As a long-time listener of the ANNCast podcast, I remember host Zac Bertschy once invited X Button writer Todd Ciolek on to help interview both Victor Ireland and John Greiner, head of publisher Gaijinworks and president of publisher Monkey Paws, respectively. Outside of a general discussion about Victor Ireland’s and John Greiner’s lengthy involvement in the games industry, they also talked about the then-current (as of April 2012) Kickstarter for a grandiose deluxe edition of the PSP dungeon-crawler Class of Heroes 2. The limited edition would include treasures like character standees, a soundtrack, a watch, an inflatable sword, and most crazy of all, a pen/pencil set. As most Kickstarter’s go though, they weren’t successful, falling back on an originally intended digital only release.
Fellow Oddity Game Seekers writer Francisco Garcia Fuentes, whom I remember sending a link to the then active Kickstarter as it looked right up his alley, pledged right away. What ended up happening was that backers were given priority to a limited number of Class of Heroes 2 physical releases with digital download codes, to which Francisco gave me my own copy.
Developed by Tenchu creators Acquire, Class of Heroes 2 takes place in the fictional Crostini Academy, a school system involved in training the land’s strongest adventurers. Defined with no irony by your hard-ass home-room teacher Mr. Dante as a “serious school for serious adventurers”, Crostini Academy works with students from all races and good-to-evil affinities. Instead of playing one specific student, you the player seem to embody the essence of a student group, as you actively create (or by CH2’s jargon, “enroll”) different students until you make a party of six. You can choose between ten races and pair them with different jobs. In addition, you can craft individual identities by allocating stat points, based off a randomized set of bonus points akin to dice rolling for stats in a table-top RPG.
I felt my party needed an evil aligned sorcerer pairing of a male Diablos, CH2’s demon spawn race, and a male Celestian, CH2’s angel people, so I made them. I thought CH2’s puppy faced Dwarfs looked adorable, so I added a female Dwarf monk to my party. Affinity among the different races is an important perimeter while making a party. Since my need for menacing snarl-faced species left me with unlikable species like the part dragon elitists Bahamun, the ‘quiet around others’ cat people Felpur, and the previously mentioned Diablos, I needed someone to keep the peace. Thus, the broadly loved Gnome, a race of spirit doll who reek of long lost future technology, was a necessity. If you simply want to make a male human warrior to embody the human equivalent of someone who only orders plain cheese on your pizza, you can also do that. The possibilities are endless.
Once your party is equipped and ready, you are now ready to talk with Crostini Academy’s resident busy body Olive (who for some strange reason says she’s in the same class as you, but knows more about the Academy then anyone and is already involved in various groups committees). Olive tells you everything you need to know about the Academy’s facilities, and helps assign you missions given by the students and faculty of the Academy. Now you are ready to embark on a fantastic adventure of dungeon crawling filled with dying horribly from electrified floors and poison gas-triggered treasure chests.
CH2 tries, and initially fails, at being an approachable entry-point into the hardcore and unloving world of dungeon-crawlers. Going be honest here and state that CH2’s first hour and change entails one of the craziest early difficult learning curves I have experienced as of late. Now Olive tells you that you can resurrect your fallen party members in the clinic, and you can buy items in the shop, but nowhere does she tell you about how the people in the back of your party cannot use basic attacks because of the range of their weapons or that bonus points in character creation is completely random.
Most importantly, that party members have the possibility to turn to ash and die permanently! To restate, this game has perma-death! Simply starting out might be the hardest of CH2’s barriers, as all the shop items are way out of your price range (a simple antidote could set you back a week’s paycheck). The toughest part early on was when most of my initial party was dead in the clinic after a fatal mid-dungeon poison trap. What do you do when you don’t even have enough resources to immediately bring them back? You gather up another party and go back to that god-forsaken dungeon to kill monsters until you get enough coins. Your teammates are counting on you!
CH2 does eventually level out, as you gradually learn how to best utilize your team’s battle arrangements and you really start feeling like a bad ass when you start slaying multiple waves of monsters without taking a scratch. You still run the risk of the occasional beat down, but since it doesn’t take much time for you to dust yourself off, it creates the rare instance where I found myself so enthralled that I found myself excited to get back.
What cause CH2 to truly stand apart from its similar-to-a-fault competitors are its distinctively charming feel and its Monkey Paw’s translation. All the students are decked out in adorable uniforms and many of the species have a distinct cuteness about them, like the female Dwarfs. CH2’s the kind of game where your glaring evil aligned Dwarf Berserker and Felpur Beast still crack a smile like its Christmas morning whenever they level up. CH2’s also the kind of game where pop idol and puppeteer can be jobs, and where one of the puppets can just so happen to look like gunslinger Daisuke Jigen from Lupin the Third. Monkey Paw’s translation has this fantastic absurd appropriateness to it. Just little quips like “Hangnail shark gave stabbing Marth the college try” in the middle of battle are subtle enough to catch my appreciation.
Pros: Offers an approachable entry point for people wanting to experience a traditional dungeon-crawler’s weird nuances. Charming atmosphere and translation helps it stand apart from the pack. Oddly engaging once you get the hang of it.
Cons: You can’t progress through the loose story until you have completed enough missions. Missions often feel like a waste of time, like running out to a foreign town to buy a muscle stimulant vial for the asshat NPC Coppa at an egregiously high price. You feel terrible when he drinks and then shatters the stimulant, leaving you to think “he’s basically drinking my money away”, and rewards you with a simple ribbon. Beginning is both a difficulty and rules-based hurdle. Sort of a bummer to discover that the higher level job classes are heavily restricted by race (I mean, it makes sense for jobs like Fallen Angels and Dragon Knights, but why can only Fairies become Sages?).
As mentioned in my intro, getting a physical copy of Class of Heroes 2 might be impossible, so remember that digital is probably your best option. While I can argue that 2013’s Etrian Odyssey IV’s easy mode makes a better general introduction to dungeon-crawlers, Class of Heroes 2’s surprising ability to engage with both gameplay and a charming world, leaves me highly recommending you pick it up as an EOIV follow up. Class of Heroes 2, proving that non-Shin Megami Tensei games set in high school (Crostini Academy might actually be a university?) can totally work and not cause me to constantly cringe.
Monkey Paw and Gaijinworks are also planning on releasing an updated version of Class of Heroes 2 called Class of Heroes 2G for the PS3, so for those of you who don’t have a train or bus commute, I say check the PS3 one out here.