Class of Heroes 1 (PSP) Review: Addictive, Grindey Dungeon-Crawling Fun, and Frustration

Okay… so, several years and like 150+ hours into playing this super addictive but at times nightmarishly unfun grinding simulator (or at least that’s what it is right now!), I really should write something about it, shouldn’t I? I mean, the hour count alone is way higher than anything I’ve played in the past few years apart from the DS Picross games and not much else, probably… there HAS to be some reason I’m playing it, even if most of the time I’m not sure if I’m actually having any fun at all or not. Or maybe I’m just too stubborn to just giver up on it for good, as I should have after beating the main game — it’s the postgame that I kind of hate, up to that point it was mostly fun.  Oh, yes, this is a new review, not old content.

Note: I updated this review to version 2.0 a day after first posting it.  The additions are in the Gameplay, Dungeons, and Combat sections only.  I was missing some details that needed to be explained.

Where I Currently Am in the Game: Post-Credits Class of Heroes
(Note: A full review will follow this section)

As in other similar games like Etrian Odyssey, Class of Heroes doesn’t end when you see the credits. Right on my CoH file, now the games’ clock is over 100 hours played, which doesn’t count the many times I’ve turned it off because of having my party get wiped out yet again. I beat the main game back at about 70 hours, back in late 2013 I believe. After getting over the games’ starting difficulty cliff, it evened out and was fun and not too hard until after “finishing” the game… when it promptly becomes nearly impossible. After seeing how hard and grindey it got I took most of 2014 off, but late in the year got drawn back in because I decided to finally get around to playing CoH2, but couldn’t help but start playing the first game again too shortly afterwards.

But despite all those hours played, my characters are only level 32-38 (plus one newer character ten levels lower). I’ve fully explored all but one of the maps I’ve found in the game; there’s one more area I haven’t been to yet, but I’m not sure how to unlock that. Mostly it’s just been Haint Path for a very long time now. Just in the last few days I finally managed to level just high enough to manage to not die immediately in every battle on the middle floor of Haint Path (one of the last areas in the game), though the bossfight there (for a quest) is still way too hard.

So, what does one do in this situation? And there’s more of that, too — there are new super-hard bosses in the middle floor of most every area, and I still haven’t beaten the instructors in that quest either because they’re all still like ten levels higher than I am. The amount of grind required at this point in the game is completely unreasonable! I like exploring out the whole map in a game, but can’t tolerate walking around in circles grinding. The main reason I quit this game through most of 2014 was because it seemed like that’s what the game had become. I’ve found a few more areas to explore, bu those are about to run out soon, and I’m not much closer to actually being able to compete in these last few quests I have to do, because those level 40-plus bosses are impossible with my characters at the levels they are at now and leveling now takes ludicrously long, hundreds of thousands of experience between levels!

And that’s not even mentioning the enemies late in the game (or maybe only in the postgame?) who can take a level away from your character randomly when they attack you… except unlike, say, Dungeons & Dragons, undoing the level drain is impossible. Essentially, if you ever see a ‘Character X has lost a level’ message in battle, seriously, save yourself the pain and just turn the system off immediately, it’s not worth continuing after that because getting that level back will be a MASSIVE grind.

box art

Class of Heroes Review

Class of Heroes is a first-person dungeon-crawler RPG with random battles on the PSP.  The game is Japanese and was published by Atlus and developed by ZERODIV.  The game is PSP-exclusive, but is available physically or digitally, so it can be played on a Vita as well if you have the digital release.

Class of Heroes was inspired by the original Wizardry titles.  It’s got somewhat basic graphics and simple gameplay, and can be quite frustrating, but I found it compelling enough to stick with it this long, so it does something right at least. The game has nice anime-style art design and writing, with plenty of dark dungeons to explore.  Before you start there are few options to set.  The main one is save difficulty, Normal or Masochist. I played the game 100% on the harder setting, because if you just remember to save often to save files the more forgiving respawning of the Normal setting isn’t needed, and monsters are slightly harder on Masochist too, supposedly. I’m not sure if that’s true.  But if you are going to play a game like this, I think the harder setting is the way to go. It’s not much harder, but I like it more than the easy setting.  Again, even on “Masochist” you can save anytime you’re not in battle to a save file.  But first, you have to make a party.

CLASSES

Class of Heroes has nine races and fifteen classes, each with different stats required to get them.  A balanced party is important, but there are many ways you can make a solid party in the game.  I recommend spending an annoying amount of tiem re-rolling characters, though; those extra stat points are useful, so keep rerolling until you get good numbers!  You don’t need to settle for a party with 5-10 starting points, you can get up to 40 or more if you’re patient, though numbers above the mid 30s are quite uncommon.  Above 30’s pretty good, that should be able to get any race any class.  Each race has different starting stats, you see, so it’ll take more bonus points for some races to take on some classes.  CoH2 locks half of the classes to only one race, in perhaps its worst design change, but in this game all classes are for any race!  I like it better this way for sure, it’s quite sad that I can’t make a Felpier Ninja in CoH2 for example. 🙁  The second game does have unique character art for each race+class combo, though, which is cool; in this game, each race only has two character portraits, one for each gender.

My main party:
–front row–
Drake [Bahamut in CoH2] Valkyrie (Good) [Paladins are basically the male-only version of Valkyries; I’ll refer to the Valkyrie below since that’s what I have in my party]
Felpier Ninja/Kunoichi (Evil) [Ninja and Kunoichi are slightly different gender-exclusive spins on the same thing; I’ll just call them Ninjas here, because Kunoichis are female ninjas, anyway.]
Human Samurai
–back row–
Celestian Cleric [Clerics can cast both White and Black magic and identify items.]
Erdegeist [Gnome in CoH2] Wizard
Diablos Evoker

One of my characters is male.  Guess which!

There are several things every CoH party needs.  First, and most importantly, you really MUST have a character which can identify items in your party if you want to have any fun at all.  Unfortunately, you won’t get identify untiol about level 7, which was one of the biggest complaints most poeple have about this game.  It’s a valid criticism, because the game before that point is awful: identifying in stores requires spending THE AMOUNT THE ITEM SELLS FOR to identify it, which means that until level 7 it is impossible to make money from item drops.  This makes the early hours of the game much more difficult than they should be because you’re always starved for cash, at a point in the game where you actually need it (it becomes less important later on).  I like the idea of identifying items, and dislike that CoH2 and beyond ditches it completely, but they should have had cheaper identification in the store, that’s for sure.  The two classes which can identify are the Alchemist and Cleric.  I have the latter in my party now (used to have an Alchemist too; now that character’s in my other party that I don’t use much).

The second rule is that you need a healer, of course.  Multiple characters with Resurrect is also fantastic.  Fortunately I have two, the Valkyrie and Cleric.  The Valkyrie has the most health in my party by far, so it’s great that she has resurrect because it has saved me quite a few trips back to town — the Valkyrie has died probably half as often as the rest of the party members, not counting times I got wiped out and turned it off of course. :p  Naturally Resurrect is a level 7 spell, the highest level, so it’ll be a while before you get it.  Before that, it’s back to town every time someone dies… argh.  That’s always frustrating.  Unfortunately my Valkryie didn’t get any healing spells, but at least she got Resurrect so she can bring back the healer!  You can’t use Resurrect during battle, unfortunately, but still, it’s great to have.

Last, have a Thief, Ranger, or Ninja to open chests; some mages  have spells which can do this, but spells are limited, while thief abilities aren’t.  You really need this as well.  Thieves and Ninjas can also see hidden doors.

Beyond those requirements, fill up the party as per usual in this genre — fighter-types in the front three spots, mage or ranged-types in the back.  I have found that having two characters with full sets of Black magic is extremely useful; the Cleric does get healing spells slower than the Devout, but having both schools of magic is great.  A dedictated Wizard is also great, though, even if theyr have only one class of magic, because the Focus ability is extremely useful.  Focus is a Wizard-exclusive class ability, and roughly doubles magic power for a spell you can use the next turn.  This basically saves you a spell, so instead of having to use up two of the same spell you can get that same amount of damage with only one casting.  Specialized classes like the Alchemist, Evoker, Thief or Ninja won’t do as much damage as Warriors or Valkyries, so they’re not going to be as important in combat as the mages or front fighters.  They’re more useful for other things.  The Ninja is a bit better in combat than those other classes, though, at least for me.  Hide is nice, when it works.

And as an addendum, have a second character or party who you keep back at Particus, the main town.  This is to sort of exploit the annoyingly small inventory size in the game.  Your inventory will fill up quickly with the games’ mountains of crafting materials.  The solution is, actually, to drop them.  You see, any dropped item is put into a global dropped-items pool which can be accessed from the magic orbs that are present near every floor entrance in the game.  So, drop stuff in any dungeon, and your party near town can go to the magic orb right next to Particus, grab those items, and deposit them in the much larger item storage back at base.  You’ll need to give this second party items to sell though, because they otherwise won’t be able to afford the costs of rezzing and teleporting back to town a fully dead higher-level party!

Finally, you can switch classes during the game.  This can be useful if you, say, want to start with a base class, and only move up to one of the higher-stat-requirement classes later on.  The higher-level classes level more slowly than the faster-levelling base classes do, so there can be a definite advantage to doing this; though in CoH1 I didn’t, maybe I should have, it’d have given my characters more health than they currently have, probably.  Switching resets your level to one and cuts your health in half, but that still gives you a lot more health than a new level 1 character would have, and you keep most of your spells, limited by the restrictions of how many spells per level the new class allows.  This can mean losing good spells, so dedicated classes can have an advantage there.  You can also change alignments, because characters of similar alignment will have MUCH better Affinity than Good + Evil.  My party now actually works well — 92% affinityor above for all characters – but compatibility problems can hurt character stats.  Still, I think the manuals overstate how important affinity is, you can mostly ignore it I think.  Diablos+Celestian, Good+Evil?  Eh, it works.  The worst I’ve seen so far is in CoH2, where one Evil Ninja in an otherwise mostly Good party has 44% affinity.  But really, Affinity is only important if you really want the highest possible stats, and there are ways to boost affinity as you play as well.  That low-affinity character is early in the game.

As far as CoH2 goes, bizarrely, that game gets rid of the separation between clerics and mages; there’s just one mage class that gets both types of magic, so basically it’s just Clerics instead of Devout, Wizard, and Cleric.  Some new classes are added in (Puppeteer, Idol, etc.), but still… weird.  And those one-race-only classes, which make up HALF of the total number of classes, really limit things.

MAGIC

CoH1’s magic system is obviously inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, in that spells are broken up into classes and levels, you have a set number of spells of each level that you can cast without resting.  Unlike D&D, though, you can’t rest while out in the field, only in a town, so when you run out of key spells is about the right time to start back to the nearest town.   Characters who have magic will have between two and four spells at each of seven levels.  How many spells a character gets depends on their class, and maybe also stats.  I love D&D, and I really like this games’ magic system too!  It’s great that the levels of magic aren’t just merged together; this adds some strategy in spellcasting, so instead of just always casting one spell you have to mix things up in order to not run out of that spell-level you use so heavily.  Unfortunately, CoH2 ditches this system in favor of a generic magic-points system, with each spell casting a set amount of magic points from the characters’ mana pool.  I like CoH1’s magic system better for sure.  I don’t think that some spells are particularly well balanced, though — the stat-boost and levitate spells last for the entire floor, for example, which is kind of odd.  Well, unless that floor has no-magic zones in it, that is; those dispell all boost spells and make casting magic impossible while in them.

There are four classes of magic in this game, White, Black, Psychic, and Summoning.  White is healing and protective magic.  It is obviously important.  Black is attack magic, mostly, and some useful abilities too (Levitate, Teleport).  Attack magic is great because you get a bunch of spells that hit all enemies in a row, and one which attacks all of your foes.  Psychic I’ve used less, but it has a variety of status and protective functions.  Last, Summoning is a class of magic exclusive to the Evoker class.  This class works uniquely in this game.  A party can only have one Summon active at a time, so there’d never be a reason to have more than one Evoker in one party.  You don’t just get summon spells like the rest of them, though.  Instead, there is a summon circle in the center floor of each of the games’ areas, and you get one summon for defeating the (easy) enemy in each of those summon circles.  CoH2 ditches this in favor of just giving them to you like normal spells, but it’s more unique in the first game.  It’s a bit quirky, but works.  Summons aren’t great, but enemies will sometimes attack your summon instead of your party members, which can save your life sometimes.  You’ll have to choose between another stronger attacker (another Wizard in the back row, say) versus the protective help of a summon.

ITEMS AND CRAFTING

Items in CoH work like they do in many RPGs.  Each character has an individual inventory, and there is also a pack for extra item storage.  However, equipped equipment takes up space in character inventories, so by the later game half of the character inventories at least will be taken up by your equipment.  Then add to that the various required items you need to carry around like a few maps, healing items, etc., and you have very little space indeed.  This is where the technique I mentioned earlier about dropping stuff and having a team at home to go pick it up comes into play.  Just as long as you remember that the dropped-items pool has a maximum size of 100 items, you’ll be fine.  The inventory system is pretty good apart from not telling you anything about crafting formulas or what you can make, and moving items between characters, or buying them in stores, works great.  I like having separate inventories for each character, CoH2’s “solution” of getting rid of separate inventories and just having one large pool isn’t as good.  Also, if your party is wiped out, the stuff in the bag is dropped, while characters keep their character inventories.  This is key, because if there is already too much stuff in the dropped-stuff pool, you can just lose some items!  So yeah, watch out for that.  The bag is much smaller than the dropped-items pool, but if there was already a bunch of stuff there you hadn’t collected there could be an issue.  The sequel does at least take equipped things out of your inventory and into separate equipment screens for each character, though, so those aren’t cluttering it up.

CoH also has a crafting system, sadly; I hate crafting!  There are two types of crafting items, the base items and materials.  Only one class, the Alchemist, can do crafting when you are out in the field, and even then you’re hamstrung because there is no in-game list of crafting formulas that you can access when not in an Academy!  You can buy formulas, but can’t see them anywhere other than in the Academies.  Absolutely baffling stuff, this is one of the more annoying things about CoH1 and I don’t think CoH2 fixes this problem either, from what I’ve seen.  If there was a nice web list of all the combinations this wouldn’t matter nearly as much, but as far as I know, there isn’t; there is very little out there about this game, at least in English (I don’t know about Japan).  If you are in an Academy, though, in the alchemy room you can look at the formulas you’ve gotten, and either pay to have them make stuff for you, or do it yourself if you have an Alchemist.  I mean, you can do that anywhere, but good luck remembering those formulas.  In the rare cases where I try to craft something I’ve got to keep going back and forth between my items list and the formulas list, because there’s no way to see exactly what I can make.  Now, part of the issue here is that I have always greatly disliked crafting in games; I don’t find this stuff fun at all.  Maybe I’d find this game easier if I actually did craft stuff regularly, but I almost never do, and just have piles of crafting materials cluttering up my Particus storeroom.

You can also upgrade items and add abilities to them, but how exactly you do the latter I’m not quite sure… how DO you add those various Bane abilities, and such?  I don’t see any ingame crafting recipes which explain this.  Upgrading items is simpler, but requires a specific, and uncommon, item, so you can’t do this as much as you’d like.  YOu can also disassemble equipment to turn it into its component parts.  Crafting formulas aren’t too complex, with only one base item and up to two component slots per formula, but still there are FAR too many components to just guess which ones go with each type of base item, and you’d need enough of the component in question as well.  Ugh, the whole thing is so annoying, but I always have kind of hated crafting in games.  But overall, I think it’s unfortunate that crafting had to be included in this game.  Why do people think that if it’s a modern wgame of course it needs to have stupid crafting in it?  It’s not fun!  Just give me items and stuff… and if you MUST have crafting, give me an easy way of recording the formulas.  But it would be better to have no crafting; crafting almost always makes games worse. (No, I do not like Minecraft, as anyone reading this can probably imagine. :p)  It’s too bad that crafting stays in the series and seems nearly unchanged in the second game, as far as I can tell.

GAMEPLAY: BASIC DESIGN, GRAPHICS, AND SOUND

CoH is a first-person dungeon crawler.  The game is broken up into a network of Academies and Towns which are connected by dungeon path areas.  Towns are 2d, with a picture of the outside, and then separate images for each room or building where you do the various functions, such as creating characters, choosing your party, getting quests, buying items, doing alchemy, dropping off items in your storage, and such.  Once you leave and choose an area to travel to, you go to the 3d world.  This is a tile-based game, so each move either turns your party 90 degrees or moves you forward once space.

Fast-travel is disappointingly limited, unfortunately.  From magic orbs you can access the dropped-item storage from, you can also warp back to the starting Academy, Particus, for free.  There are no other free warps to anywhere anytime in the game, though.  With the Teleport spell you can quickly get through an area, but traveling across the main map requires using a special rare item that you can only craft starting very late in the game, and even then they’re expensive and limited.  How annoying!  You should be able to warp to any of the academies for free at some point, in the postgame at least!

Graphically, CoH1 has basic 3d graphics in the dungeons.  You can only see two spaces in front of you.  So, you can see the space in front of you, and a wall, say, on the space beyond that, but a wall one space farther back wouldn’t be visible.  The Light spell will double your vision, but two tiles of visibility is still very poor; I rarely bother with it.  A lot of the screen is covered with an omnipresent black fog.  There is no sunlight in this game, only dark dungeons 100% of the time you’re not in a town or Academy.  There are a few graphical tilesets, but little variety within each of them.  Apart from the special tiles, described below, you’ll mostly just be looking at identical-looking walls and floors.  There are very, VERY few graphical touches making things interesting.  No rooms have furniture in them, there are no wall-hangings anywhere, all walls in each area look pretty much the same, and such.  There are some torches or such around the left and right entrances of each floor, but next to nothing else.

As for sound, there isn’t much music in this game.  There are a handful of songs, including one that plays while the character/inventory/spell menu is open, one on the main menu, and not much more, but that’s about it.  The few songs aren’t great and quickly get very repetitive.  That one menu-interface song gets old after a while, and you’ll be listening to it a lot.  The sound effects are good, however, but don’t play this game for the audio.

GAMEPLAY: THE DUNGEONS

Each area pulls a random set of dungeon maps, from a range of maps that can appear in that area, so the level order will be different each time you enter an area.  That is, the maps you will see in an area are always from the same batch of maps, but the order is always different.  Maps are 20×20 squares, and unlike Etrian Odyssey, there aren’t empty spaces between passages very often at all, so most of the space on each map is used.  They take a decent amount of time to explore.

Most of the maps themselves are mirrored so that the top and bottom halves, or sometimes the left and right halves, are identical mirrors of eachother.  This means that the exit door will always be in the exact opposite corner from where you enter.  Excepting middle maps, which have unique designs and aren’t mirrored, this is the way the game works, so get used to it.  The basic goal in each map is to find the switch which opens the quick-path route that will let you get from one entrance to the other more quickly.  Usually you can get through to the other end through the middle of the map, but occasionally you have to backtrack after hitting that switch and take the shortcut in order to get to the other side.  Then only explore out the other half of the map if you want to fill in that black space on your map, something I find quite irresistible.  I don’t want to grind, but I do love exploring out those maps!  Still though, that maps are almost all only half-original is somewhat lazy.

The middle map of each area, however, is preset and never changes.  Areas are linear, with several on the left side, a center map, and several on the right side making up the basic design; as you go, the number of maps per side gets greater.  Some middle maps do look similar to eachother, but they are at least different from the rest of the game.  Each center area also has a Labyrinth in it, which you will eventually have to face.  The labyrinths are unique one-floor dungeons, and aren’t mirrored stuff like the main dungeons are.  Annoyingly, you can only view a Labyrinth’s map in the town or if you enter the labyrinth; you can’t warp directly into one from the area it is in, and can’t view that map from the area map as you can the other floors in that area.  Labyrinths are something you’ll only need to enter a few times, though, so that’s not so bad.

There are a limited variety of tiles in this game, fewer than in many games in this genre.  Outside of town you will only see: floors, walls, doors (visible or hidden; thieves and ninjas can see hidden doors), no-magic zones (purple on the map), spaces which automatically move you in a preset direction (arrows on the map), treasure chests (indicated with crossed-swords icons in the world; these always have a monster fight on them, and then usually a trap on the chest), shallow (you can wade through this) or deep water (can only fly over this; there are no monster fights over deep water though), warp tiles, the left and right entrances, a magic orb by each entrance, magic key switches (marked by orbs not by the doors), electric trap tiles, darkness tiles (dark squares on the map), joke tiles, and magic-tank spaces which can heal or hurt you.  There also can be un-enterable tiles, which remain black unexplored territory that you just can’t get to.  That may sound like a bunch of things, but it’s really not; that’s pretty much everything in the game.  The vast, vast majority of the game is just simple walls and floors; the other tiles only appear sporadically.  The auto-moving spaces and no-magic zones are pretty much the only ‘challenge tiles’ that make dungeon layouts more interesting because warps are not used well in this game and trap and deep water tiles are too easily ignored: just cast Levitate for ground traps or deep water, and don’t tough electrified walls.  Class of Heroes has no real puzzles apart from ‘hit magic key [switch] X and it does something to open locked doors elsewhere on the floor’.  CoH2 dramatically improves on graphical and setting variety, to its credit.  It’s still mostly a game of walls, floors, doors, and water, though; some other games in this genre have more variety of objects in the levels.  Ah well.  The simplicity is part of the appeal, I guess, even if I definitely like Etrian Odyssey more overall.

Warp tiles warp you to some specific tile in the current map.  Teleporter mazes in first-person RPGs can be tough, but there’s none of that here.  The closest that most of CoH1 ever gets to warp mazes is when you’ve got a long corridor you’ve got to get through that is full of pillars and warps, and sometimes also no-magic or darkness tiles.  These are really easy to navigate though, because the only maze is ‘walk forward, hit warp which sends you back, check map and go a different way next time’, because the warps here just send you to the start of the passage, nothing more.  There are maybe a few maps at most that do anything more interesting than that with teleporters; they are pretty seriously under-utilized in this game.  CoH’s maps aren’t nearly as challenging to navigate, from a level-design standpoint, as the mazes are in some other first-person dungeon-crawling RPGs.

Darkness tiles are, well, dark.  You can’t see anything at all in these, even with a magical light spell or torch.  Fortunately your map still works in darkness tiles, though, so they aren’t too hard to navigate most of the time, you just need to consult the map for where to turn.  One of the trickiest maps in this mostly easy-to-navigate game was this one Labyrinth which is it’s a giant maze of no-magic+darkness tiles, loaded with moving-floor tiles.  That one took a while to get through, particularly before the map was working there!  But most of the maps aren’t nearly as tricky.  There’s plenty of challenge to be found in CoH, of course, thanks to the massive grind mountain in the postgame, but it comes more from enemies than puzzles in the dungeons.

Finally, for completion’s sake, in addition to Chest spaces, which have you fight an enemy and then get past the chest lock in order to get some items, there are also joke-chest spaces.  These only appear on a few rare maps, which have quite a few of these weird things.  Normal chest spaces have tough monsters, but these either have no monster or a very weak one.  That one map that’s absolutely covered with super-weak-monster spaces is a pain to get across, even though it’s mostly without walls… but the joke coffins in a few other maps are kind of amusing; no enemies there, just some silly text.  I wish the game had more text explanations of things as you explored the dungeon, that and puzzles in the dungeons are things that modern Japanese dungeon crawlers seem to usually sadly lack in compared to the classic Western ones they otherwise emulate!

Maps ARE fun to explore despite their simplicity, though.  I like what variety the level designs have, and the mirrored-maps style isn’t as bad as it may sound.  Still, if you want traditional first-person-RPG teleporter mazes, you’ll need to play Class of Heroes 2, which has plenty of them.  Unfortunately it doesn’t have a good map system, so there’s no way to tell where teleporters GO.  This makes navigation confusing! CoH1 is like this as well, but it doesn’t matter because of how few teleporters there are in the first game; I never had any issues remembering where they’d go, once I ran into them once.  In a game like CoH2, which has a lot more of them, Etrian Odyssey-style markers to show where teleporters go REALLY was needed.  I’m already almost getting lost in the game, and I’m not too far into CoH2.

Also, CoH2 definitely ups dungeon complexity, but it does come at the cost of scale — unlike in this game CoH2 usually has full empty spaces in between paths, so there’s probably less than half the number of tiles per map in CoH2 than there are in the first game.  In CoH1 here, most floors fill every tile with a space you can go to; few have any blank tiles, and the ones that do rarely have many.  So sure, maps aren’t mirrored anymore in the sequel, but there probably often aren’t any more tiles per map as half of a CoH1 map… but at least what’s there is a bit more complex to navigate.  CoH2 also has multiple exits in many maps, which makes exploring areas a bit more nonlinear and allows for branching paths, but unfortunately the in-game map isn’t any good, and just copies CoH1’s linear left-to-right order that does not reflect their actual layout.  So, in CoH2 you just have to remember which map connects to which.  It quickly gets quite confusing, unless you draw something out on paper showing how the maps in each area interconnect.  Does the PS3 version of CoH2 improve on this, at least?  I hope it does!  Enough about the sequel, though.  In Class of Heroes 1, the straightforward, linear dungeon design and simple layouts make the game easy to learn, and there is just enough variety to keep exploration fun throughout.  It’s the combat where the true challenge lies, however.

COMBAT

 

As with the dungeons, CoH is a fairly simple game.  This is a turn-based game, and you tell each of your six party members what to do.  Once you’re set, the round begins.  During a round ally and enemy turns happen based on speed, I believe.  Basic options include Attack (with your weapon), Defend (no attack, but the character will take reduced damage if they get attacked), Run (try to flee the battle), Magic (if the character has spells), and a special class ability if the character is a class which has one for use in battle.  In my main party, the Valkyrie’s class ability allows for an attempt at a powerful but low-defense attack; the Ninja can Hide and then do more powerful attacks until found; the Samurai can attack all enemies in the front row; the Cleric has a not-too-useful one; the Wizard’s I described earlier, Focus lets you double your magic power in order to save spells; and the Evoker’s boosts defense and allows you to summon a creature.  The Evoker must use the Evoke Ring spell one turn, then can summon at any point later in the battle.  That’s all there is to the basics of combat.  The only other feature here are Group attacks.  As you defeat enemies, a meter in the upper right builds up in percentage.  You keep meter between battles, so it’s persistent during a trip into the dungeon.  This meter can be spent on group Gambit attacks, which you can choose to do instead of your regular turn if you wish.  The two combat Gambits, Blaze Fist and Burst Fire, are extremely, extremely useful.  Some enemies are more vulnerable to one, others to the other, so practice and try them out on tougher foes.  They have saved me many times by defeating tough foes quickly.  Finally, hold Down on the analog stick and then press X in order to use auto-battle (default attack only) for the round.  Very, VERY useful hotkey, that is.  So is Start+Select+L+R to reset the game when you need to do that.

There is a good variety of enemies in the game, but they do repeat, and there are the usual harder versions of the same enemies.  Still, new enemies keep getting introduced for as long as you’re reaching new areas, which is good.  I like the silly enemy designs; this series tries to have a sense of humor, and it mostly works.  There are some enemies which are a lot tougher than they look like they should be, but the harder enemies are often more threatening looking than the easy ones.  As with exploration, CoH combat is simple but fun, and straightforward but has some depth.  I find magic much more useful than items, to the point where I rarely ever use items anymore, but that’s fine, spells are cheap to replenish while items are much less so, for the better ones at least!  And anyway, magic is cool.

QUESTS AND STORY

Class of Heroes is an anime-inspired game, and this particularly shows in not only the art, but also the story and writing.  I find the game amusing and fun, but an appreciation for anime will help.  It’s fairly generic, inoffensive stuff, though, with regular attempts at humor.  This isn’t some creepy-otaku game, it’s mainstream stuff, and that’s good.  Of course this is a Japanese game, so the characters are in school, wear school uniforms, etc.  Naturally. :p  You’ll spend no time in class, though; “classes” in this game send you into the dungeon right away.  The “school” theme is mostly just window-dressing, apart from some elements of the storyline.  Also, pretty much all of the story comes in the Quests, because there’s next to no story text anywhere outside of quest-related cutscenes, either at the beginning of a quest or when you are about to fight a quest-related boss, usually.  At least it’s amusing sometimes.  Decent sense of humor here.  Play the game, I won’t spoil any of it.

Most quests require you to go to a specific place and beat a boss there.  Simple enough, as long as you can handle the fight.  On the other hand, the “get specific uncommon drop X” quests are a complete pain, because who knows if you’ll ever manage to find that specific item drop or not?  And am I even looking in the right place?  Argh.  Completing some of these will take complete luck, because I know of no online resources to help look up any of this stuff.

POSTGAME

 

For most of my thoughts on the tediously grindey postgame, see the top part of this review, above the review text.  Essentially, as in Etrian Odyssey, beating the game is not the end, there is a lot more to do after that if you like grinding!  After you win, you unlock several more areas to travel to, new super-hard bosses appear in the middle maps of most areas, some new quests become available, and you can even get to a new Academy too, though there’s oddly little to do there, so far for me at least.  The few new areas will take a long, long time to master, though, because of how steep the difficulty curve is.  Basically, get a map or two farther in, wait a while, then maybe you’ll be able to tackle the next floor… but save before trying, because you’re more likely to get wiped out quickly.  And at this point, the frustration of having to resurrect the party back in Particus, get your items again (hope that all the stuff in your bag fit into the dropped-items pool!), warp back to where you were, etc. is almost never worth it, unless you’d forgotten to save for a particularly long time.  This happened to me a few times; just remember to save often and save the frustration.

In addition to just generally doing a lot of damage, the postgame monsters also often heal a LOT of health every turn.  Some battles are impossible unless you’re high enough level because the enemy will heal more damage per turn than you can deal out.  Most enemies don’t have a huge amount of health, but cracking through their constant healing can be tricky.  Some enemies are harder to hit with physical attacks, too, and may require magic to take down for example.  And I’m talking about random battles here, the bosses are much harder!  A lot of the middle of the game is pretty easy, but the game makes up for that many times over with the insane challenge of the postgame.

Perhaps the weirdest thing about the postgame, though, is how little there is to do in the unlocked academy!  I really hope that there actually is plenty more and I just haven’t reached it yet because of the ludicrously unfair grind targets these few quests I’ve been stuck on forever have… Will I ever get the rest of those Doll things back operational, for example?  It was quite odd that one is working again, but how about the others?  That new school is mostly empty of teachers…


OVERALL


Major positives:

  • Addictive gameplay keeps me coming back.
  • Fun exploration, explore those dungeons!  I love mapping dungeons.
  • Nice anime art with decent, sometimes amusing writing – the game can be funny sometimes, and isn’t at all creepy unlike some anime
  • Simple but fun combat which sometimes does require strategy, particularly later on in the game
  • Nice magic system – I really like the D&D-style spell system!
  • You can save anytime you’re not in battle — do remember to save often!Major negatives:
  • I hate the postgame grinding.  Be prepared for many many many hours of constant danger and ‘quit game, died/leveldrained again’ awfulness!  It takes a long time to level in the postgame, and you need to do a LOT of it, far more than I have so far — I’ll need like 15 or 20 more levels on my characters to beat some of the later fights (past where I am in the postgame), I believe, and at this pace that’d take what, another 50 or 100 hours?
  • There is black fog a few spaces away at all times in the game (daytime would be nice!).
    Little variety in either combat or dungeons – this game gets repetitive!
    Few actual puzzles in these dungeons — you won’t find any warp mazes, messages to read, hidden holes to find, or anything.  I thought that Etrian Odyssey had stripped-down dungeons compared to classics like Eye of the Beholder or Wizardry VI, but this game makes EO’s dungeons look deep and complex!
  • No character customization beyond just choosing a class — htere is no EO-style skill tree, just generic JRPG auto-stats-on-levelup
  • The game often takes stats AWAY from you on level up, which is pretty absurd.  Come on, let me keep my good stats, game… but no, sometimes characters can lose more points than they get.  At least you do always get increased health.
  • Crafting (& the not-always-viewable formulas) is annoying and bad.
  • Limited inventory, and having to have equipped equipment take up space in the inventory.
  • The horrible beginning part of the game up until you get Identify (you DID put an Alchemist or Cleric into your party, right?  If not go and do that!) and can start actually making money.
  • On that note, the uneven challenge is a problem — the start is hard, the middle easy (through to the “final” boss), and the postgame super hard.
  • Fast travel is limited

So, on the whole, do I like the game?  I’m really not sure.  Class of Heroes is an okay game with some strengths and some flaws.  I don’t know if I’d actually recommend playing the game as much as I have, but it’s something genre fans who haven’t played it should definitely check out.  I’m torn about what I’d score this game, but I guess it has to get a B-something, despite its numerous flaws, because I do find it addictive enough to keep coming back to.  But is it actually good?  Uh… no, not if yo uwant to 100% complete the game.  The postgame content requires unreasonable amounts of grind, beyond that that almost any players have been willing to suffer through.  But getting through to the early postgame can be fun.  Maybe just do that and then stop there.  Playing the game is fun… but grinding to level 91 to get that final super-skill all characters get?  No, I think not.  Overall… 85%, a B.

Last, to finish the comparisons with the second game, while there are a lot of little things I like better in CoH1 than CoH2 — I like CoH1’s magic system more, I like that there are no race restrictions on the classes, I like that every tile of the maps is usually used, I like that each character has an individual inventory, etc — I can’t deny that the second game is, overall, better.  CoH2 has better graphics, more variety, more complex maze layouts, some interesting new clases, etc.  But I do like the first game quite a bit too, despite having so many flaws.  Both games are worth playing if you like this kind of game.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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One Response to Class of Heroes 1 (PSP) Review: Addictive, Grindey Dungeon-Crawling Fun, and Frustration

  1. Susan Tatun says:

    Everything in this game is described clearly. I extremely your job when writing all here. With lots of new things for this game, I can guide my little son to play. Thanks a lot, my dude.

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