In Class of Heroes II, your characters are students at a prestigious academy. The institution trains adventurers to solve problems in the RPG world. There's more to the plot, but it's mostly there to justify your party venturing into a deep dungeon and collecting loot. The plot is helped along by a rather energetic translation. A successor to the Working Designs translation style, Gaijinworks gives some personality to what is otherwise a dry game. Comparing the Japanese and English scripts, it's easy to notice some deviation, but usually to make the dialogue a little less boring. The characters are not award-winners, but at least they have personality and it's fun to encounter a familiar face when taking up a quest or two.
Building your party in Class of Heroes II takes time because there are a number of factors to consider. Each character has a few different elements: alignment, class, gender and race. Alignment means your character is either evil, good or neutral. Good characters get along better with other good characters and worse with evil characters. On the other hand, several classes are confined to a specific alignment, so you can't have a good ninja or an evil samurai. We'll get to class in a bit, and gender is self-explanatory. Race determines your character's species, with choices ranging from classics like humans, dwarves and gnomes to more esoteric species, like Celestians and Felpurs. Certain races can't become certain classes, and each race gets along differently with other races.
Once you've created a character, you get to class selection, which is an involved process. Each potential class has a series of restrictions based on alignment, base statistics, and race. You can't become a warrior without a certain level of strength, for example. The exact requirements are helpfully listed in the manual. To meet the stat requirements, you get a randomized number of bonus points that you can distribute. Certain races have an innate preference toward certain classes. Elves have high Int and Spirit and are good choices for spellcasters but poor warriors. Humans are the most well-rounded race but in some ways the most inferior, as their points are spread out instead of focused in optimal areas. You begin with a small selection of classes, but more are unlocked as the game progresses.
It's fun to customize your team, although some of the options feel limiting. I created a good team and an evil team and switched between them when it felt appropriate. As a result, the game felt a little more grindy and a little less free than I would have liked. It was fun to customize my team, and there were a lot of options, even with the restrictions. You can also re-class your characters to get bonus stats or new jobs.
Once you have a team, you can begin exploring the dungeons around the academy. While you can venture into the dungeons once they've been unlocked, it's best to go to the school library and get some quests for the dungeons. Quests are graded on difficulty, but that can be misleading at times. A couple of times, I received an easy quest that was graded much higher than more difficult quests in the same area. Some provide scant details and send you off to get an item or kill a monster. Most of the quests are straightforward and involve going somewhere, collecting something, or killing something.
Dungeons are twisted and complex mazes. Most are laid out in a linear fashion, and it is easy to keep track of where you are and where you're going. Most of the complexity involves figuring out how to get where you're going with the least amount of effort. Your team composition strongly determines how safe it is to explore dungeons. Each treasure chest has a chance of being trapped, and you'll need a party member who can handle traps to collect items without getting a face full of fireball. Perhaps most annoying is searching for secret doors, which can sometimes involve ramming into walls and hoping to find the one you're looking for. Enemies randomly show up, although there are some places where you can take on set encounters for prizes and experience. Most dungeons have multiple exits, which is how you can find new areas or towns to explore and visit.
Combat mechanics follow most JRPG standards. You have access to basic attacks and special magic and skills, which use up some of your MP. You and the enemies take turns pounding each other until one falls. Enemies have elemental and racial strengths and weaknesses to exploit for maximum damage, and certain foes may be in the back lines and can only be damaged by long-range weapons unless you crush the front line. Perhaps the most distinctive feature involves Group Attacks. As you fight, you'll build up a Tension Gauge that can be spent to perform Group Attacks with your entire party. Available attacks depend on your party makeup but can range from powerful superattacks to strong buffs.
Combat in Class of Heroes isn't overly difficult. A good portion of the game involves resource management and damaging enemy weak points. You're most likely to die if you wander into the wrong area or lose track of your hit points and MP at a bad time. Like most dungeon crawler games, the challenge comes in managing your risk and reward. Knowing when to go back is essential to keeping healthy and profitable. There are some risks, however. The "Dead" status is affectionately referred to in the game as "mostly dead." This means that an entire party is mostly dead is defeated and the corpses have been left to molder. Another team can rescue them within a time limit, or the characters are permanently lost. There are several other ways that a character can be rendered fully dead. It's not likely to happen as long as you're careful, but it is possible to lose a character forever. Experience is easy to gain, and leveling up new characters is easy enough.
Class of Heroes II runs into the problem of being rather old-school. The title has many small mechanics that serve no purpose. Take character creation, for example. When you start character creation, you're given a randomly generated number of bonus points, but there's no reason to accept a bad roll. Rerolling involves popping out and popping back in, so this adds a tedious few moments to any new character you create. A lot of information is present only in the game's manual. It's a good and detailed manual, but the information would've been more helpful had it been on-screen so you didn't need to look outside the game for basic details.
Part of the problem is that the game is rather dated. Class of Heroes was originally released in 2009 in Japan, and it feels like it. Multiple Ken to Mahou to Gakuen Mono games have come out since then, including a PS3 port of this very title. It's an improvement over the original Class of Heroes, but it is also clear there is room for some polish. Much of the dated feeling is a rigid adherence to the genre classics. It's an old-school dungeon crawler through and through. There are some nice modern features, like a customizable temporary auto-save that lets you jump back a few moments if something disastrous occurs.
Class of Heroes II isn't the nicest-looking game. The character artwork is bland, the monsters are static, and the dungeons and environments lack pizzazz. This looks like a game that would've been considered plain in 2009. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the lackluster soundtrack. I can't think of a single memorable tune in the game, and it does a poor job of setting the atmosphere for some areas. A good dungeon crawler can live or die on its soundtrack, and Class of Heroes II really could have used more to set the tone.
In the end, Class of Heroes II's most serious problem is that it has competition. Judged on its own, it's a fun dungeon crawler held back by a few annoying problems. For fans of the genre, it's going to be difficult to not compare it to something like Etrian Odyssey 4, which outdoes it in almost every degree. However, that isn't the same as it being a bad game. Class of Heroes II is a perfectly fun, by-the-numbers dungeon crawler. Fans of the genre who've already played through Etrian Odyssey or Unchained Blades will enjoy this title. It does the genre well, if not exceptionally, and it's very easy to pick up and play.
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