Twenty-three years have passed since the release of the fifth and final entry in Corey and Lori Ann Cole’s Quest for Glory hybrid adventure/RPG series and now, after two Kickstarter campaigns, the duo has returned with Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. This is a spiritual successor to their classic franchise that manages to harken back to its roots, tying nicely into the world and storyline of the ’80s and ’90s titles, whilst successfully delivering a fresh and engaging point and click adventure that’s just as much fun for newcomers as it will be for long-terms fans of the series.
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption sees players assume the role of Sardonian scamp Shawn O’Conner as he’s rumbled during a robbery and consequently offered the opportunity by a mysterious benefactor to enrol in the titular Hero University rather than face a stretch of jail time. Upon arrival at Hero-U, Shawn finds himself part of a secret class for rogues, the Disbarred Bards, and before long he’s skulking around corridors at night, eavesdropping, picking locks, solving mysteries and engaging in turn-based combat in the four dungeons hidden beneath the ancient Calignian castle that houses the university’s rather Harry Potter-esque campus.
Moment-to-moment gameplay here focuses almost entirely on Shawn’s rather rigidly timetabled school activities. Pretty much every calendar day of the fifty or so that make up the game’s campaign sees you wake up, sit through a short class – make sure to pay attention as there will be exams! – hit the recreation room, eat in the dining hall and then spend your evenings fraternising with your six classmates in the uni games den. As you engage in just about any activity in Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption you’ll increase one of Shawn’s fifteen core ability and skill stats; hit the rec room for some weight training, for example, and you’ll bump up your strength, play some cards in the games den to increase your smarts or while away hours in the locker room, picking countless locks in order to bolster your tool skills.
It’s an addictive and satisfying little gameplay loop, going about your daily chores, watching the clock, ensuring you’re where you’re supposed to be at any given moment – lest you incur the wrath of the perennially grumpy campus administrator, Mortimer Terk – while also making time to investigate the university’s many corridors, snoop around in search of secret passages and so on. You’ll also need to take on jobs in order to earn cash to buy yourself a proper uniform, lockpicks, spells, potions, bandages and traps as well as finding a spare moment to foster relationships with your classmates in order to successfully engage in side story arcs which come and go as the days progress.
Indeed, on a single playthrough, it’s easy to miss a bunch of story quests and arcs here as many of them, outside of the main narrative, resolve themselves automatically regardless of whether or not you’ve managed to tune into the action, with Shawn’s classmates taking it upon themselves to solve crimes and mysteries that you may not have uncovered or hooked into. In order to ensure you miss as few of these adventures as possible on any given run, you’ll need to manage your time well, concentrate in your classes, train, play, make sure to do your homework at night and talk enough to other characters in order to successfully uncover and partake in the various strands available.
You’ll also need to make sure you’re taking the time in the evenings to visit the university’s dark and dingy basement area, saying a quick hello to Gregor the rat at the school store before jumping into the game’s interconnected, secret-filled dungeons. Success in the mechanically simple but satisfying top-down, turn-based combat here is heavily reliant on pre-planning and preparation, you’ll not get far if you haven’t been lifting weights, fighting some training dummies and polishing your lockpicking skills in order to take down enemies and open the many locked doors that hinder your progress. It’s surprisingly easy to find yourself on the back foot against even a small group of dire rats, proaches, gogs or zombie pirates in these dungeons and so you need to ensure you’ve levelled up your combat-related stats as well as making use of your roguish sneaking abilities, oiling the rusted joints of creaky doors and slowly creeping through wine cellars, caves and catacombs to get the drop on foes for powerful sneak attacks and insta-kill dagger shots.
As Shawn’s first semester at Hero-U progresses he’ll also be given the opportunity to unlock and hone various skills by taking elective classes, enabling him to make use of magic, gadgets, runes and potions, all of which are a huge help when dealing with a dungeon’s mobs, giving you the ability to slow enemy movement and hit out with attacks that damage entire groups of foes. It’s engaging stuff which always provides you with plenty of options with regards to how you progress – to the point of even totally circumventing some boss encounters – and, for those who aren’t into the combat side of things, there’s plenty of opportunity to just sneak right past most of the action, if you so please.
Away from the dungeon-crawling side of things, Hero-U: Road to Redemption is just a very well-written, flexible and clever adventure that rewards observant players with lots of little mini-games, secrets and surprises and comes with plenty of scope for multiple playthroughs. With just a handful of characters, your six classmates and a few staff members, to deal with, relationships here are satisfyingly well fleshed out, giving you the sense that you’re really getting to know the other rogues in your class. The game’s reputation system also gives you an easy read on how others are feeling towards Shawn and you are, of course, free to flirt, romance and make enemies as you see fit, opening up further story arcs and opportunities in the process.
If we did have one overriding issue with Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, it’s with regards to just how long a single playthrough is. With around about fifty days to make your way through – if you don’t get hammered with demerits and chucked out of the university by Terk before that – the overall pacing can feel a little off here. With a single run easily clocking in at 20+ hours, the daily cycle of getting up, attending class, hitting the rec room and so on definitely begins to feel like a little bit of a grind as the semester passes and the experience suffers slightly as a result.
There are noticeable dips in the narrative too, where it feels as though nothing of note is happening, no story arc is being furthered or developed and you’re just waiting around for the next unavoidable major plot point to automatically occur. Early doors, and most especially for newcomers to the series or genre as a whole, it can also be a little hard to find your feet and get into a rhythm. There’s very little hand-holding here and so the first days and weeks of a virgin run can feel wasted somewhat when you don’t really know what it is you should be doing on a day-to-day basis outside of scheduled uni activities.
These relatively minor niggles aside, however, Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption is a surprisingly successful return to the Quest for Glory universe. This is a clever, atmospheric and highly likeable point-and-click adventure that rewards smart play and is rife with fun surprises and alternate routes through its various story arcs, side missions and activities. In terms of performance on Switch, in both handheld and docked modes, there are zero issues here and this one really does feel like a perfect fit for digging into in portable mode, slowly working your way through a semester as diligently as possible in order to experience as many side quests and secrets as you can in a single run.
Diehard fans who know and love the original entries in this series will find plenty of nods and in-jokes to revel in during their time at Hero-U, while newcomers should absolutely enjoy the clever mix of point and click puzzling, time-management, relationship fostering and turn-based dungeon combat that’s laid before them here.