The concept of a “point of no return” is a common one in RPGs: it normally refers to the point immediately before the game’s finale where advancing the plot any further will put you on a collision course with the ending.
In unusual roguelike One Way Heroics, however, every step you take is its own point of no return, since with every step you take the Darkness (or, in its new incarnation Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics, the Shine Raid) advances, obliterating the world behind you one column of tiles at a time.
Essentially the game is a cross between a typical roguelike and those anxiety-inducing levels from Super Mario World where the screen kept scrolling even if you didn’t move. Which makes it an altogether unique experience, and one well worth exploring.
So let’s do just that!
Fatal Labyrinth for Genesis, an early — and particularly brutal — example of a Japanese roguelike.The term “roguelike” is an overused one in 2016, being primarily (mis)used to describe games that feature a significant element of random generation plus some sort of permadeath mechanic that means there are significant consequences to failure.
In reality, “roguelikes” have split off into a number of different directions over the years. Traditional roguelikes such as Angband, Caves of Qud and Tales of Maj’Eyal often maintain the ASCII text-based interface of their illustrious forebear and feature a high level of both mechanical complexity and meaningful player choices, despite sometimes primitive-looking interfaces.
Modern roguelikes bring the genre up to date with graphics, animation and sound, but maintain the traditional turn-based structure, random generation, permadeath and variety of character customisation. Perhaps the best example of this offshoot is the excellent Dungeons of Dredmor.
“Roguelites”, as they have come to be called, incorporate elements of roguelikes such as random generation and permadeath, but often diverge into other genres such as scrolling shoot ’em ups (Steredenn), action adventures (The Binding of Isaac), platformers (Rogue Legacy), real-time strategy games (FTL) and first-person shooters (Ziggurat).
As is often their wont, Japanese game developers came up with their own take on the roguelike quite a few years ago, and Spike Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon series played a key role in defining and reinforcing the conventions of the Japanese roguelike — conventions which are maintained to this day with more recent titles such as One Way Heroics.
The most meaningful difference between Japanese roguelikes and the traditional take on the genre in particular is the lack of permadeath. Death still carries meaningful consequences, be it losing all your items, dropping all your money, having to go back to the start of a dungeon or all of the above, but certain things are sacrosanct to the Japanese roguelike, chief among them being your overall progression through the game; you’ll rarely have to start the whole game over again if you die in a Japanese roguelike, though there are exceptions: Sega’s 1990 Genesis title Fatal Labyrinth is particularly brutal in that not only does it force you to start again when you die, it doesn’t have the facility to save mid-game, meaning you have to complete the entire thing in one sitting. It’s little surprise that Dr.Boogie of I-Mockery called it “one of the most cynical RPGs out there”. But I digress.
No, most Japanese roguelikes have some degree of persistence about them. Many of Spike Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon titles allow you to keep your experience points and levels but penalise you by removing items or gold you had on your person. Nippon Ichi’s ZHP forces your character to start at level 1 when they enter a new dungeon, regardless of whether or not their last run was successful, though the character’s level 1 base stats increase over the course of the game according to how many temporary levels you gain in a single run. And One Way Heroics, particularly its later incarnations One Way Heroics Plus and Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics, have numerous unlockable features to broaden and enhance the gameplay the longer you stick with it.
Mystery Dungeon as a series first emerged in 1993 with a spin-off of Enix’s Dragon Quest IV featuring the merchant character Torneko. Since that time, it has had over 25 different installments, some featuring Dragon Quest characters, some featuring Final Fantasy characters and some featuring the beasties from Pokémon. One of the most popular subseries of Mystery Dungeon is Shiren the Wanderer, which features an original cast of characters, and the protagonist of which is an unlockable extra character in Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics.
Mystery Dungeon games all typically unfold in the same way. There’s usually some sort of “overworld” component where you can buy and sell items, store things you don’t need now to pick up later — and prevent them being lost if you die — and advance the overall plot. These sections typically flow like a conventional JRPG, allowing you to freely explore the environment, talk to characters and make use of the services on offer.
Underground in the various dungeons, the gameplay switches to strict turn-based, with enemies moving at the same time the player character does, and speed stats sometimes allowing either the player or the enemy to get a “free” move depending on the difference between them. Maps are grid-based, and you can turn your character on the spot without using a move, allowing you to face incoming enemies without them getting an attack of opportunity in on you.
Combat in Mystery Dungeon games begins simply, with a single attack button attacking the enemy directly in front of the player character. Over time, depending on the specific game, the player character may gain access to new abilities that can be used both in and out of combat. For example, in the games themed around Final Fantasy’s Chocobo, the player can take on one of several different Jobs from the Final Fantasy series when they enter a dungeon, each of which can be levelled up independently, and each of which has their own loadout of skills that are unlocked as the player progresses.
Certain strategies are also common to all the Mystery Dungeon games, most notably attacking an empty space to allow an enemy to advance into your attack range without them getting an attack in on you, and attacking empty spaces in an attempt to discover whether or not there are any traps there. Common roguelike strategies also apply: most notably, fighting in doorways is advantageous, as it allows you to deal with one enemy at a time rather than getting surrounded.
Even if the new version of One Way Heroics hadn’t been made by Spike Chunsoft, it’s important to bear the background of the popular Mystery Dungeon series in mind, because the original One Way Heroics was very much designed around the same basic core as Mystery Dungeon.
One Way Heroics is the work of independent Japanese developer SmokingWOLF, who had also created his own RPG engine, which One Way Heroics is based on. It was released in the West by localisation specialists Playism in 2013 and subsequently came to Steam in early 2014. It was then considerably expanded via the DLC One Way Heroics Plus, which once again came out via Playism first in early 2015, then later in the same year came to Steam.
There are a couple of key differences between One Way Heroics and Mystery Dungeon, chief among which is that One Way Heroics unfolds overground rather than in dungeons (though the game does also have dungeons scattered around the landscape), and this makes for some interesting tactical situations, particularly when you’re dealing with multiple enemies. The great outdoors isn’t known for having convenient doorways to fight in, you see, so you instead have to take advantage of terrain features such as mountains and rivers (which take player and enemy alike several turns to traverse, unless they’re good at swimming, climbing and/or flying) and forests (which provide a bonus to your evasion). Terrain features also have more passive effects, too; walking through the desert means your stamina depletes more rapidly, making it harder to use your special abilities; conversely, walking through snowfields causes your overall energy level to drop more quickly, meaning you’d better stock up on food supplies.
And then, of course, is the fact that the game’s auto-scrolling is constantly pushing you onwards. If you’re out in the open, this isn’t necessarily a problem, but if you do decide to wander into one of the dungeons or towns that pepper the landscape, you’d better be able to get back out through the door before the Darkness closes in, otherwise you’ll be dying an embarrassing death. The game deliberately toys with you in this regard on numerous occasions, often putting doorways to towns directly adjacent to mountain ranges or slamming the doors of a dungeon shut behind you, forcing you to either pick the locks or smash your way out through the walls.
One defining feature of the One Way Heroics experience is the Awakening skill, which acts as a temporary counter to the encroaching Darkness. Using Awakening allows you to have three free turns without the scrolling moving on or enemies attacking you, which can mean the difference between life or death in numerous situations — in others, however, it can simply mean delaying the inevitable.
Another important aspect of the game is the fact it is possible to beat it in multiple ways. Your stated goal at the outset is to vanquish the Demon Lord, an easily identifiable villain that shows up at predictable points in your adventure, then either hangs around until you kill them on the easiest difficulty, or teleports away at inconvenient moments on harder levels. And indeed, you can clear the game by defeating said Demon Lord. And you could quite easily believe that there was nothing more to the game than defeating the Demon Lord.
However, there’s more. Much more. You can also clear the game by reaching the “End of the World” at the 2,000km mark. Or you can defeat the Darkness itself using Holy weapons, which you’ll probably have to uncover across several playthroughs and store in the Dimensional Vault, which lets you carry across a few items into subsequent attempts. Or, from One Way Heroics Plus onwards, you can completely abandon your quest to defeat the Demon Lord at its outset in favour of several other unlockable adventures, each of which reward you with a new class to play as. Or you can find a way into another dimension and attempt to take down the Dimensional Ruler to (hopefully) stop the madness once and for all. Or you can play as the Tourist class, whose sole goal is to fill up their adventure journal.
And then, when you’ve done all that, there are four different difficulties to attempt, along with Maniac Mode, which imposes harsher restrictions on the game’s turn-based mechanics and prevents you from using the Dimensional Vault. There are records and leaderboards for each character. There’s online functionality that allows you to compare your performance with other players. And there are several NPCs you can recruit on your adventures, each of whom have their own unique storylines to follow that lead to a unique ending if they’re still alive when you clear the game via any of the aforementioned means.
Suffice to say, if you’re looking for value in terms of “money spent per hours of entertainment”, One Way Heroics is very hard to beat indeed, and you can expect a similar amount of fun from the imminent new release by Spike Chunsoft.
One Way Heroics and One Way Heroics Plus are out now for PC and available via both Playism and Steam. Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics is coming soon to PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and PC digital download platforms, with Limited Run Games shortly to offer strictly limited numbers of physical copies for both the PS4 and Vita versions.
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