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IF just for one day, April 7, 2021
Pure enthusiasm will get you pretty far in life, and Heroes! is proof this applies just as strongly to IF as it does anywhere else. Stripped to its essentials, what we’ve got here is just a time cave – literally the oldest structure for a choice-based game, with an initial choice of three different characters further ramifying into completely different adventures depending on whether, say, you opt to explore the woods or the castle. And the setting is just another fantasy world, with goblins and princes and creatures with silly names, and happy endings that typically involve cozying up to an age-appropriate opposite-gender companion of royal birth. But it works!
So first, about that structure. Time caves have lots of branching, with few choke points and many different endings – but whereas in the classic Choose Your Own Adventure version, many of those endings are unfairly sudden deaths, here it’s pretty hard to get a truly bad ending. True, there’s one correct “legendary” ending for each character, but there are a host of near-miss endings where you save the day or make friends for life, even if you do fall just short of achieving everything you ever dreamed. And the game does a good job of mixing up the kinds of choices on offer – mainly they are about pursuing different branches, but there are a few false choices that just offer a little bit of different scenery on the way to the same goal, and right answer/wrong answer binaries that either allow you to progress or bring your journey to an end. Combined with the modest length of any given path through the story, the choices being restricted to only offering one or two options at a time, and a fast Quest implementation that makes it simple to skip previously-seen passages, this means it’s fun to play Heroes! and easy to replay it to search out different threads of story.
Meanwhile, though the stories aren’t the most original things under the sun, they’ve got moxie (and fun illustrations with have a colorful, doodle-y energy to them). The eponymous heroes are all plucky underdogs out to prove themselves, and while they may occasionally be a bit naïve or act too rashly, they’ve got big hearts – getting the legendary endings typically involves finding a friend, building their self-esteem, and prioritizing their safety over anything else when the confrontation with the big bad goes down.
Sure, this means the different characters do sorta blend into each other; sure, obstacles are bottom-lined and solved almost as soon as they’re introduced; and sure, there are a good number of typos and odd bits of worldbuilding (one leader of bandits is referred to as a “drug lord”, for example). But it feels churlish to dwell on such things in light of how winning and feel-good the whole thing winds up being –just when you notice a flaw, the narrator will interject to make the player understands that ogres really do eat people so are you sure you don’t want to run away instead of helping a new-found friend (but of course you should stay and help. What else would a hero do?)