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Lionheart (PC) artwork

Lionheart (PC) review

"Eat, Sleep, Grind, Repeat."

Lionheart is a monument to grind. It loves nothing more. If there’s a goal to obtain, an obstacle to overcome or a secret to find, the answer is--universally--that you need to grind some more. Nothing gets done without grind. Want to do something other than advance the plot? Perhaps you'd like to see a bit of character development? Sure, that’s an option... but it lies behind the grindwall. Think it’s time to put to use some of that gold you’ve obtained through your countless hours of grinding? I mean, you could. But not for something useful like better armour; you’ll need to collect items you can’t buy for that. How do you get those items? Through grind. As in all RPGs, your characters gain experience and grow in strength, which is accomplished through grind. That’s standard, but do you also want them to learn new, powerful moves to complement the stat-buffing level gains? Those don’t grow organically with levels. You need special items to trigger instances that teach your crew those advanced skills. Those special items first have to be built. And how do you get the items you need to build them? Grind, grind, grind.

Because there’s so much grind, Lionheart is a long game topping at 100 hours, should the game's promotional blurb be believed (though I logged a little under 40). There’s a story behind it all, one openly trope-reliant that contains--and stop me if you’ve heard this before--a young, naïve farm boy coming to the big city in the search for adventure! Who (and what are the chances of this?) also happens to be the son of a once-famous mercenary, now looking to continue Daddy’s legacy. Crikey, if only there was a stoic guardian figure, or a disinterested love interest, or a ditzy support character, or a tomboy princess. There are all these things. There are all these things and more.

Lionheart is unapologetically superficial. Though it adorns itself in JRPG trappings, it also unashamedly borrows from visual novels. So, all that grind isn’t tapered with exploration like you’d normally expect. There’s a winding labyrinth you’ll need to conquer before you see endgame. That much is true. There’s also a plethora of side locales that either need to be (or can be) explored on your never-ending grind to collect stuff from which you can make more stuff. There’s a mine you can grind ores from, and a haunted forest lousy with enchanted wood. Or a plateau where you can hunt boar and sentient wheat (which you use to make packed lunches), or a lake you can visit to batter mermaids to death and steal their scales. But you only visit these places in the shallowest of senses; there’s a static hand-drawn background and a progress bar. You press start and a counter moves through the bar, going from start to finish. There’s a boss battle, or at least a bulked-up fight to look forward to at the end, where you progress the plot or earn your crafting McGuffin upon victory. Then you do it over and over and over again.

And over There’s a little more to it, to be fair. Just not a lot. There’s three flavours of start button: one that has you rush recklessly through the bar, one that moves you at a normal speed, and one that moves you cautiously. The difference between the three is the number of battles you’ll stumble across or the number of items your, ahem, “exploration” will uncover. Rarely did I ever use anything but the slowest option, because it greatly increased my item location chances. And finding just a few more items can mean the difference between visiting a dungeon twice and going back four or five times. Annoyingly, the majority of finds are worthless scrap that you can use to build exactly nothing. That scrap exists solely to be sold at a worthless pittance.

This is counteracted by points in the progression bar that, should you reach them, offer you items of some worth. There are a few stops that crop up. You’ll always find these discovery points and, near the end, you’ll have a rest stop where you can consume a packed lunch and enjoy the HP regain and bonuses they sometimes offer. Some stages also have a big red circle in the middle, which signifies a mid-boss battle. It’s all pretty vapid, but it does hold together. Employing a collection of overplayed tropes and clichés for a cast, while telling the same unoriginal fantasy story that always get rolled out does afford Lionheart the chance to make fun of itself. It’s not a chance it balks at. It’s fair to say that this makes the cast at least a likeable collection of caricatures as they plod along their well-trod tale of comfortable familiarity.

But, every now and then, it finds a way to surprise you. Most trips to a dungeon soon fall into uniformity as you battle the same goblin hordes or the same spooky ghost templates over and over again. The game could really benefit from an auto-battle option, or at least a way to speed things up. Before every attack, a character has to let lose some battle cry or taunt in untranslated Japanese, putting a couple of seconds' pause between attacks you’ll have to employ hundreds and hundreds of times. Little pauses soon add up to frustration headaches, so you’ll rush through battles in an attempt to flat line stress levels and, sometimes, this will catch you out.

In difficult dungeons, mainly plot-related ones near endgame, Lionheart demonstrates an eerie competence in practising attrition. You start the game with a base party of three, but the number grows as your adventure progresses. This gives you the chance to switch characters in and out of your active battle party, where they can sit in reserve, regaining lost HP and action points at a steady rate, and even sometimes using passive skills to further aid you.

In big battles, this is an important function. Your ditzy healer’s not a lot of good on the front line but, tucked safely in reserve, she can largely increase the healing buff your injured warriors also placed on the bench receive, allowing them to be cycled back into the fight much more quickly. Mages unleashing big, powerful spells will devour a lot of action points, leaving them bereft of magical attacks until they recover. You can leave them in the battle to offer little offence and get exploded like the squishy targets they truly are, or you can cycle them out for someone else until they’re able to pose a threat again. Lionheart’s foray into tactics revolves largely around that system, letting you try and figure out when the best time is to change your party make-up on the fly. It even throws in some appreciated fresh options. One of your party members largely changes their offensive approach every three turns. Sometimes they’re able to throw out buffs and quick, mediocre group spells (or if you time it right, they can abuse the game’s strongest attacks with god-tier magic). But these spells have a large charge-up time that often bleeds into the next turn. Time it wrong and they change, then that window of offense is completely lost to you.

I wouldn’t say moments like this completely make up for the sometimes hours of constant grinding that come before it, but Lionheart is lighthearted enough and simple enough to trick you into whittling away a few hours before you can realise you’re doing it. Because the stages are a straight shot from A to B, you’ll often find an excuse to delve into just a few more. That plot dungeon has dropped a few boar bones on your lap and, if you grind the mine a few times for ores, you can upgrade your stoic guardian’s armour. If you harvest a few more souls from the haunted entrance, then you can upgrade your magic emblems for faster casts, or more powerful end products. You need some hides to build a fleece so you can build a book so you can learn that new sword technique. Lionheart knows what it is; it’s not some deep, edgy epic. It’s a breezy, easily-consumed collection of tropes, bright colours and grind. It really likes its grind.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (September 05, 2017)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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