Little Town Hero Review
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Developed by gaming powerhouse Game Freak, Little Town Hero is the latest game release from the typically Pokemon-centric developer. Thankfully, in an effort to branch out a bit and give gamers more variety rather than only being known for Pokemon, Game Freak has what they call Gear Projects which allow their team to work on new gaming properties. The latest Gear Project? You guessed it, Little Town Hero. Now don't get me wrong, I'm hyped for the next Pokemon games like much of the world, but it might be just as exciting to see what else the team at Game Freak has to offer.
Little Town Hero's story starts off with the main protagonist, Axe, and his friend Nelz hatching a harebrained plan to sneak into the castle in said little town. While ultimately unsuccessful, we learn from this endeavor that Axe dreams of becoming a soldier of the castle, and to ultimately be able to see the world outside of his village. Rumors report that Axe's father left the village and has not been seen since, perhaps further fueling Axe's ambitions. However, these ambitions seem destined to be unsuccessful as the castle will not let people leave due to fear of monsters roaming the outside world.
Seeing that Axe will not be simply shut down, following his castle foible he and peer/rival Matock take up battle training with expert soldier Angard. Just let that name soak in...is that not an incredible name for a battle trainer? After a few training sessions, and following Axe discovering a mysterious red gem, the tide of battle turns in Axe's favor when he deals an impressive blow to his teacher, causing poor Angard to be injured. This glory doesn't last, though, as a gigantic monster comes out of nowhere requiring Axe to defend his friends and village.
After the initial battle, excitement in the little town ensues. Axe becomes the new hero of the town, Matock becomes terribly jealous, and more monsters begin to mysteriously appear for unknown reasons. Axe and his friends, Matock included, vow to discover why their once peaceful village has become a hotbed of monster activity. But even though these very adult situations were thrust upon the boys, it was refreshing that Game Freak left in some childlike innocence in the form of Axe being fussed at by him mother, a valentines-like tradition called the Gifting Rite, and so on. The story as a whole was wonderful in my opinion, and as such I will not share more here because I would hate to rob you of the experience.
The combat system of Little Town Hero is clearly its distinguishing feature in the realm of other RPGs. While basically turn-based in nature, turns do not involve just choosing an ability randomly to burn through the fight. Levelling up, random battles, and general grinding are not part of the world of Little Town Hero, so it is never possible to be over levelled or under levelled compared to an enemy. Instead, battles require well thought out strategy, planning multiple moves ahead, and proper resource management.
Battle abilities consist of ideas that Axe comes up with, called izzits. Each izzit has a different cost, ranging from zero to six, corresponding with how many ability points are required to use them. At the beginning of each battle Axe starts out with three ability points, though as the battle goes on this will slowly grow to a maximum of six points. Once an izzit is used, it becomes a dazzit. Dazzits come in three forms: red for offense, yellow for defense, and blue for special. Red and yellow dazzits feature power and health values, indicating how much damage it can dish out or take respectively. Blue dazzits instead represent special abilities that typically either boost up your other ideas or impact the dazzits of your opponent. These special abilities are quite valuable if used appropriately, particularly since they do not end your turn immediately like the reds and yellows do.
In addition to Axe's ideas in his arsenal, as the story opens up and new friendships are established these new connections join the fray by offering their help during battle. Additionally, certain areas of the map have environmental features, referred to as gimmicks, that can be taken advantage of in battle for various boons. These gimmicks range from townsfolk yelling idea suggestions, to random cannons that directly damage the enemy, to even wild chickens that can be thrown at the enemy. These gimmicks and helpers are accessed between battle turns as the fight moves through different locations in the village.
While this unique system seems interesting, and it certainly is, it is not without a significant learning curve and difficulty. Rather than simply attacking and defending, the opposing dazzits are subject to special abilities that are sometimes random, such as opponents who have abilities that randomly disable one of your dazzits for a turn, potentially wrecking your well thought out strategy. Of course, once you are more familiar with the various abilities, even predicting the randomness becomes somewhat possible by simply not turning your perfect ability into a dazzit until after the enemy's ability happens. Another trap I initially fell into was being too excited and using all of my ideas as soon as possible. This sounds like a good idea, but I quickly found myself literally out of ideas. This can be remedied through using points gained for breaking all of your opponent's dazzits in a turn, or through taking damage, though it you can't always rely on these options to be available during key battle moments.
Basically, think of battles in Little Town Hero more like a game of chess than quick action. Combat can seem tedious at times thanks to the randomness that can come with not knowing what abilities you or your opponent will have access to, along with the mechanic of only being able to actually do damage in very specific circumstances. Again, once you get more accustomed to the battle system the tedium is decreased quite a bit, though you shouldn't expect quick battles.
Graphics and Sound
Game Freak is certainly known for their whimsical, colorful, vibrant visuals, and Little Town Hero does not deviate from this tradition in the least. Even the enemies have such nice aesthetics that it is almost a shame to defeat them, though this obviously changes once they start beating you up. It is true that most of what Axe does within battles looks essentially the same, though this did not detract from my experience. My only disappointment graphically was that several times during my play-through I experienced graphical lag when exploring, particularly when approaching the next cut-scene or person to talk to. It should be noted, however, that much of my game play was in handheld mode on the Switch rather than docked, so perhaps this would be a non-issue for docked-only play.
The audio production value of Little Town Hero is spot on. Of course, I didn't really expect any less given the fact that Toby Fox of Undertale fame teamed up with Hitomi Sato of Pokemon fame teamed up on this project.