other games. The postgame provides two key additions: a coliseum where the party fights all previous bosses from the game in a gauntlet challenge, and extra story content. The coliseum, like the rest of the game, is just a little too easy. The extra story content, however, is the first place I found any kind of challenge, and it provides a nice coda to the tale. If you’re trying to decide between this version and the free version, at a measly five bucks, Brave Hero Yuusha EX is the right choice for all its additions.
Brave Hero Yuusha EX is a wonderful love letter to those of us who grew up with the original Dragon Quest games. Even if you haven’t played those classics, this is a delightful little game that pokes fun at storytelling tropes we’re all familiar with. Plus, even with all the new content, this game will only take about eight hours to complete. If you’re looking for a clever, short RPG that does something a little different while being firmly entrenched in mechanics and storytelling inspired by 8-bit classics, Brave Hero Yuusha EX is an excellent choice.