Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics — and indeed its illustrious predecessor — is unique in the Mystery Dungeon series in that it’s not confined to dungeons.
Indeed, the fact that the majority of the game is set above ground on a continuously scrolling world map of the kind you might see in a Dragon Quest game even makes it pretty distinctive in the roguelike genre and all its offshoots.
So how exactly does that affect the gameplay, if at all? Let’s take a closer look at the game’s mechanics to find out how it all works.
One Way Heroics in all its forms is turn-based, much like the Mystery Dungeon series that it pays homage to. But it’s a bit more complicated than “you move, enemies move, repeat”. A key part of the gameplay is the relative speeds of your character and the enemies they encounter — and indeed the constant speed at which the ever-advancing Shine Raid (or Darkness in the originals) snaps at your heels and threatens to consume you.
If you’re not used to turn-based games and how they implement speed, you may be wondering how you can possibly have something being faster than something else if everything stops when you’re not doing anything. One Way Heroics implements this in a similar way to the Mystery Dungeon titles, and indeed many traditional roguelikes: it calculates the relative speeds of the player and the non-player characters, then awards “free” turns to either side as appropriate.
In other words, if your character is significantly faster than the zombie they’re attacking, every few turns you might find yourself with a free attack that doesn’t come with a predictable reprisal from your opponent. Conversely, if you’re much slower than an opponent, they might get free attacks in on you, so it pays to be careful, particularly when facing multiple enemies.
This question of relative speed also comes into play when traversing certain types of terrain in the world, which is a consideration you don’t find in a strictly dungeon-based game. Swimming, for example, slows you down considerably, and crossing mountain ranges even more so, though both of these penalties to your speed can be alleviated by taking certain Perks when you create your character — more on these in a moment. What this means in practice is that if you decide to climb a mountain while enemies are around, they might get ten or more free attacks in on you while you move just one tile on the screen — and in most cases, that will be enough to finish you off for good. In this way, we can see that the game isn’t just about rushing to the right as quickly as possible; you have to take into account the upcoming terrain, and to this end you have a Defender-style scanner on screen at all times showing you roughly what’s in the vicinity.
The original One Way Heroics and its Plus incarnation offer a twist on the turn-based formula in the form of “Maniac Mode” — here, any differences in speed between characters are reflected strictly every turn, whereas in standard play — and indeed in Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics — everyone acts on a kind of hidden “charge time” system, where those free turns will only come around every so often rather than every turn.
Combat in One Way Heroics initially seems simple, consisting of just one attack button and, depending on your class, maybe an ability or two to use. But speed enters the equation here, too, and it’s further modified by what weapons you choose to wield. Any class can wield any weapon, but certain classes may have bonuses when using a favoured weapon. The Swordmaster class, for example, favours… well, I’m sure you can work that one out.
These bonuses are typically reflected in a boost to the character’s “combo rate”, which allows them to attack multiple times successively in the space of a single turn. Generally speaking, the higher your character’s Agility stat, the higher your combo rate, though as noted it is further modified by which weapon you are using. Small, nimble weapons such as knives provide the biggest bonus to your combo rate, while you’ll be lucky to get more than one hit a turn with an axe. The benefits of different weapons tend to balance out, however; axes are much better at knocking down walls than knives are, as you might expect.
Spellcasters have a particularly tough time in One Way Heroics due to the fact that they need to concentrate for at least a turn before they can unleash a spell. This potentially opens you up to attack if enemies are particularly close, and getting knocked out of position as well as moving disrupts your concentration. Fortunately, enemy spellcasters — including the game’s main boss, Fallen Angel Alma — are also subject to this restriction, so you can take advantage of it too, moving out of the spell’s area of effect while they’re still preparing to cast. You can also mitigate the concentration time with certain items that come with a bonus to meditation.
The different classes in One Way Heroics play noticeably differently from one another despite sharing the same basic mechanics for moving and attacking. Of the initially unlocked classes, the Swordmaster is the most aggressive, favouring an in-your-face approach to tackling the enemy, cutting them down with a high combo rate when using their favoured weapons. Conversely, the Knight starts with a shield which automatically absorbs a certain amount of damage if they’re attacked from the front, and the abilities they unlock while levelling are generally defensive in nature.
Later classes include the Pirate, who is good at swimming and wielding axes but starts with negative Charisma because they’re so foul-mouthed no-one wants to talk to them; the Adventurer, who is particularly well-suited to treasure hunting due to their innate ability to pick locks and traverse difficult terrain; and the Hero, who has some of the highest attack power in the game, but takes considerably more damage than the other classes if attacked from the side and rear.
All classes have access to an ability called Awakening, which may be used five times in a single game. Awakening pauses time for everyone but you (and your party, if you have one) for a few turns, allowing you to get several completely free attacks off — or perhaps put a bit of distance between yourself and a particularly dangerous enemy. Awakening is an essential part of survival, particularly in the early game, and it’s easy to forget about; once you get used to situations where it’s particularly handy, though, you won’t be able to live without it.
Levelling in One Way Heroics is a little unconventional. Experience is measured simply as a flat percentage to the next level, with different tiers of enemies offering different percentage increases. It’s not unusual to gain several levels at once after defeating a particularly strong enemy, but it only takes a few small fry to gain a single level, too.
Because levelling is so rapid, gaining a level doesn’t increase all your abilities as it does in most RPGs. Rather, gaining a level typically improves one of your attributes, with different classes having a different progression structure that is roughly thematically appropriate. Knights gain Charisma as they level up, for example, as word of their noble deeds spreads; conversely, the Pirate has no such luck, and instead gets better at swimming and lugging increasingly large amounts of booty around. Play to your strengths and all that.
The truly unusual aspect of One Way Heroics’ progression system comes with the discovery that you can expend levels and stats to acquire various benefits. For example, coming across a Goddess Shrine allows you to expend experience levels — while keeping the stat and skill bonuses you gained from previous level-ups — in order to gain powerful items or buffs. Meeting an NPC requires you to spend Charisma points in order to recruit them, potentially locking you out of acquiring future allies further down the path. Learning magic spells requires you to expend Intellect points, which in turn makes your spellcasting abilities less potent until you build them back up again. There’s always an element of risk and reward, forcing you to think very carefully about how you build your character as you progress through an adventure — and ensuring that every playthrough, even with the same class, will end up being quite different from the last.
One of the ways that you can make a playthrough different from the outset, besides choosing a different class, is tweaking your starting loadout of Perks. When you begin the game, you have three slots for perks, but this quickly expands to five after a few adventures, regardless of whether or not they are successful. There’s no obligation to take Perks if you want a challenge — indeed, you get a bonus to your final score if you don’t take any — but they allow you to tailor each of the classes to the way you want to play them. Want a charismatic Pirate? Go ahead, though there are limits to what you can achieve.
In more practical terms, the Perks allow you to improve your characters’ secondary skills such as lockpicking, swimming and mountain climbing, or perhaps starting with a particular benefit such as a pet that assists in combat or a lump sum of money. In a pleasing nod to tabletop roleplaying systems such as GURPS, it’s also possible to take disadvantageous Perks, too, such as being nearsighted (NPCs appear as blurry outlines until you get near them) or clumsy (every turn you have a small chance of dropping a random item from your inventory). Voluntarily taking these results in a significant bonus to the score you get at the end of your adventure, so if you’re hoping to unlock the game’s extra content, a playthrough or two with a half-blind clumsy idiot of an adventurer may well be in your interests. It makes for an enjoyable war story if nothing else.
That score I mentioned ties in with the game’s persistent progression system. Your final score translates to Genesis Stones, which can be used to unlock new classes, Perks and special content as well as expanding the Dimensional Vault that allows you to carry items across to subsequent playthroughs. Your score is calculated as a total evaluation of how far you travelled, the level you reached, the number enemies you defeated, your total value in assets and titles you acquired by achieving heroic deeds such as dispatching particularly powerful monsters, so even a failed run can be profitable if you managed to excel in one or more of these areas.
Alongside Genesis Stones are the much rarer Dream Stones, which can be used to upgrade the castle in which every game starts. First you have to add rooms to the castle, which get increasingly more expensive, then you need to add people to populate those rooms, who are unlocked by fulfilling various conditions in the game. These people may simply offer helpful tutorial advice at the outset of your adventure, provide you with useful items, or in some cases even kick off a completely different quest that doesn’t involve defeating Fallen Angel Alma, usually in order to unlock a new class. Dream Stones can be found as random drops throughout your adventure or sometimes even bought from merchants, but you’ll get a lot more of them if you actually manage to clear an adventure in one way or another.
Speaking of which, there are actually a number of different ways to defeat the game. Sure, you can beat Fallen Angel Alma — indeed, if you’re playing on the easiest difficulty, this is the most practical option, as once she shows up she doesn’t go away again, unlike the harder difficulties, where she comes and goes at regular intervals — but you can also try to reach “the end of the world”. Beyond that, the overall metagame to get the “true” ending is an extremely convoluted process with multiple steps that requires several playthroughs. And even if you manage to pull that off, can you do it with all the different classes?
One Way Heroics’ mechanics — in all their incarnations — are simple to understand, but their apparent simplicity belies a huge amount of depth and possible customisation. For sure, there are certain class and Perk combinations that are considerably more powerful than others, but for committed roguelike players, it’s a badge of honour to clear the game with an underpowered or challenging to use class, and indeed the game keeps meticulous records of which classes you’ve had the most (or least) success with.
The original One Way Heroics had a ton of content for such a small-scale indie project. One Way Heroics Plus added even more. And now Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics adds the development horsepower of Spike Chunsoft to the mix rather than just being the one-man effort the originals were.
I think it’s fair to say that this one is going to keep you busy for a good, long while.
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 out now on 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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