Thousands of years ago, the story began from here. Roughly translated to Thousands of years ago, the cutscene began from here.
Over ten years in the making, Heroine Anthem Episode 1 is an epic fantasy game from Taiwainease studio WindThunder. Deceptively titled, the Heroine Anthem series is over fifteen years old at this point. This entry in the series is the first to be released with an official English translation. This contemporary release aims to create a compelling world with storytelling with music and stunning visuals.
Set in a Slavic fantasy world, Characters Wanin and fairy Mormolia, part of the ancient group known as the Forest Keepers, start off on a new adventure after heading back to their village of Uzato. This is the set up which will pave the way for a densely populated story and world full of characters and generational narrative.
Balance between the presentation of story and gameplay are key in Roleplaying Games. Not only balance, but how the game transitions and combines both to make a seamless experience which can only be replicated in the gaming medium. At times, Anthem feels more like a visual novel; The first concept we are introduced to is the etymology of words with no context as to meaning. There is a lot of text to read. Both the world building and dialogue will require you to read text, as there is no English audio available. This is by no means any kind of negative, I myself am an avid consumer of world cinema, however, where the game struggles is in the presentation of the text and the narrative itself. At times, events and dialogue will transpire using character portraits. These are absolutely beautiful and show the detail, intricacy and nuance of each character. Second to this, often action will play out using the sprites themselves, with a digital zoom in effect utilised to get a better look. Whilst the sprites and backgrounds themselves look great, often this effect creates heavily pixellated artwork which loses all the subtle detail. The switch between the two techniques also seems to be at random, with no clear motivation as to when to use each which becomes very jarring, and makes it impossible to sense or follow any kind of dramatic pace.
Gameplay itself falls into the action realm of the role-playing genre. Taking control of the character Wanin, your The game world is split into a series of interconnected segments typical of the Metroidvania genre. In order to progress, you’ll need to put your platforming and, to a much lesser emphasised extent, your combat skills to good use. Wanin has the ability to double jump and dash with relative ease. He controls well if not simplistically, particularly in combat, which boils down to simple hack and slash combat with little to no problem solving or real challenge to worry about. The characters that surround you throughout the story, your fellow Forest Keepers are there only in spirit (and cutscene). There’s no management of characters or party which could have elevated the gameplay, given some variation in abilities and styles.
The artwork is where the game stands out. Characters are well-defined individuals. Perfect specimens of strength, valour and beauty. As you would expect from the Anime style. In fact, the style often flirts with the more sexual aspects of the characters and portrayals. Whilst never grotesque or explicit, certainly becomes notable. Each screen and location is bright, colourful and vivid. A wave of contrasting pallets. Every frame of motion could be hung from a wall. Menus and loading screens don’t fare quite as well being quite bulky and cumbersome to navigate. Loading screens, for which you will find many of, are pretty sparse, with a typical tutorial/piece of advise white text on black background. The position feels slightly off centre and it feels thrown together. The music throughout the game is melodic and purposeful, with some nice songs written and performed exclusively for the game. However, there seemed to be a discrepancy with events on-screen and the music that played, with no real consideration to how these two things played off each other. You can find yourself in a dramatic moment or tense story beat but the music is peaceful.
Ultimately, Heroine Anthem Zero episode 1 is at odds with itself. A bizarre combination of simple and overly complicated. Of density and Sparsity. Whilst this juxtaposition is clear, the game never fails to provide something nice to look at, listen to or a fun, if not casual experience for the player to experience. It might not leave a lasting impression, but overall the game is a fun experience that can never be accused of being lazy.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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