Review by Lindsay M.
I’ve never been fond of dungeon crawlers. It’s not even close to a hatred through; it’s actually more of a neutrality. I can see their appeal, but I’ve never found one that makes me truly eager to play for more than a few hours.
Related reading: Interested in what it's like to make a game in RPG Maker? Read Matt's experience here.
Enter Hero and Daughter+, a game I knew nothing about prior to booting it other than that it was made in RPG Maker. I (correctly) assumed it was a RPG, but I could never have predicted what lay behind that: dungeon-crawling with a veneer of self-aware humour and a storyline that has had me pondering its intent for days. To top it all off, the music is catchy (think Tetris catchy) and the characters are adorable.
Ralph is your typical video game hero; while this would normally seem like a trivial detail, “typical” is a theme Hero and Daughter+ is often drawn back to. He is young, handsome, and quite talented – after all, he has defeated the dark lord literally dozens of times in the past. Ralph is like a hero that has had too many sequels, and as a result he has grown quite cocky. Despite the imminent threat of the dark lord’s return, the king decides to punish Ralph for his conceited attitude by returning him to level one.
This knocks Ralph solidly onto his behind, as the hero had grown accustomed to being such a high level that every enemy was mundane at best. On his first venture into the woods, a mere rat is able to render Ralph unconscious. As the former hero comes to, he is greeted by the Summoner – and for quite some time, the game veers from typical into atypical. The Summoner can summon (of course) a new female character whenever Ralph brings him a Summon Stone. Ralph may be weak, but the women… the women are incredibly strong and talented. The Summoner recommends Ralph begins a harem. I was appalled. Was Hero and Daughter+ a straight-faced story about a hero with a bunch of segregated wives/servants? And so begins the most strangely addictive game I’ve ever played.
It turns out no, the game is not about a harem. But it can look that way at first glance: characters that Ralph has summoned but that are not in his party stay behind in the village, increasing its (the village's) XP in Ralph’s absence. More XP means more levels; the higher the village’s level is, the better the crops will be (crops are wonderful things, as the resulting veggies will automatically fill the party's HP after battle) and the better the stores’ stock will be. This structure of characters certainly seems sexist considering Ralph gets to go on grand adventures into dungeons but most of his “wives" must stay behind to tend to the village’s needs. However, at closer glance Hero and Daughter+ is actually poking fun at all things “typical” JRPG.
The village contains all the places I’ve come to expect towns in games to hold: homes, a pub, a guild, a farm/garden, and a handful of shops. Legend has it this town was once attacked by monsters but it hasn’t happened in generations; even if monsters did attack, there’s only one entrance so the townspeople could defend themselves. But monsters couldn’t possibly attack again, so there’s no concern there. The townspeople carry more than knowledge, as they can give gifts to Ralph. Talking to each person will also raise Ralph’s HP by one (every small bit matters when a hero is at level one).
I’m beginning to feel repetitive, but here it is again: the basic economic structure of Hero and Daughter+ is familiar territory. In the guild, there is a list of bounties (specific enemies to be fought in specified dungeons) and capturing bounties results in cash. The higher the bounty’s level, the higher its monetary value. Ralph can also earn money just by visiting the Walkmaster every now and then, as the old man gives the hero one dollar per step he’s taken since their last meeting. Once Ralph’s earned some money, there are the usual goods to purchase: spells, weapons, armour, potions, items, upgrades, and furniture. The furniture goes in Ralph’s house, which he gets for free (being a hero has its perks) but can upgrade at a cost.
Ralph looks like your standard JRPG character. He runs into your standard JRPG enemies, including the omnipresent blue slime. He travels through your standard dungeons (although this opinion is based on my own limited knowledge of the genre) via a standard 2D map. He descends through each dungeon's floors via the standard little grey stair icon. Each dungeon changes every time it is entered, mystery dungeon-style After defeating a boss for the first time (which such inspiring names as Forest Guardian Behemoth, as was the case in – you guessed it – the Forest Dungeon) the hero is given a token that will help him out later on in his quest.
It’s funny that I find myself repeating ideas over and over, as that motion is mirrored through the gameplay. Luckily, your previous action is remembered in battle; otherwise it would have taken a decade to get through all the glorious grinding required to get Ralph to the dark lord. Repetition is key. Expect to die often at earlier levels and keep having to travel back to the same dungeon. Also expect to fights hundreds of rats. It took five tries for me to get to floor two of the first (Forest) dungeon, but the pace picked up quite a bit after that. After death the entire party is transported through the pub, where the motions begin again: save game, talk to women, distribute gifts, talk to townsfolk, tend to crops, buy and sell goods, visit dungeon, repeat. The dungeons can even be broken down into further familiar, repetitive tasks: kill monsters, check equipment, find loot, check equipment again, use stairs, repeat until boss. It’s a good thing repetition and classic JRPGs go together so well, or I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on right now.
So why is Hero and Daughter+ not sexist, despite Ralph’s “harem? And why is it unlike the thousands of other retro-styled (or flat-our retro) JRPGs available to us? Because Ralph is completely reliant on the women. They are the strong fighters, while he’s as weak as a wilting weed during a drought. They are the ones with the strong spells and the vast amount of HP. The women are the ones with useful talents and (nearly) unlimited potential. They are clearly superior to lowly Ralph, the has-been reduced to a shadow of his past self. Ralph needs each of the female characters in the game to help him defeat the dark lord, which is the only way he can return to his former glory; Ralph needs the women solely to feel whole again. One could argue he manipulates them to stay by gaining their affection through speaking and gift-giving, but I prefer to believe that Ralph understands his need for these women and will stop at nothing until he can prove his eternal gratitude.
Despite my constant referral to them as a whole (see, I did it again just now!), the women do have individual personalities that vary as much as their physical appearance. Moski is a peppy purple-haired girl whose specialty is blood-sucking, and pink-haired Cammy’s great at being a cat. Their personalities are a big part of what makes Hero and Daughter+ so oddly fascinating (and addictive) to me. I cannot resist contemplating what the women will say next or what party I will form while humming the music mindlessly in the middle of the day. My admiration of the game comes from its self-aware humour, traditional gameplay, and surprisingly unique story.
- Lindsay M.