Nintendo and its stable of collaborators have always been ones for experimentation, but their forays into making new IPs tend to be quickly forgotten. “ARMS,” “1-2 Switch,” “Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball,” “Nintendo Badge Arcade,” “Giga Wrecker,” “Miitomo” — even in just the last 10 years, the list goes on and on. Game Freak’s “Little Town Hero,” one of several IPs they’ve created since 2011, is an unfortunate victim of this phenomenon.
“Little Town Hero,” while technically an RPG, plays more like a strategic puzzle game. Its story sequences, sidequests, and skill tree system are similar to those found in most RPGs, but its gameplay is focused on managing a small, semi-random pool of actions and resources affected by an even smaller pool of mutable variables. Aspects of the combat in “Little Town Hero” resemble pieces of “Bravely Default,” “Octopath Traveler,” the “Persona” games, and especially “Yu-Gi-Oh!” And “Hearthstone,” although its execution is generally its own.
The player attacks and defends during each turn using Dazzits different in-game actions created from Izzits (the ideas to perform those actions) via their allotted action points. Opponents will use an array of their own Dazzits to attack, and the player must counter these to avoid taking damage. In the early stages of the game, actually harming the opponent — which usually requires keeping an attack Dazzit out of use for a whole turn — is easier said than done, and this is what gives the game its cognitive novelty over other parts of its genre.
The board-game movement system during certain boss battles and the bizarre difficulty curve complement said novelty well; there’s enough depth in the game to justify almost twice its length. That this comes from the director who created a game about simultaneous horse racing and solitaire (play “Pocket Card Jockey”) comes as no surprise.
Though “Little Town Hero” is small in scope, it’s polished and packed to the brim with personality. The entire game takes place in one area, spanning roughly 15 hours, but emphasizes variety and speed.
The story and dialogue are simplistic, but executed with an often dry, absurdist wit.
The protagonist is a sarcastic, reckless troublemaker, and quests are built to reflect that, including such travails as chasing a mustachioed cat to pluck its hair, making a promise to a guard that you comically break immediately afterward, and fighting a particular character over and over because he won’t stop challenging you.
Sidequests, too, are often very streamlined and painless. Some don’t involve combat at all, and others have their requirements met by merely moving along the critical path.
On the subject of the critical path, the progression of in-game combat is rewarding in an unusual way. The most trying battles in the game lie around a third of the way in, and things ease up significantly later on due to the effects of certain skills. Minor buffs to the effects of most abilities bring out their true utility, but tend to be available only after the more difficult fights, hence the change in difficulty.
Seeing your pool of stratagems expand with new skill bonuses makes the late game just as fulfilling as the early chapters, and skill points are awarded even on game overs to alleviate the luck factor and keep challenging mid-game bosses from turning into pushovers or brick walls.
Simplicity and soul are the key words for “Little Town Hero,” and these apply to its visuals and soundtrack as well. Characters appear in a cel-shaded, semi-chibi artstyle, with expressive animations doled out in over-the-top attack anticipations and standard dialogues alike. Toby Fox’s soundtrack, likely the main thing “Little Town Hero” will be remembered for aside from its lack of Nintendo exclusivity, is nothing short of phenomenal. Its sparse arrangements are distinct, catchy, and vibrant, and well worth getting the game for on their own. It even recalls “Monster World IV” and “Pokemon” at points.
“Little Town Hero” manages to find its own identity in a distinctly approachable framework, and it works well as a portable game in today’s attention economy. Rarely does a game leave me wanting more of it, and for an RPG, I consider that the highest praise.
Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools, and has developed a number of free games. He is a neutral game reviewer.
If You Play
Platform – Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Price – $25
Internet Usage (accounts for download size) – 4 GB
ESRB Rating – E10+
Release Date – 10/16/19 (Switch), 6/23/20 (PS4), 7/2/2020 (Xbox One), 7/9/20 (PC)
Genre (if applicable) – Puzzle/RPG
Developer – Game Freak
Challenge – Light
Novelty – Moderate
Polish – Moderate