Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is an old school game at heart. All its depth and subtlety comes from traditional storytelling and the implementation of simple mechanics in creative ways. In many ways, it feels more like a Choose Your Own Adventure book than a typical video game, something to the credit of creators Corey and Lori Cole. Decision-making is at the heart of everything: you micromanage your time and how to approach each scenario the game throws your way.
The actions you choose, including a wide variety of dialogue options, have an impact on the storyline and how NPCs interact with you. You can be a swashbuckling adventurer, thrusting yourself into the jaws of danger to hunt for treasure, or you can be a mild-mannered student who gets on with his studies. You might choose to help your classmates, or even romance them. Alternatively, you can use them for your own gain and stab them in the back when it suits you best.
You play as Shawn O’Conner, a would-be burglar who gets whisked away by a mysterious man to study at the Hero University. Aside from your classes with the inscrutable Professor von Urwald, Shawn’s free to spend his time in the castle however he likes.
Point and Switch
The core gameplay is point and click, something that feels recherche in itself. The majority of your time is spent exploring, getting to know your classmates, and training to become Rogue of the Year. There’s also a simple but rewarding combat system that will be easy to pick up for fans of other turn-based RPGs on the Switch like Octopath Traveller. It's actually strikingly reminiscent of the original Fallout, allowing various ways to defeat foes and overcome obstacles depending on how high certain player stats are.
Hero-U definitely feels right at home on the Switch. It makes the best use of the platform’s criminally underused touchscreen functionality out of any third party game I’ve played. The simple but thoughtful gameplay does lend itself perfectly to touchscreen, it's true, but Transolar Games still deserve credit for the length they’ve gone to adapt it for the Switch. It's not something clumsy or tacked on but a legitimate way to play the game. When in handheld mode, using the touchscreen to control Shawn actually felt better than using the Joy-Cons.
It’s a slow-burner for sure but I wasn’t complaining. As the in-game calendar heralded the days passing, I became more and more absorbed in the goings-on at the Hero University. My first fortnight was fairly mundane. I spent my evenings studying or chatting with my classmates in the Rec Room. However, the more I explored and spoke to the castle’s residents, the more I found to occupy my time.
It wasn’t long before I was counting down the hours until I’d next play Poobah, a surprisingly subtle card game similar to Poker, with my classmates or have the chance to explore the wine cellar and sea caves further.
Punmanship for the Ages
The real star of the show is the writing. If you're like me, you’re a pun connoisseur then this is the game for you. Hero-U is packed full of the cringiest and most conceited puns you can imagine. It's brilliant. It’s also crammed with fantasy and pop culture references, from '90s cinema to Baroque music and the works of Stephen King. The density of allusions is remarkable, and really demonstrates the dedication and care which Corey and Lori Cole have poured into this game, their first in 20 years.
Not only that, the dialogue is funny. It’s not often I say this about a game but Hero-U made me laugh out loud. Exploring the castle is fun and increasing your stats by various means is plenty rewarding but where the game really shines is in its dialogue. Whether you’re bantering with your satire-loving satyr roommate, Aeolus, or making fun out of Caesari Sosi (an obscure reference to The Usual Suspects’ villain, Keyser Soze, that I was never quite able to parse), the pompous nobleman’s son who shares your classes.
I came to genuinely care about a lot of the characters. When the opportunity arose, I happily gave up my own pursuit of treasure in the Sea Caves to help out Katie, the feisty pirate’s daughter, and was always looking for ways to ingratiate myself with Professor von Urwald, the enigmatic Rogue Class teacher. I flirted with the receptionist Sophia so that she'd clue me in on the school's juiciest gossip. It's not as simple as just talking to characters, though, making the right impression requires having a good sense of their individuals personalities. Some will like you more if you appear smart and polite, others will respect you if you're arrogant and cocksure. Some dialogue choices in the classroom will impress some and dismay others so you better make sure you know who you're out to please.
At its core, Hero-U is a game of time management and individual choice. What you do with your free time is up to you and, as far as I could tell from my one full playthrough, there are very few prescribed actions the game forces you to take. This is mostly positive but there are a few notable exceptions.
As with a lot of old-school-style games, Hero-U doesn’t hold your hand. Now, I loved this for the most part. I felt a tremendous sense of reward and progress each time I defeated a difficult foe or completed a questline. However, a significant part of the explorable area, including several questlines, is gated behind an incredibly obtuse puzzle.
By the time I solved this puzzle, I’d already missed out on a lot of content and decided to start the game again. As I say, I could have played through the game without going to this part of the map but was already running out of things to do.
Getting difficulty right is a hard line to walk. On one side, you want to make it rewarding for players figuring stuff out for themselves but you also don't want to force them to resort to guides in order to make progress. For the most part, Hero-U gets this right but that one section definitely detracted from my enjoyment of the game.
There were also a few bugs that worsened my experience, including the client crashing a few times and the game freezing when I performed certain actions. It wasn't anything game-breaking but certainly enough to feel frustrating.
Overall, these gripes weren't enough to stop me from thoroughly enjoying Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. The writing is a real joy and a constant source of humor. Decisions feel impactful, whether I was deciding on how to woo Esme or defeat a Giant Proach. It's hard to put my finger on what I loved so much about Hero-U. The best way to describe it is a sense of coziness. Playing it is like curling up in front of a fire with a good book: you give yourself to the story and the characters. Games like that are few and far between these days.
TechRaptor reviewed Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC.
- Makes Great Use of the Switch Touchscreen Functionality
- Excellent Writing With Lots of Puns and References
- Gameplay is Cozy and Memorable
- A Lot of Content is Hidden Behind Obtuse Puzzles
- There Were a Few Irritating Bugs (and I'm Not Talking About the Proaches)