Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Platform: PS Vita, PC, and PS4
Release Date: Sept 13, 2016
ESRB: M for Mature
I have grown accustomed to assuming that if a game title has the word Mystery in it, it is likely associated with Spike Chunsoft's classic roguelike Mystery Dungeon franchise. Well, that's only half true in the case of One Way Heroics, a former -- and surprisingly -- beloved PC only indie release. It was not until Spike Chunsoft got the approval of the same indie developer that they decided to use One Way Heroics as a template for an entirely overhauled remake called Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics. With new visuals, added playable content, and being much more widely available, one can only hope Mystery Dungeon: One Way Heroics is a worthy successor.
Admittedly, I have not played the original indie release, so I was not quite sure what to make of Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics upon starting out. I mean, it is a simple game inherently -- you try to move from left to right while escaping a world-consuming light in an RPG roguelike framework. Yet, as I was playing it my brain was constantly finding comparisons to other games since it straddles the line between feeling influenced and also feeling distinctly its own thing.
For example, many of the gameplay mechanics in Mystery Chronicle are quite reminiscent of the classic roguelike Shiren: The Wanderer, which is unsurprising as both are made by Spike Chunsoft. From the turn-based nature, procedurally generated level design, limited inventory space, plenty of familiar traps, or the fact the Shiren himself is literally an unlockable playable character makes it hit home even further. The comparison sort of ends there as the expectation of failure is much higher in Mystery Chronicle and it is less about winning as it is about journeying a bit further than your previous expedition while little by little unlocking more ways to play the game.
This playthrough went from excellent to terrible as soon as that bug decided to show up
Probably one of the cooler aspects about One Way Heroics is how it is willing to break from roguelike conventions. For one, you can actually make a permanent save during a run (or multiple, depending on your luck.), which, save-scumming temptation aside, can be very helpful as solid runs can actually last several hours. Though, considering the often harsh difficulty when on normal and above, you may often embarrassingly meet your end minutes in like I often did.
The title bounces between deviously addictive and frustrating at the same breath. Lady luck often plays too big of a hand in a solid playthrough or not simply because there are so many things that can go so wrong, and so quick. For as huge of an advantage as being able to save mid-run, or use of the title's "Dream Vault" to draw upon items gained from previous playthroughs for an early advantage, I found myself in many situations I could not do anything because of what felt like bad dice rolls. Sometimes the title may decide to randomly one-shot the player with an unfortunate enemy critical, or maybe your damage output is simply not good enough to break past an enemy blocking your way during a dungeon because you had not gotten a good weapon in like thirty minutes, which led the screen-scrolling "shrine raid" to instantly kill you. As I uncovered the different endings on higher difficulties it felt like success was born of luck (... and reloads) than player ability, and bad luck was far more common.
Still, Mystery Chronicle also gives you a lot of options in how you want to play it. There are many playable classes, skill perks to choose from, and pretty much every run will be different because of it. I originally found myself playing the knight class, for instance, which excelled in defense. The better I got at the game, however, I found myself favoring classes such as Ranger, which is more adept at picking locks and avoiding encounters altogether with their "sprint" ability. There are many more classes to choose from like being about to play as Danganronpa lead, Makato Naegi, whom fires Truth Bullets and has a lot of charisma to recruit allies or the Pirate class whom is strong but scares away most potential friends due to their foul mouth. It is clear the title has a lot of personality as well.
However, not all of its quirk is in good taste. Weirdly enough, the title is actually rated M. It is not immediately apparent as to why with its generally family-friendly retro aesthetic until you uncover much of the juvenile writing buried in a lot of character sidequests and conversations. Pretty much every conversation with a woman character randomly turns into perverted fanservicey banter, regardless of your character's appearance. It is a shame because the title feels so close to being cute (despite the oddly bleak setting at times) only for a character to creepily suggest licking the main character all over two seconds later. It also does not help that much of the voice acting is just as cringe-worthy as a lot of the dialogue, where it becomes apparent that one voice actress in particular clearly voices at least four other characters.
Speaking of which, Mystery Chronicle feels bizarrely unpolished in several other key ways as a game too. Load times are abnormally long, for example. Aside from the initial load time when the game generates a new world, there are actually frequent twenty second load times as you are going through levels. Then there are interface issues that grew under my skin as well when playing, like the inability to skip banter you have already seen (like a certain king's speech that starts every run). Which, for a title so ingrained in repetition to eventually gain success, the annoyances more than start to add up over time.
In a lot of ways, Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics is a title that I enjoyed less the more time I threw at it. As as a game it has some cool ideas with its decidedly unique approach on roguelikes that makes it quite easy to pick up and play. However, after a while I simply got annoyed with what felt like penchant focus on luck and the title's general lack of polish, such as abnormally long load times. Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics feels so close to being charming, but in a crowded roguelike market in which there are simply better examples to choose from, being unique does not quite travel far enough to avoid its many more glaring issues.
+ Simple, yet addictive, take on roguelikes that is very straightforward
+ Lots to features to unlock or gameplay nuances one can uncover over time
- Bizarrely long load times
- Underwhelming 2D visuals and soundtrack
- Bad voice acting with some tasteless writing
- RNG decides the pace of a run far more than it should, especially on harder difficulties
Overall Score: 5 (out of 10)
Though it does have its addictive moments, the frustrations that accompany Mystery Chronicle: One Way Heroics make it harder to justify the time spent with it when there are many better examples of roguelikes that also happen to feel more fair.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.