What's to Rogue-Like? Has-Been Heroes vs. Into the Breach
The Roguelike. A subgenre of video game which got their name from the eponymous Rogue video game from 1980, wherein the player is forced through a gauntlet of challenges that were procedurally generated (meaning no room was ever the same, no matter how many times you played) and death was permanent. When you die, you start all over, from the very beginning, a function that’s largely been phased out of video games since the decline of arcades. Recently, independent game developers have brought this genre back from the dead to incredible success, with smash hits like The Binding of Isaac, FTL: Faster Than Light, and Dead Cells. I myself played over two hundred hours of The Binding of Isaac, so I guess you could say I enjoy these types of games. Since buying a Nintendo Switch, I’ve played two more roguelike games: Has-Been Heroes and Into the Breach. Yet, for being games in the same genre, I had very different reactions to both these games. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and in playing these games, I believe I’ve realized something: there’s a right way and a wrong way to create roguelike video games. Putting things plainly, Has-Been Heroes does things wrong, and Into the Breach does it right.
Has-Been Heroes is a game that follows a group of heroes past their prime, who are requested by the King of the land for one final quest - to escort his two daughters to school. The game’s not without its good points, the art style and the humor on display throughout is quite charming. Additionally, this was one of the first games released on Nintendo Switch, and the third I personally ever owned. At the time, Has-Been Heroes provided a fun, if challenging diversion if I wanted a break from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but the more I played the game and the more games I accrued in my collection, the more the cracks started to show in the game’s design.
The first real problem Has-Been Heroes has is it’s RNG System. RNG, for those unaware, is an acronym for Random Number Generator, a system in video games designed to determine the probability of certain events occurring in game. This element is a staple in the roguelike, and is the reason no single play through feels the same in this genre. However, Has-Been Heroes’ RNG is almost TOO random. Not only will your map change, but the number of enemies or even which boss you face at the end of each level will change dramatically from attempt to attempt. I can’t tell you how many times I died playing this game because I got put in front of a boss that was far too difficult for me to handle at my current point in the game.
Gameplay is the second point at which Has-Been Heroes falters. The game’s combat functions as a three lane tower defense sort of game, where your three Heroes must defeat an onslaught of slowly advancing undead before they slay either you or the Princesses you are charged with protecting. Whenever you move to attack with a Hero, you select them and time slows down. You can either use an ability, melee attack or switch lanes with another Hero. However, because time doesn’t stop, only slow, things can get ugly real fast, especially when there’s a lot of enemies on screen. Despite the time advantage, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed either way.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Has-Been Heroes fails in giving proper player feedback and reward for your efforts. I played over twenty hours of the game and in that time only ever won the game once. In doing so, I unlocked a small forty five second cutscene where one of the Heroes frees another one from a crystal prison, and that’s it. No conclusion to the premise you were given at the start, in fact I learned that in order to get the proper ending you need to beat the game multiple times, much like The Binding of Isaac, except it was such a chore to get through once that I didn’t really want to play it again. Now, when I say that Has-Been Heroes doesn’t give good feedback, I’m talking about what you get every time you inevitably die. In the game, you absorb the soul of every undead you slay, and give them to what’s essentially God when you die and ascend to heaven. Amass enough souls and you unlock new items you can discover in your next run. The key word there is discover, since due to the roguelike nature of the game, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever actually find what all your souls unlocked. Not to mention, the game doesn’t tell you anything about the item you unlocked, what it does, what its name is, no. All you get is an image of what the item looks like. The same goes for any item you discover for purchase or inside of a chest – you won’t know what it is or what it does until you grab it. This total lack of information, coupled with the “reward” you get for completing the game, does not make for a satisfying experience – only an exercise in futile insanity.
Into the Breach is a game that follows a time traveler in their quest to rid the earth of a giant alien menace known as the Vek, by using equally giant robots to eradicate them. If you’ve been following my articles, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of giant monsters and robots, so this game was right up my alley. It had been available on PC for years, but I knew that the best way to experience this would be on the Nintendo Switch, so I waited, and lo and behold I was absolutely right. In stark contrast to Has-Been Heroes, Into The Breach succeeds in every area they failed in.
For starters, Into the Breach’s RNG system is more focused. The game will always focus on your squad saving the same four islands before attacking the Vek’s Hive, and once you save all four islands at least once, you can play through them in any order you like. The missions on each island are randomized, but all usually have guiding through-lines – protect the power source, escort the train, stop this enemy from exploding and other such things. Provided you set the game at the appropriate difficulty, you never feel blindsided by what the game is throwing at you. Though if you approach the game too fast, you can often find yourself in a no win situation. Into the Breach is equally balanced by its RNG and the skill of the player.
Secondly, but perhaps Into the Breach’s greatest achievement is its gameplay. You select a mission and deploy your mechs to deal with the invading Vek and to hopefully complete all the objectives. The gameplay shines for the simple fact that it’s turn based. Because the enemies don’t move at all when you do, you’re allowed to fully stop and think about your next move, whether it’s to throw yourself in front of a building to defend it, crush an enemy Vek or move to stop a new one from spawning in. Additionally, you’re only locked into a move once you choose to attack, so you can move your mechs around multiple times to determine the best move. Taking a turn can take up to thirty minutes if you’re thinking hard enough. I know this because during a two hour car ride, I only took four turns! The gameplay in Into the Breach is strategic, satisfying and most importantly – fun.
Lastly, Into the Breach’s player feedback and rewards for playing are both done extremely well. You can examine any item you find in-game before equipping it, to see what it does and where it would best be equipped. The Pilot system in Into the Breach is where the game truly shines. If your mech dies, it will be repaired and usable in the next mission, but the pilot of that mech is permanently dead, replaced by an AI that doesn’t have any of the personality and character the pilot did. After this happens, the only way to get a new pilot is to find one in a Time Pod. Additionally, every so often a Time Pod will randomly fall into a stage. At the added cost of either defending or retrieving it before the end of the level, doing so will net you new items and even new pilots for your mech, all having different abilities to be used. My point is, you always feel like you have control over what’s happening in Into the Breach, and for a game as challenging as a roguelike game, that’s important.
So, with all that said, I hope you have some idea of what makes a good roguelike experience. You need tough, but fair RNG systems, satisfying gameplay, excellent player feedback and rewards for playing. Without these three elements working in harmony, a Roguelike video game just doesn’t work. Has-Been Heroes unfortunately fails to deliver on all three fronts, with unforgiving random enemy encounters, a gameplay system that’s more stress than strategy, and keeping the player in the dark on what items do and offering little to players who actually conquer the game. By contrast, Into the Breach has a more focused RNG system, addictive, excellent gameplay and fantastic player feedback and rewards. Overall, I’d say it’s better to go all in than to be a has-been.