The Backstory: Written by Shoji Masuda of Oreshika fame, here’s an RPG with a highly unusual premise: the titular hero starts off uber-powerful, and slowly wanes over time. ‘Rapidly’ would actually be closer to the truth, as the gameplay loop is much faster than in Oreshika — and with good reason, given that Hero must die was initially a phone game. HMDA is a console remake, which appeared first on the Vita in 2016 before making the move to the PS4 and the Switch in 2020. All I can say is that I’m glad I didn’t get my paws on the Japanese Vita version on a whim back in the days — and let’s face it, we all know I could totally have done so.
The Game: As you start a run and get acquainted with the unfamiliar gameplay, you’re bound to let a lifetime of RPG experience and reflexes run the show — which will invariably lead to a resounding fail. Crafty little me didn’t spend a dime during my first run, and spent the whole time fighting, chatting with NPCs and exploring the world map. Needless to say, I didn’t get anything done; still, I wasn’t miffed, because I saw this as one of the game’s greatest strengths. You’re free to spend your time the way you see fit, and I always love freedom in a game — as well as a healthy and fulfilling die-and-retry loop, which is totally what HMDA offers.
I couldn’t help but see the game as a metaphor of life itself — you will end up waning and passing away, so you’d better make the most of your precious time before it happens. Masuda got the gameplay loop’s concept from watching his father slowly deteriorate from cirrhosis; but unlike many indie developers that shove their message down your throat, he managed to keep it subtle — yet moving and thought-provoking. It’s not long before you ditch your RPG automatisms and zero in on your main goal at the start of a run — get your former teammates back, fight the big baddie, solve local issues, you name it.
My only real issues with the game are the lacklustre dungeon roaming — although it’s made easier by the presence of a map, it’s still tepid — and the lack of time-skipping and dialogue-skipping options. I read something about the game being designed to emulate commute play, meaning that you play a single loop at a time; still, I really think the console remake should have sported skipping options. Well, guess I have to play it the intended way then!
The Verdict: I’m glad to say that the importing hassle was worth it this time: HMDA is very much here to stay! I can envision smooth and satisfying runs once I master the game’s inner workings; and anyway, sweet and short games are always welcome in my precious collection.