Today, we enter unmarked territory as Game Freak takes the plunge into their first non-Pokémon game, Little Town Hero with a little help from Undertale’s Toby Fox. For their first time out in a completely new world in decades, this game serves as a digestible reminder than Game Freak excels at making approachable role-playing games with heavy strategic elements for those who want a challenge. It just so happens, Toby Fox’s is the icing on an already delicious cake and takes it to the next level.
The game begins with your main character Axe (who you can change the name of) and his friend Nelz trying to sneak into the castle in order to leave their village which they’ve lived in all their life. This arrangement was made with the village and the castle so, the villagers can be protected however, Axe and Nelz want to explore what else lies beyond the castle. Unfortunately, the plan backfires (thanks to Axe’s own version of Gary from Pokémon, Matock) and Axe is scolded by his mom, Ember which leads to the player gaining control of Axe and beginning their adventure.
Game Freak’s first non-Pokémon game has very charming and comedic dialogue and the option to choose some of the responses Axe uses. This leads to even more fun interactions, sarcastic humor, and learning more about the game’s characters and their personalities. The plot features many stereotypical RPG characteristics such as Axe’s father being missing prior to the start of the story, themes of escaping a simple village into the bigger world, royalty, among other things. On their own, these can be jarring but the dialogue and friendly art style of the game help smooth over some the more generic aspects.
Additionally, it’s nice to see the little chapter cards with titles that tease what each section of the game is about. The cards are reminiscent of the Pokémon anime series’ episode title cards, which Game Freak isn’t directly involved in, but they’re catering to a similar audience. Visually, Little Town Hero is mainly chibi styled and easy on the eyes. The cartoon aesthetic of the environment resembles other similar role-playing games such as Ni No Kuni. However, there aren’t any outstanding visuals that will make your jaw drop. Little Town Hero has its own aesthetic and lives by it which is fine for a digital only eShop title and it visually hangs in there with most Nintendo Switch releases.
Izzit or Dazzit?
Early on, a solider from the castle named Angard teaches you the combat basics. Essentially battles flow in turns. Within each turn, your enemy chooses an action and Axe will have a random “idea” or Izzit of what types of combat abilities he wants to use. Each Izzit requires a certain amount of “Power” to use it, which is limited in each turn. Once an Izzit is put into combat, it becomes a Dazzit which you and your enemy have. These Dazzits have an Attack and Defense value and when you and your enemy’s Dazzit collide, it’s your Attack value colliding with their Defense value and vice versa. After a Dazzit hits 0 defense value, it breaks. A single turn continues until all Dazzits are used then, a turn concludes. When you enter the next turn where any surviving Dazzit carries over, Axe comes up with new Izzits, and your Power is replenished. Finally, when you’ve broken all of an enemy’s Dazzits, you enter the “All Break” or Chance Turn in which your enemy is now open to take direct damage to their Hearts.
Now this entire concept may sound a bit confusing but it’s very similar to the TCG (Trading Card Game) Hearthstone. You must break the “cards” in play then, you can attack the actual opponent directly and chip away at their health to victory. However, the battle gameplay gets even more complicated once you account for environment and location changes (which can be chosen using certain Dazzits with special effects or randomly rolled once a turn ends). When you change your location for battle, there might be support characters who assist you in combat and give you a slight upper hand. Having all these intricate additions separates Little Town Hero from TCG games and other RPGs while providing the in-depth strategy more experienced players will enjoy. However, these additional options can confuse newer players who are coming from the more linear experience of Pokémon. Also, due to the randomness of Izzits and other commands, battles can end up running longer than you want or the enemy gains an unfair advantage in certain turns.
In other aspects of gameplay, it does feel somewhat restrictive to be stuck in one village for the whole game. There are multiple places to explore but most locations are locked off as a measure to keep you on the right path and continue the main story which is frustrating. Also, minigames should have been substituted in place of certain events such as Axe’s mining job instead of a jump forward in time and the back to back, tedious sheep shearing mission. Regardless, the village and its eccentric characters carry the backdrop of the game. Some villagers even have side quests which you can complete in various chapters of the game. These aspects keep the gameplay and world immersive despite its smaller scale. Also, it’s worth mentioning there’s a Scrapbook feature where you can see bios for each the townspeople and core cast you’ve met so far in the game in case you’ve forgotten.
Toby Fox is on the Job
Little Town Hero marks the first time Toby Fox, of Undertale fame, is taking on a soundtrack of another game series that he didn’t create. Unsurprisingly, Toby Fox knocks this soundtrack out of the park. Almost every track fits the mood of the moment or environment and they have their own unique charm to Little Town Hero. You never feel as though the soundtrack is trying to replicate Undertale’s sound, but you will feel some of the tracks do give off the Pokémon vibe in balancing quality and simplicity while integrating a variety of sound bits and instruments. For this game, the soundtrack stands up there with some of the bigger budget Switch games from Nintendo. This might mark Toby Fox’s start as a big-name composer for other series in the future.
For Game Freak and Toby Fox, this serves as a reminder that they can create magic outside their respective main series. Both understand their audiences and know how to cater to them while keeping it accessible to other audiences. There are multiple areas where Little Town Hero could have taken more risks or streamlined things to make it less confusing in terms of combat but those who take the time to learn will be rewarded. Having so much critical thinking and problem solving mixed into a cute package has never looked better.
Genre Newbie – Little Town Hero is an excellent shorter role-playing game that you can get into in your free time and offers a familiar system to TCG’s like Hearthstone so, it’s friendly to newer RPG players.
Genre Veteran – Vets in the RPG genre may feel a bit starved by the game’s length and somewhat shallow at times combat. However, there’s enough plot wise and in the soundtrack to give you a unique and fun experience in your spare time.
Note: A review copy of the title was provided for this review by the publisher.