Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is the latest RPG from veteran developer team Lori and Corey Cole, a prolific husband and wife team responsible for a whole host of classic titles. Hero-U brings all those trademark RPG stylings into the (slightly) modern era, with an open world that keeps moving whether you’re moving with it or not.
It’s a bit like if Terry Pratchett wrote a Harry Potter book (whilst glancing sidelong at Persona 5 in confusion). Protagonist Shawn O’Conner is a common street thief, whisked away by seemingly random to the prestigious Hero University. Here, Shawn is offered the chance to leave his old life behind and become a noble Rogue, employing his shady talents for the greater good. The line between thief and rogue is pretty slim, and Hero-U delights in that – the school doesn’t officially acknowledge them, instead referring to the group of outcasts as “Disbarred Bards.”
The tale unwinds over the course of fifty days, and your actions in those days determine whether or not Shawn’s time at Hero-U ends in success. This being a school – fantastical as it is – you’ve still got a strict schedule to adhere to, with lessons, skills to practice, and teachers to please. Save for two key events every day, your time is very much your own. If you decide to stray from what the staff expect you to be doing, there may well be consequences, but you’re totally free to take those risks if you want to. Hero-U feels like a deep, self contained world that is much larger than what the player is seeing, and that’s actually pretty great.
The world is relatively small, compared to the huge sprawls we’ve come to expect from RPGs. That’s not a bad thing, though. It’s crafted with care, packed out with secrets and totally missable moments. Hero-U won’t hold any hands, it presents its world, makes the terms in which you can explore it perfectly clear, and essentially sets the player free to do what they want within it. You can totally slack off and spend your free time flirting with classmates and hunting monsters for easy money, but you’ll probably fail all of your exams.
The dialogue is full of snark and quick turns of phrase. There’s quite a lot of cheese to swallow inbetween the clever bits, but the cast of characters is fantastically diverse and colourful. Hero-U can be exceptionally witty at times, and my only real issue with the writing is that it seems to think it has to tell a joke with every line of dialogue. When that approach is taken, it’s basically a guarantee that most of the jokes are going to be stinkers, and it dilutes the good ones substantially. There are good chunks of dramatic interaction between characters, but these are much harder to find than the line-to-line puns.
In all honesty though, that’s really the only criticism I’d aim at Hero-U, and it’s not much of one at all. Everything else is so solid and rich it doesn’t really matter. Lori and Corey Cole have created a modern day masterpiece with classical tools, and their game just goes to prove that traditional RPGs still have so much to offer. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, the story expands again, and again, unfolding like a long-lost map with secrets beneath every turn.
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption: Top of the class?
I’ve completed one play through of Hero-U, and I feel like through inexperience and unfamiliarity with the world I’ve probably missed a ton of stuff, but that’s okay! The beauty of it arriving on Nintendo Switch is that it’s really easy to pick it up in bitesize chunks, and the real-time day system gives you a great sense of progress no matter what you decide to do. I’ll be going back to Hero-U for sure, and the second playthrough will doubtlessly be all the more rewarding now I have a greater grasp on the world.
It is a deep and irresistibly charming RPG, a game that knew exactly what it wanted to be from the start and followed that path with a singular devotion. There is so much potential for further games in this setting, and I’d buy every single one.