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Amidst the controversy of the infamous “Masuda incident” in regards to Pokémon Sword and Shield losing much of its roster, a major reason for that was revealed weeks later. The A team, the primary team, responsible for working on the eighth generation of the billion dollar franchise, had been reassigned to GameFreak’s new venture, Little Town Hero, while the auxiliary B team was put into Sword and Shield.
While these decisions could be considered questionable at best, and only stirred the controversy pot even more, it would certainly explain why both games have such a critical eye on them. Pokémon’s been around for a long time, and logically it would be easy to improve further on a game that’s now found a home on a console with over thrice the processing power on any of the previous systems, good intentions of the team reassigning aside.
Unfortunately, such is not the case. We all know how Sword and Shield has suffered, and it seems Little Town Hero has taken a crushing blow as well.
The setup is definitely inventive, to be true. You play as Axe, a quirky child in his hometown who dreams of seeing what the world outside his town has to offer. And yet, this story beat is dropped near-instantaneously, mostly by virtue of the game’s own design; it takes place entirely within the town. While we all knew this based on the trailers and announcement from earlier in the year, seeing it in actual play and practice is another thing entirely. It makes the game feel almost claustrophobic. While not a bad decision in its own right, everything else Little Town Hero brings to the table makes more negative associations than positive ones. You neither feel protected nor at home, so much as caged.
The art, while gorgeous, is almost overshadowed by the grating dialogue of the characters, all of whom, despite being 3D, have very little dimensions. Even the main villain of the story is noticeable from miles away through dirty windows, but the game still tries to set it up to be a big twist for later, even though it might as well be wearing a glowing, neon sign saying “I’m the bad guy.” and singing a bouncy, sinister Broadway number.
Talking of the story, it bites off more than it can chew, but still thinks it has room to feed; much of progression is done by way of fetch quests. There’s no real opportunity to bond with your world, and the “quests” just seem to be a repetitive Ouroboros of “go to this spot, then this spot, repeat ad infinitum.” The most striking change of pace is seeing who’s going to give you which quest you’ve already done several times before.
Most glaring would be the lack of level progression. While designed to save time, a maneuver designed to increase hours of play does too well of a job, denying players another chance to engage in the world of Little Town Hero; there’s not a sense of true investment when you aren’t rewarded in a meaningful sense for defeating enemies, when you’re essentially at “level zero” the entire game. Which brings me to the combat.
Unlike other RPGs where you have a plethora of abilities and the like at your disposal, Little Town Hero has ‘ideas’. This isn’t a bad way to shake things up per se, but you know what they say about ideas; there’s good and bad ones. And Little Town Hero’s combat is a 2000 meter nosedive into the ground with no pull-up. Even worse; all battles in Little Town Hero are entirely randomized. Your hand is random in every encounter, as are the enemies that attack, making forming a coherent, consistent strategy all but impossible, and turning all battles into ones of luck.
Even ONE of the mechanics that makes up Little Town Hero’s combat would be fine on its own, but the game seems intent on using as many as possible at once, without fully grasping why many of them were kept separate. It has the map and movement profession of Mario Party, the turn-based format of Pokémon, the “break” and underlying triggers of Final Fantasy, alongside a card system seen in most TCGs, and with a point system similar to Paper Jam. The battle is the meat of the game, and it’s like being given a sixteen-course meal when you only came in for a salad. There’s a lot to do, and your attacks aren’t even attacks until they’ve made the progression from ideas to actions, during which time monsters have the freedom to turn you into bonemeal.
In the event of trying to make both games work to their fullest, the priorities and reassignment of teams seems to have brought out the worst from both of them. And with Little Town Hero being GameFreak’s brand-new venture to try and distance themselves from Pokémon, if even a little, time will tell whether a hero will rise, or they should’ve stuck with what they knew.
LITTLE TOWN HERO