Little Town Hero marks the first collaboration between Game Freak of Pokemon fame and Toby Fox, the creator of Undertale. The game is a JRPG with a quirky style that has a lot of ambition in terms of its combat system, but its underbaked concepts make the game feel more like a proof of concept than a fully-realized title.
We Must Protect This House
Little Town Hero is set in a small village that is cut off from the outside world, as the only exit is guarded by a castle. The player takes on the role of Axe, an adventurous young boy who wants to see what the world looks like outside of the village. Axe finds a red stone in the coal mines that increases his combat ability, which coincides with the arrival of strange monsters within the village. It's up to Axe to defeat the new threat to his home while uncovering the mystery of why the village is sealed off from the outside. The story of Little Town Hero has some fun moments, but the real meat of the game comes in the form of a card-based battle system.
The battle system in Little Town Hero is based around the concept of ideas (known as izzits) and actions (known as dazzits). Both Axe and his opponent can use izzits and dazzits, and they are limited to a number of actions per turn based on a power cost (think of the mana system from Magic: The Gathering), which gradually increases over the course of the battle. There are three kinds of actions: red izzits, which deal a lot of damage and are the only thing that directly damages the enemy; yellow izzits, which can be reused in a single turn; and blue izzits which have special effects.
Pick A Card
The battles in Little Town Hero are essentially card games. The player and the monster draw several izzits each round and they decide if they want to use their power to play them or hold them for the next turn. Axe and his enemies each have three hearts and the only way to damage them is with a red izzit. There is a germ of a great idea hidden in this concept, but it's hamstrung by a few issues, mainly the lack of customization. Axe only has a limited number of izzits that he can use over the course of the game (which can be upgraded with skill points earned over the course of the story), meaning that the player will be using the same few moves throughout the story.
The other issue with the battles is the sheer length of them. The official description for Little Town Hero on the Nintendo website describes the game as having a compact story progression for the busy gamer. The truth of the matter is that battles go on for way too long, due to how slowly animations play out, how the player might never get the right set of moves they need, or how the addition of "Guts" (essentially extra hearts that refresh when an actual heart is damaged) causes monster battles to drag out forever. Little Town Hero would have been better served with shorter battles and more creatures, as the current pace of the fights is punishing.
Pace Problems (Amongst Others)
The slow pace also transfers to the village itself, as it is far too big for Axe's movement speed and the sparse population leads to extended scenes of running slowly down long paths. There is a fast travel system that alleviates this somewhat, but there is still way too much running around in empty spaces. The village houses several optional quests, but these are basic busywork and mostly involve running between villages.
One clever idea that the battle system has is movement, as each fight with a monster takes place on a board with locations that can give advantages to the player. The number of squares the battle can move to is randomly determined at the end of each turn (unless certain abilities are used that give the player control over movement) and a lucky move to a square with an ally can change the course of a battle. Movement is one of the best ideas in Little Town Hero, and it's a shame that the long battles cause the concept to become diluted, as it's easy to grow weary of wasting time jumping between empty spaces.
The visuals of Little Town Hero are one of the highlights of the game, with the cartoon world of the village contrasting with some excellent monster designs. The music is also nice, though fans expecting tunes as memorable as the ones in Toby Fox's other works might be disappointed at the soundtrack.
Little Town Hero also has issues in regards to glitches and load times. It's weird to see a game with such an amazing pedigree have such basic issues, but Little Town Hero has plenty of moments where character animations don't display correctly or where the game freezes for several seconds while entering cutscenes. Hopefully, these issues can be fixed later on, but they are a major distraction at launch.
Little Town Hero has some great ideas, but the poor execution holds them down and leads to moments that deter from the enjoyment of the game. It's possible that the concept could have worked in a title with a grander scope that refined the combat system, but Little Town Hero is not that game.
A digital copy of Little Town Hero was purchased by The Gamer for the purposes of this review. Little Town Hero is available now for Nintendo Switch.
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