Pokémon developer Game Freak once again delves outside of its iconic franchise to create something truly original in Little Town Hero, but curious design decisions and wavering performance mars an otherwise enjoyable strategy RPG.
It took me more than a while to get used the unique battle mechanics in Game Freak’s newest title. Unlike the standard element-on-element battle mechanics of the developer’s flagship series, the idea-based mechanics of their newest lower-budget RPG is certainly like nothing you’ve seen before.
Playing as a red-haired protagonist called Axe, you fight with the power of ideas. While the premise sounds rather free-form, it’s still more limiting than say an RPG with the mechanics of Level-5’s Scribblenauts. Instead, it’s more of a collectable card game.
Every battle gives you access to your deck of ideas, called Izzits, that have their own costs, attack and defence metrics. Each turn, Axe has a certain power level – which starts at 3 but increases up to 6 when the battle goes on enough – and is able to use his Izzits to damage the opponent. You do this by turning your Izzits into Dazzits which just means you’ve used your power points to make it usable. You can then use them to attack.
Of course, with such a unique battle system that is certainly not the end of everything Little Town Hero has chucked into its battle Cauldron of mechanics. There are three different types of Izzits: red attack Izzits, yellow defence Izzits, and blue magic Izzits. The magic Izzits can change the property of either your Dazzits or your enemy’s Dazzits. You can only do direct damage to your foes by having a red Dazzit available after you wipe out all your opponent’s Dazzits.
If that wasn’t complex enough, there’s even more to Game Freak’s newest battle system. After each turn, when the game decides to incorporate this element, there’s a board game style movement system. At the end of a turn, Axe rolls a dice to dictate where there move to next. Some spaces have unique allies or items that you can use to get a hand upon the action.
There are even more mechanics too Little Town Hero – such as BP, Pow Meter, Eureka Points and how you regain Izzits – but who would want this review to read like an extended gibberish tutorial? Not me! As you can tell, battles in this otherwise quaint RPG are initially confusing. For example, if you forget that you can only deal damage with a red Dazzit then battles will go on forever. It’s a key mechanic to forget, but you’re only told once at the very start, and there’s no way of checking tutorials mid-battle.
Even once you know how to deal direct damage, battles still take a considerable amount of time to finish. Alternating between battles and board game movement stretches otherwise slim battle times into overly long chance-based battles that can sometimes work against you. It’s unique, and once you know how to play to your highest potential, it is fun enough, but battles do tend to feel slow and cumbersome as they continue on and on.
Outside of battles, there is some enjoyability to be had with the joyous cast of characters. Axe’s group of friends are all witty; Game Freak’s writers clearly wanted to create a whimsical experience more than an in-depth story. Everything is rather basic: from its chapter-based structure to its overall content, there’s not much story to get invested in. Even side quests are archaically barebones.
At least the game is striking in a presentational standpoint. Luscious cartoon visuals look absolutely gorgeous on the Nintendo Switch’s handheld screen and a magical soundtrack by Undertale’s Toby Fox breathes life into an otherwise mediocre experience.
Little Town Hero is a very unique RPG. It’s short, unadventurous and not that grand, but its quaintness is admirable. It’s enjoyable enough, and for a budget price-point, it certainly is worth the price of admission. For players who were hoping for a grand adventure similar to Pokémon, Game Freak isn’t aiming for that. This is a smaller experience, and it’s far from perfect, but it’s at least a refreshing entry in a crowded genre.