One Way Heroics: Narrative, Themes and Characterisation

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Unlike many other roguelikes, which tend to focus on mechanical complexity and the emergent narrative of each play session, Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics has a plot.

The original One Way Heroics and its Plus expansion had a narrative, too, but their more recent counterpart has expanded on it considerably to provide an enjoyable degree of context and motivation for the many journeys you’ll make over the course of your time with the game.

Let’s take a look at some of the main themes of the game and how they’re explored.

The adventure begins.

Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics has a number of core themes, some of which may appear to be diametrically opposed, but there are multiple levels on which you can take the overall narrative.

At its most simple form, you can experience the complete narrative as being a single playthrough of the game, from the appearance of the Shine Raid just behind the player’s home castle to their eventual victory or demise some distance to the East.

However, the game encourages you to think of the narrative as being a bit more ambitious than that: it’s a tale of parallel existences in which the same basic events transpire, but the details of them and their eventual outcome are different time after time. Indeed, to experience the game’s “true ending”, you specifically have to think of the game in these terms by exchanging items through the dimension-spanning Dream Vault and taking your journey beyond the worlds you initially start exploring into wild other dimensions. The game even implies that the consciousness of the player character in each of the dimensions is the same “person” despite sometimes having a different physical form; each time the protagonist wakes up at the start of each new adventure, they have a fleeting memory of how their last incarnation died.

The basic story is simple. In all the many worlds throughout the multiverse, there were many kings, but King Konrath always proved himself to be the most powerful of them all. While his many victories brought prosperity to his kingdom, they also brought pain and suffering to others. And so it is in Konrath’s kingdom that the Envoy of Calamity first appears, announcing the arrival of the Shine Raid just behind Konrath’s castle, slowly creeping to the East bit by bit.

It’s no accident that Konrath is the character standing furthest West in the castle, consequently making him the first one to die. This is the first example of one of One Way Heroics‘ key themes: the fact that every action you take has a consequence. In Konrath’s case, it was inevitable that his actions would lead to his world’s ruin; he behaved the same way in every world, and every time he did so, the Shine Raid descended and destroyed everything he had built.

An example of bad choices: it’s difficult to flee here, because climbing mountains is slow, which in turn will give your foes multiple free attacks on you.

This theme is further reflected through the gameplay. Every choice you make as your character is an important one, because everything you do has a consequence.

If you walk into a dungeon to hunt for treasure, you’d better leave yourself time to get back out of the door (which is inevitably either locked or on the far West) before the Shine Raid closes in, otherwise you’re probably going to die unless you have a suitably heavy implement to break down a wall.

If you hire a character to join you, you’d better be sure they’re the best fit for your party composition, because hiring someone costs you levels in your Charisma stat, which are hard to get back and the loss of which may preclude you from hiring another party member later in your journey.

And when you’re running away, you’d better keep an eye on the terrain ahead of you, because backing yourself into a corner where your only means of escape is to climb a mountain or swim means all but certain death for those characters who aren’t good at traversing such obstacles.

This leads us on to a second core theme of the game: the idea that there is no turning back; life always goes on. This is most obviously represented by the forced-scrolling mechanic that urges you ever onwards in an attempt to outrun the Shine Raid, but it’s also seen in the stories that each of the recruitable NPCs tell you as you increase your friendship with them.

Childhood friend Nami, for example seems forlorn that she wasn’t able to tell your mutual friend Keyton how she felt if you recruit her at the start of the adventure; conversely, if you recruit Keyton instead, he seems in constant doubt as to whether or not he did the right thing by going with you rather than ensuring Nami was safe. The two are doomed never to meet again; even with judicious use of items and skills, it’s impossible to recruit both of them at the outset of your adventure. They left it too late to let each other know how they feel, and now there’s no turning back for either of them.

Queen Frieda in the original games was a good example of this theme at work, too. You’d come across Frieda as a prisoner in a deep dungeon in some of your adventures, and should you manage to free her and convince her to come with you, it would quickly become apparent that all was not entirely well with her. By the end of your adventure, she admitted that she had been brought back from the dead by the forbidden arts of necromancy in seeming defiance of the “no turning back” rule, but her ending shows that all she really ever wanted was to accept that her end had come. Rather than defying fate, as the player character is attempting to do for most of the game, Frieda specifically wanted to embrace it, and to a certain degree resented the fact that she had been prevented from doing so.

Choose wisely, because you can only save one!

Defying fate is a theme that is explored in detail over the course of the entire game. While your stated initial goal is to defeat the fallen angel Alma, and doing so counts as “clearing” a playthrough, the epilogue you get after defeating her makes it clear that truly defying fate isn’t as simple as just killing the most obvious figurehead of what it is that you’re standing against.

In striking down Alma, you’re dealing with a symptom, not the cause of the problem, and so the cycle is doomed to repeat. This is a potent metaphor for conflict in general, including that which takes place in the real world; removing the leader of an organisation that sows chaos may well throw that organisation into disarray for a time, giving the world a bit of a “grace period” to enjoy apparent peace, but eventually someone else will come along and take up that mantle, perhaps worse than ever before. You have to deal with the problem at its source rather than simply eradicating its surface-level symptoms, and that is often a much longer, more laborious process with potentially no end.

In the case of Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics, you can have a satisfying experience by simply killing Alma with all the different character classes on all the different difficulty levels. However, the overall metagame is much more complex than that, offering you a much larger variety of ways to win than simply “kill the last boss”. You can also win by reaching various milestones — the 2,000 km mark being the first, known as the End of the East. (This was known as the End of the World in the original One Way Heroics, but in Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics, that comes at the 10,000 km point.)

Or you can win by defeating the Shine Raid itself, a process which requires the use of Holy weapons, which will more than likely have to be gathered over the course of several playthroughs and stored in the Dream Vault.

Or you can win by abandoning your quest to slay Alma altogether and instead completing alternative quests from NPCs in the castle at the beginning of each game. If you choose to do this, you’re rewarded with new character classes; while the character you played in that world may eventually be obliterated by the Shine Raid, which they failed to deal with, the knowledge of that class is passed on to the nameless, formless soul that you’re actually playing as, allowing you to begin your adventure with your new wisdom on a subsequent playthrough.

Or, eventually, you can discover the truth behind what is going on once and for all and enter the dimension of dreams in an attempt to take down the true antagonist of the game, theoretically stopping the Shine Raid forever. This finale constitutes the “true ending”, but if you choose to keep playing you can interpret it in the same way as the main game: if there are countless worlds out there, perhaps there are countless dream worlds out there, too, and your task will never truly be over because there’s no end to the string of antagonists the Universe will throw at you.

That doesn’t mean things will be exactly the same each time, mind. While Fate dictates that certain things will come to pass regardless of world, dimension, whatever you want to call it, smaller things in the world will be different each time. Mechanically speaking, these changes are most obvious in the game map, which is different for each world you explore, but it can be seen in the characters and enemies you face, too.

Note the “naughty” prefix on Keyton. Keep a close eye on your virtue!

The original One Way Heroics introduced a system of “prefixes” that could be applied to both friendly NPCs and enemies. This system continues in Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics, and adds an interesting degree of emergent narrative to the existing, more fixed plot in the game. For example, in one playthrough you might encounter your childhood friend Nami with the [Tough] prefix, which suggests that in the years since you saw her last, she’s been training herself as much as possible and has reached peak physical condition. This is reflected by an increase in her base stats and ability to take a beating from enemies. Conversely, in another playthrough she might have the [Vagrant] prefix, suggesting that in the years since you saw her last she’s been down on her luck and unable to hone her skills in the same way, making her significantly weaker than her [Tough] counterpart.

The same is true for enemies, including Alma herself. Lucky is the hero who comes up against a [Frail] Alma, because they’re going to have an easy fight; conversely, all but the very strongest of all heroes should feel no shame in turning tail and running as fast as possible away from an [Ultimate] Alma, because she’s going to show them a bad time.

The use of these prefixes is perhaps most interesting when it comes to the non-player characters that are scattered around the game world, however. Finding a [Greedy] guard is much more interesting than coming across just a plain ol’ guard, for example — and indeed if you do the unthinkable and kill him (whether accidentally or otherwise) you’ll find that he was a bit of a hoarder. In some cases, the nature described by their prefix is reflected in their dialogue and the way they behave towards you, too; a [Greedy] toll collector will likely demand much higher payments from you than their non-prefixed counterpart.

All this is quite entertaining when you also throw the fact that you can play your character how you want into the mix. While you can’t attack friendly NPCs by default, that doesn’t stop you from tossing a Flame Vial into a room and killing everyone if you feel like you want to — this will get you a reputation and likely barred from other towns, though there are a few places that specifically cater to “dark” characters who have done bad things. Likewise, you come across a number of non-aggressive animals in the wilds; defeating them yields far more experience than more aggressive enemies, but makes you a sinner in the eyes of One Way Heroics’ equivalent of Greenpeace, a group of rangers who scour the countryside for poachers and show no mercy to those who have been killing small, fluffy creatures.

Like everything else in the game, there’s an element of risk and reward in all this: murdering a settlement might allow you to loot the merchants’ inventories rather than having to pay their exorbitant prices, but where do you go 200km down the line when you’re starving? Of course, in the case of some character classes that already start with low Charisma and consequently find themselves paying through the nose for services anyway, living life as an outlaw might be preferable to begging for bread crusts at every inn you come across.

Stand and fight or run for the safety of the tollgate, knowing that the troll is more than willing to murder every NPC in its path?

To sum all the above up, Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics can be whatever you choose to make of it. If all you want to do is take down Fallen Angel Alma with every available character class, the game isn’t going to stop you from doing that, and indeed encourages you to do so by recording your results for each character class on a special screen.

Should you choose to explore the game’s many worlds in more detail, however, you’ve got a very long journey ahead of you to get to the truth and declare absolute mastery over the Shine Raid and the evil presence behind it all.

It’s a journey worth taking, though, and there are plenty of weird and wonderful characters willing to keep you company along the way — some of whom may just surprise you in more ways than one before your adventure is over.

More about One Way Heroics
More about One Way Heroics Plus
More about Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics

One Way Heroics and One Way Heroics Plus are out now for PC and available via both Playism and SteamMystery 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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