After being damn near dead for many years, the dungeon-crawling genre is making a video game comeback, thanks largely to several games published by Atlus. Their latest dungeon crawler, Class of Heroes, attempts to make a notoriously punishing genre a bit more accessible while introducing some new ideas to revitalize the formula. While this does make the game a little more interesting than your average dungeon-crawler, these new aspects aren’t explored enough to make Class of Heroes stand out. Though I enjoyed the strategy of creating a party and battling my way through the game’s many labyrinths, the endless grinding, absence of story, and lackluster character creation make Class of Heroes feel too much like an archaic dungeon crawler with a fresh coat of paint.
In Class of Heroes, mysterious underground labyrinths suddenly started showing up years ago, with dangerous creatures and valuable rewards within. Exploring these dungeons became so popular that a school for adventurers was opened, where young men and women of several different races could learn how to be explorers by attending classes and getting hands-on experience with the labyrinths. The concept is interesting, but unfortunately, that’s as far as the story goes. There is little interaction with teachers and other school employees, and the party certainly doesn’t talk amongst themselves. I’ve played games with silent protagonists before, but a game with six silent party members just made me feel incredibly detached from the game and their progress.
You can have up to six adventuring students in a party at once, and either create your own or choose from some of the pre-made characters in the game. The easiest way to describe character creation is Dungeons & Dragons 101. You can choose the character’s name, gender, alignment, and race, and after allotting skill points, choose a major (because you’re at school, get it?). Majors will become available depending on your skills and alignment, but unfortunately, they don’t really feel all that different from each other. Despite the seemingly decent number of options, you will probably end up using similar characters throughout the game. Another annoying part of character creation is that you have absolutely no control over the appearance of your adventurers, having to use pre-determined character models instead. This makes your party feel even more generic, and I found it hard to care very much about any one person’s progress since the adventurers were so interchangeable and replaceable.
While at school, you will be able to rest, buy items, enroll more students, take on quests, work on your alchemy skills, or complete certain objectives. Most of your time will be spent in the labyrinths, however. The dungeon areas, while looking polished, do little to distinguish themselves from every other old-school RPG. These areas are presented in a first-person view, with enemies popping up randomly. Within the turn-based battles, the adventurers fall into a front and back row, with the front row attacking and back row defending and healing. In order to successfully explore these areas, a well-balanced party is absolutely essential, and it is fun to try to create six well-rounded characters to flesh out your group. However, this is nothing new to the genre, and Class of Heroes ends up feeling like the same old game after a few hours in the labyrinths.
One interesting thing about the dungeons is that there is no soundtrack within these areas. The only noises you will hear while walking around are ambient sounds, like trickling water, footsteps, or unidentifiable noises somewhere in the distance. While some might not like this aspect, I thought it was really cool, and it definitely helped set the mood. When I was low on health and desperately seeking an exit, every little noise made me jump. Since dungeons are traditionally dark and don’t contain a lot of details, the absence of music did a lot to set Class of Heroes apart and make it seem more distinctive.
As I said earlier, dungeon crawlers are known for being particularly difficult, and often more frustrating than challenging. Class of Heroes doesn’t seem to know where it wants to be on the difficulty scale. At times, you’ll encounter a party with weak minions that die after being hit once, but you might encounter enemies many times more powerful just a few feet away. The difficulty level is very inconsistent, which can be extremely annoying. A few times, while trying to escape and return to school, I encountered a party of foes with every step I took, but other times I could walk down an entire corridor without stumbling upon a fight. Boss fights in particular can be extremely cheap, and sometimes make you want to stop playing altogether. I don’t understand what is so bad about starting a game at an accessible level and becoming gradually more challenging, but I wish Class of Heroes had done that instead of going back and forth constantly.
I think that Class of Heroes could have done a little more with the visual style to make the game more distinctive, but overall, it’s not a bad looking game. The anime-style characters are cute, and the 2D school environments are detailed nicely. The dungeons, which are presented in 3D, usually lack many distinguishing characteristics, but that’s a trait of the genre. It looks polished, but if the visual style had been more memorable, it would have gone a long way towards making this game stand out amongst all the other handheld role-playing games.
Class of Heroes presents some interesting new ideas to an often stale genre, but doesn’t do enough with them. If there had been a stronger plot, more character customization options, a reasonable difficulty curve, or more unique fighting elements, this would have been one of the best dungeon-crawlers in recent memory. Class of Heroes isn’t a bad game, but doesn’t do enough to make you want to stay with it for the many, many hours it will take to complete it. While it seems like this game was made to introduce new fans to the genre, it falls back into familiar territory and fails to make its mark.