Little Town Hero is a curious game that does some truly innovative things and comes from the team behind the ever-popular Pokemon games, Game Freak. Carrying that level of acclaim could negatively affect expectations with a smaller title like Little Town Hero. This is not a Pokemon game nor does it feature the scope of a series continually built upon across decades of iterations. Taking the game for what it is will make for a better experience and may pleasantly surprise those looking for something a little different.
Little Town Hero’s biggest strength and possibly biggest weakness lie solely within the highly complex nature of its battle system. It’s easily the meatiest part of the game outside of the main story and it’s no exaggeration to say that some battles, especially in the late game, can last hours! It’s somewhat unfair to refer to them as just battles because they are so much more and you’ll never see anything quite like this elsewhere. A board game would probably be a better description and the further you progress in the game the bigger in scale they become. There’s no monster-catching or even the usual grind you’d find in an average role-playing game. Instead, you only take part in a few battles per chapter. A few smaller practise battles to help you get a sense of the fairly complicated systems and culminating in a boss battle to close the chapter. Later chapters also feature several fun mini-bosses within the story or through side quests.
At its core, a battle is essentially a board game utilising the surroundings of the village as its layout. You move from space to space as a monster follows behind. Being strategic in where you land is a key component to success but you don’t always have control of which space you land on. Each turn, however, works more like a card game, think Hearthstone, where you use ideas that have a cost, attack and defence although some are just skill-based. You’re restricted in what you can use early on in a battle due to the cost of each idea so thinking ahead can never be understated. While a battle could potentially last many hours the longer it goes the more disadvantaged you become. Like a card game, your deck of possible options will run out and restoring them comes at the cost of a life. With limited life available sometimes going for that risky move can help put the battle in the bag early.
The board/card game hybrid battle system is a real joy to behold and if other game developers would embrace a more experimental attitude towards their games we could see more interesting titles like this. Little Town Hero may not be a Game Freak powerhouse like Pokemon but I appreciate what it set out to do. That being said some of the late-game bosses are hard, even switching the difficulty to easy made little to no difference. It’s like the bosses operate under a different set of rules that unfairly favours them which can feel super frustrating at times. The final boss is particularly tricky but eventually achieving that victory was ever so rewarding.
The entirety of Little Town Hero takes place within the confines of a small isolated village seemly on the edge of the world. Throughout the games nine chapters, you experience a rather enchanting story with a host of loveable characters. The village really comes alive with the help of its often wacky inhabitants. Everyone has a role to play and they all, in their own way, come to the aid of the hero Axe. There’s a captivating fascination here that leaves a lasting impression not too dissimilar to a good Studio Ghibli movie. On that note, the visual design, characters and even monsters give off a very strong Ghibli vibe with a little Level 5 thrown in for good measure. It’s a strong visual style and works perfectly for the setting and story the game is trying to tell.
An extra little bonus is the game’s soundtrack composed by Toby Fox of Undertale fame. It’s full of nods to classic video games and it’s well worth just stopping to appreciate the nostalgic melodies and fun little hooks. It’s a treat for the ears, as well as, the soul. It’s definitely the main reason the quick travel option didn’t get used that much in our playthrough, why skip out on the little perks. It does mean having to put up with less than ideal camera controls, but not everything can be perfect. Much like having to stand in just the right spot to bring up the dialogue options, it’s a minor complaint, but mildly annoying nevertheless.
There’s not much to knock with Little Town Hero it’s a great experience with a praiseworthy visual style, soundtrack, and the sometimes hard but ultimately inventively brilliant battle system. Some minor frame rate stutter here and there, but nothing worth getting up in arms about. The game won’t be to everyone’s taste, whether that’s down to expectation as a Game Freak game or just the overwhelming nature of the battle system. If different and out of the box is an appealing trait, then Little Town Hero has it with a lot to spare.