Big Trouble in Little Town
Anyone familiar with videogames will immediately associate GAME FREAK with the Pokémon series. That’s perfectly natural, seeing that it’s one of the biggest gaming IP’s ever created. However, their portfolio has some other smaller projects as well, such as the 2015’s 2D platformer Tembo: The Badass Elephant and the recent action-adventure GIGA WRECKER Alt. While Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are the main focus of the company for 2019, they still managed to push out a new RPG called Little Town Hero on the Nintendo Switch with a lot of heart but perhaps a little too ambitious.
Axe is the protagonist of this little tale of a town where no one’s allowed to leave due to the threat of vicious monsters that live outside its walls. His biggest dream is to see what’s out there for himself, and as such, he attempts to join the royal guard. After taking down a monster that was found mysteriously roaming inside of the town, he finds himself on a path to find why monsters started appearing while aiming to reach his dream. He and his friend’s naivety is quite adorable, and some of the dialogue moments are endearing. Still, the ending felt anticlimactic, and it’s a clear indicator that this wasn’t a priority on GAME FREAK’s schedule. To summarize, let’s say that the plot is remarkably similar to the basic premise of Attack on Titan, but instead of having giant freaks trying to eat you, they instead want to challenge you to a duel.
On the presentation side of things, we have a great looking game, both docked and in handheld mode. Character models have a cel-shaded look that, despite not being rich in detail, making for an appealing look that also makes each essential character stand out. The scenery is just as simple but not nearly as exciting, there are a couple of shops that have attractive looking interiors, but you can’t interact with anything. Still, I found the game to be quite the looker, especially in handheld mode. On the audio front, Little Town Hero has none other than Toby Fox, the fellow responsible for Undertale and, more recently, Deltarune. If you’re familiar with those games and their soundtracks, then you’ll likely know that this is one aspect where Little Town Hero doesn’t disappoint. While I do think it never reaches the highs of the games that I previously mentioned, you can expect an expert balance between the soothing town theme and the more energetic and catchy battle tunes.
You get to explore this small town and look for sidequests freely every once in a while, but what’s here is fundamentally the basic framework of an RPG with NPC’s having little else to say other than a few random things and basic and unrewarding sidequests. Things do get a lot more interesting once you go into battle. It might look like a traditional JRPG at first, but enemy encounters in Little Town Hero play out more like a trading card game, this might sound strange, but this combination works reasonably well. Instead of relying on an army or on a bunch of fantastical creatures to fight for you, you’ll have to put your head to good use. Axe starts each fight with a bunch of ideas of what he might try to do; the goal here is to transform ideas into reality to counter the enemy attacks. Each turn, you’re given a set number of POW points that increase every few turns until it reaches a maximum of 6. These are used to turn ideas into reality, like how you would use mana to place a card in Magic the Gathering.
These ideas can be of either one of three types: Attack can be used to both counter enemy attacks and cause direct damage to whoever you’re fighting, Defense can only counter enemy attacks but unlike Attack types can be used multiple times in a single turn and finally there’s the Special which are your usual buffs and magic attacks. Once you run out of ideas, you can either use points that you’ve gathered by successfully countering the enemy to regain them or take damage to reset them. It sounds complex on paper, but once all of this click, it’s incredibly satisfying to find the synergy between the different ideas and to think ahead to what will happen next. On top of all this there’s also the fact that, during most battles, there’s a dice roll after every turn that determines where Axe will move to next, depending on where he lands you’ll be able to receive support from townsfolk or use things like cannons or explosive barrels that are scattered around. The core concept is simply ingenious, given how simple every individual piece of the puzzle is, but it’s not perfect. Battles tend to drag on for too long, mostly since most of the enemies you fight have their strategy, and new elements only get introduced after you’ve engaged a new enemy in combat. I’m growing tired of games with random encounters, but the far opposite of this isn’t ideal either.
A lot is going for it, but around every corner the game cuts itself short, there’s an upgrade tree that quickly gets maxed out. Once that’s done becomes pointless, you may pick up sidequests from town people, but they’re really simple. The rewards are underwhelming, the whole combat system is similar to some trading card games, but it features no deckbuilding options, at a later point in the game you gain the ability to mix two ideas of the same type. Still, you can pretty much ignore this, which made it feel more like an afterthought than a planned out mechanic. I could go on listing similar issues with Little Town Hero, but I think this is enough to get my point across. Although this is more of a smaller scale side project than a full-scale game, you can finish it in around 10-12 hours. I was hoping to get a more cohesive final product.
Ultimately Little Town Hero feels like a mishmash of half-baked ideas that, despite this, still manage to entertain thanks to its engaging combat system, a perky little cast of characters, and excellent presentation. Hopefully, GAME FREAK will give Axe and his friends another chance in a more fleshed out title.
SGR Reviews: 7/10