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Friday, October 12, 2018

Review: Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Matt S.

Valthirian Arc: Hero School offers a quaint, if not overly original concept. You're tasked with developing a school that trains up heroes to fill martial and magical roles within the kingdom. In addition to managing the school facilities, you're also responsible for taking these students out on missions for the good of the kingdom. It's charming enough, though it doesn't quite work as well as either simulator or JRPG as I might have liked.

The simulation side of things is where you'll spend the bulk of your time. Your job is to fill a growing school with rooms that train students, and then help them specialise in one of a number of different arts. Every so often you'll need to "graduate" heroes (at least one every six months), and you'll often have requests coming in when the kingdom has a shortage of a particular kind of skill. Graduate enough people with that particular skill, and you'll earn bonus rewards.

In addition to building up the school, you'll also need to focus on the development of your heroes. You'll need to forge equipment for them to use in battle, dress them in armour to protect them, and then structure them into versatile teams, such that less experienced characters can be protected by veterans while they build up their own experience. None of this management is overly complex, and it's not difficult to figure out how to structure the development of the facility so that you've got all your bases covered.


The other side of Valthirian Arc is the action RPG elements. With some missions, you simply send your team on their way and then wait for a timer to count down. Those are the boring ones. With the others, though, you get to directly control the team through a good, old fashioned dungeon crawl.

These missions are fairly short, and it should take only a couple of minutes to complete the objectives, but there's good variety in the enemies to fight, and the enemy designs themselves are quite delightful, so each mission is something to look forward to. In those dungeons you won't be doing much more than killing enemies and finding resources, though occasionally you need to seek out a specific point of interest.

The combat does lack strategy, sadly. The problem isn't so much that characters have limited numbers of abilities and skills to use in dungeons, but more that the combat is so fast. It can also be genuinely difficult to see what's going on, because while you control one of the four characters in a dungeon, the other three are AI controlled, and really good at piling on to enemies. By the time you've figured out where you are in the busy light show of attacks, the enemy monster will generally be dead. That or your party is just about wiped out, because the difficulty spikes in Valthirian Arc can be unforgiving, to put it nicely.


There's a couple of other issues with the game, thematically. Because you're constantly recruiting and graduating students, you quickly start to see them as resources, rather than characters. Names come and go, parties of heroes are in a constant state of flux, and because of this, you don't really care what happens to any of the characters. There's an overarching narrative in Valthirian Arc which is interesting enough - a queen has died and as a military school you find yourself in the middle of the political intrigues as potential successors jostle for position - but without having characters that you care about to put the narrative in context, it all feels a little academic for its own good (yes, that's a very good pun that I spent a lot of time thinking about).

Too much of Valthirian Arc is brought over from the game's free-to-play Flash game roots, too. The unnecessary experience bar, the overly restrictive way in which new building options and sense that it's impossible to actually fail at the game all come together to make for something that's still perfectly enjoyable, but over the longer term can feel pointless. The narrative could have helped here, but while it's an intriguing enough setup, not enough is really done with it. We've seen games grapple with the idea of schools being political forces in the past (Final Fantasy Type-0 handled it particularly well), and while Valthirian Arc has all the makings of being another example of that, it stumbles at the last hurdle in lending depth to the concept.

There's nothing unpleasant about Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story. It's easy to pick up and play for short bursts, and as a simulator, its simplicity makes for a nice change of pace. It's also charming and actually does offer an intriguing world and narrative. In just about every area, the game could also have been much more than it is, but everyone needs inoffensive time wasters too, and Valthirian Arc scratches that itch nicely.



- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld


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Review: Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story (Nintendo Switch)
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