Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story is a modern entry into the age old dungeon crawler genre, admittedly with a twist. The twist in question happens to be that as well as crawling through dungeons, you have a school to manage, and it is only by serious school management that you’ll have fighters good enough to crawl through them dungeons.
The story of Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story is set in a fantasy world led by 5 powerful, matriarchal factions headed by Queens. These Queens all answer to the High Queen and her husband, the High Principle, who is himself in charge of the land’s most important academy. This academy produces the most important thing for the kingdom: new educated people to work in the kingdom.
The gameplay in Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story is split between two main threads. The first is the dungeon crawling half, which mainly features running around cartoon-style dungeons and button mashing the crap out of little enemies; at least at first it does. This element takes off a bit more as the game goes on and you can train your students in different classes, meaning they all handle differently and have different abilities. At first they’re all apprentices and have one ability: hit thing with stick.
The second thread of the gameplay bow is the school management side. When you’re not off beating up monsters, you have to build, organize and maintain a huge school filled with eager young minds ready to learn the trade of killing monsters for cold, hard coin. At first, you have a tiny school with little prestige to its name, but eventually your school almost becomes a city in its own right and has more students involved than the entire West Midlands school district.
Your students are put into several different teams to be sent on quests, which are broken down into missions and errands. Missions are the fun bits, dungeon crawling adventures to kill a certain number or type of enemy, find some sort of relic or otherwise bow down to the will of whoever you’re doing the mission for. Errands are altogether less interesting and are basically huge waiting games that are always successful, but they require you to passively wait while your chosen students complete them.
The errands in Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story are part of a baffling trend in modern gaming. The inclusion of missions that don’t actually require you to do anything but pass time are an element lifted wholesale from mobile games, usually the ones that require you to pay money to not have to wait. For some strange reason, games that don’t even have the micro-payments in them have decided that these missions are a great idea, and so they’re to be found in everything from RPGs to sandbox games.
The errands are a symptom of a much worse problem that most of Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story suffers from: time-killing. During the school management side of things, you will primarily find yourself waiting around, especially if you’ve made the mistake of setting all of your teams to errands and have to wait for them to be complete before you actually get to do anything. There is no way to speed up time if you’re just waiting for the clock to run down, so if you’re waiting, then you’re in the long haul.
That’s not to say that you don’t have stuff to do while you’re waiting. In each of your buildings you can get special bubbles that pop up, and these contain a little encounter that has happened in the room in question. You’re either given an automatic reward, or you must select the correct answer to get the best outcome which gives you the rewards you want. At first, there’s not much variety in these encounters, and the answers are always the same, so you’ll probably get a little fed up with them. At least it’s something to do during your wait time.
During those wait times, you also have to sign on new students and build new buildings; however, neither of them actually take up that much of your time. The potential students you can sign on are a trickle more than a stream in the beginning, so you probably won’t extract much enjoyment out of them. The act of building itself is awfully similar, you build until you run out of space and then have to wait for your academy to expand before you get to build anything else. This means that most of the time it’s a case of just choosing the order in which you build things.
The actual dungeon crawling is actually pretty fun when you get the chance to do it. It starts out simply and ramps up in difficulty, complexity and intensity as you go. As stated above, you start out mainly just mashing buttons to kill monsters as fast as possible, but once you have knights, mages and other assorted classes to switch between, things get more interesting. You have to make sure to keep your magic classes back and prevent damage while your higher damage/defence classes rock up in the front lines to take down the enemies.
At the end of the day, however, no matter how good the dungeon crawling is, it can’t save the game. The tedious management sections and ridiculous errands aside, Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story suffers from a pretty major bug. About 25% of the time that you load the game up or try to go on a mission, the game gets hung up at loading screens. Not just stuck for 10 minutes, literally completely frozen. It’s one thing to have it happen during a mission loading, but to have to close and reboot the entire game when you boot it from the PS4 menu is completely unheard of, or at least it should be.
The graphics are adorable, the music is so twee that it might actually hurt you to listen to it for too long, and the overall premise isn’t at all too bad, but Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story is let down in the end by poor implementation and optimization. With some tweaks to sort stability and maybe a fast forward option for the school management segments, the game could have been really interesting for fans of dungeon crawlers, but sadly it was simply not meant to be.
Developer: Agate Studio
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch
Release Date: 2nd October 2018