As I sat on my couch playing Class of Heroes II, I found myself complaining a lot. Not out loud, mind you; the only other person around right now is my infant son, and he’s more interested in throwing my DVD collection on the floor. No, just grumbling to myself. Class of Heroes II is a messy game, with a lot of little logistical problems that make the game clunky at times. However, something must be wrong with me, because I can hardly stop playing it. MonkeyPaw Games did us a favor in bringing it over.
Class of Heroes II is relatively accessible, as far as anime-styled first-person dungeon crawlers are concerned. On the other hand, some of those hangups I mentioned earlier keep it from being ideal. What it really does well is character creation. It doesn’t go too crazy, but you’re given a few extra options that aren’t even present in especially-nuanced competitors like Etrian Odyssey.
You have your usual stat-rolling, point-assigning and class-choosing (having some patience and re-rolling until you hate your life can be very rewarding), but CoH2 has an intriguing variety of character races to choose from, which affect your game in extra ways. Each race has unique stat growth, bonuses, limitations and even affinity for one-another, adding additional elements of strategy, customization and role-playing to the usual mix.
Each race has a different character portrait for each class and gender, which is not only cool but also serves to encourage exploration. The downer is that you have to apply your stat bonuses in the correct areas to gain access to the different classes, and you need the instruction manual (or Internet) handy in order to know what those requirements are. You also can’t freely browse the character designs unless you have each class unlocked, so if you want to see them all, you’ll be playing around with numbers for a long time.
Once you have your party (or parties; you can manage multiple groups in multiple areas if you want/are crazy), the game opens up and doesn’t give you a ton of direction. You are introduced to the obligatory quest board and sent on your way. This is where a lot of problems come in, mostly involving wading through a dense bog of menus. The game wants to be accessible and challenging at the same time, making the balance seem fair in some areas but oddly obstinate in others.
For example, an alchemy system is present. You can combine items to create other, more important ones, and your wallet thanks you as a result. However, to offset that, store prices are ridiculous. When you start out, you have nothing, and will have nothing for a while. Prices are too high, enemies don’t drop much, useless items don’t sell for much and the items you do want drop erratically. They also don’t help until you know what to do with them, as you have to buy alchemy recipes. One of the basic classes is a ranger, proficient with bows. I made a ranger, and was forced to keep the poor guy in the back row because I could neither afford a bow or find the pieces I needed to make one.
In an effort to balance the enormous equipment barrier, the early areas of the game are fairly easy. As long as you pace yourself properly and save often, you won’t find yourself in too much trouble. By the time the challenge starts picking up, you start getting more money and items to play around with. Navigation can be a headache, though. Be sure to read up before you start, kids. You have to buy maps in shops, which the game itself fails to mention. Once you get a map, it’s a bit awkward; the mini-map and full map are located on two different buttons, and the mini-map doesn’t indicate what direction you’re facing. The full map requires an entire screen change, slowing things down. The full screen map is nice and detailed in a lot of ways, but does a bad job distinguishing between walls and open paths. The mini map does a better job. Basically, you’re either going to be switching between maps, pausing the game a lot or moving around oddly.
Getting around is also weird. The world is all linked; going through a dungeon leads to the next towns which lead to the next dungeons. It sounds interesting, but the problem is that fast-travel requires money, which as I said before is quite a commodity while you’re still struggling to gear up your party. Going through the same first dungeon or two over and over is good for EXP, but can get old, especially since other than the battle theme, music barely has a presence.
Battles are CoH2’s other big strength. They’re fast-paced and full of fun flavor text thanks to Gaijinworks’ top-notch goofy localization, and the attack effects are all nice and varied. You get silly comic-booky impact lettering, different animations for each weapon type and impressive spell effects. You can also hold down the X button to speed through it all even faster. Enemy sprites are large, detailed and occasionally neat or interesting, and the character portraits change on occasion for status ailments and the like. The battles keep things alive when the repetition is at its worst.
Class of Heroes II is a fun game, but not a great game. It plays tug-of-war pretty heavily with its sense of balance, and the early hours can be sluggish and frustrating. However, character creation is a blast, and so is building your monster body count. I’m impressed by MonkeyPaw and Gaijinworks’ efforts to bring this one over against the odds, and am looking forward to what this series has to offer in the future.
Pros: Great character creation, smooth battle system
Cons: Inundated with menus, weird balance issues