Azurebreak Heroes is a quaint game, and I mean that entirely sincerely. The debut game from solo developer Piotr “Onyon” Powroziewicz, Azurebreak Heroes bills itself as “ a 2D RPG with roguelite elements”. I’d say it’s much closer to a roguelite with RPG elements, but that’s just semantics. It is a surprisingly deep game that packs a punch for its relatively simplistic appearance. There’s nothing groundbreaking going on here, but it’s a solid game, particularly for what is essentially one man’s creative efforts.
The story follows heroes on the prison world of Heldia, fighting demons, exploring, and dying a lot as they fight to free themselves. Along the way, you’ll summon various other heroes to help you along on your journey, interact with a variety of silly-but-well-designed characters, unlock and equip various artefacts, and die, a lot.
It’s not snooker
And that story is pretty much not important to the overall running of the game. If you’re here for a particularly deep story, you probably won’t get what you want. It’s functional, but it’s more of a framing device than anything else; but then, that’s true of most roguelikes. But that’s fine; not everything has to have a great mystery, or audio logs to piece together a grand narrative. You have other things to keep you coming back.
For instance, the game is very pretty. It’s very evocative of Earthbound, or Undertale, very simple but effective 2D spriting. Occasionally elements such as cave doors get a bit lost, but in general, the sprite art is nostalgic and pretty. The animations too, are pretty fluid, or at least fluid enough for the art style that they’re going for; again, this game doesn’t mean to excel in its photorealistic graphics, or even be a testament to everything that pixel art is capable of a la a Chucklefish game, but it’s picked an art style that compliments the rest of the game, and it’s seen that through. It’s cohesive and functional, nothing more or less.
Good job, then, that gameplay is great! Simplistic, at least to begin with, but it does get more complicated than you might expect. In typical roguelike fashion, you collect persistent resources that you then can use to impact your procedural runs. You can unlock new skills, often with synergies to previous skills, and the artefacts, though initially being flat buffs, become much more interesting, special abilities and the like. Combine those different artefacts and skills with the 6 unique characters you can unlock, and you have, as earlier stated, a much more complex game system than one might expect.
Music to some ears
The soundtrack could be better, though. In keeping with its vaguely nostalgic feel, the different worlds you travel to are all underscored with midi tracks. That’s a fine choice if it’s used creatively. However, I would say in this instance; the midis aren’t used incredibly well. The loops feel too short, and the tracks all sound sort of same-y. That’s how I’d categorise the sound design for a lot of this game; it feels very repetitive. The tracks themselves do sound great, whoever made them clearly is talented, but potentially there weren’t enough of them? Whatever the reason, I would say this is certainly an area for improvement.
The controls are responsive, but slightly janky. Not in a major way, it moves around fluidly enough, and the skill actions come off cleanly and effectively. The only issue I slightly take is that hit detection can be quite off. You can miss a hit that definitely felt like it hit because the enemy is slightly too far above you, and you can hit an enemy that should be too far off to your side that it should miss. This happens consistently enough that it’s pretty frustrating not being able to trust consistently you’ll hit with your weapon, especially in a game that emphasises hit-and-run tactics. But, it’s not game-breaking by any means.
In all, I’d say this game is a fantastic showing for what is essentially a solo project. I think after the Herculean effort that was Stardew Valley, we tend to expect a lot from solo games. This isn’t as full-featured as some games; it’s also not as long. It occasionally doesn’t go far enough in some of its endeavours, which is perfectly understandable given the scope. The criticisms feel more like missed opportunities than outright bad choices, but that is to be expected with a game of this magnitude. It shines in some areas; it’s RPG elements are a particular highlight. Where it doesn’t shine, it’s not bad per se, more just a little lacklustre. It’s a perfectly fine game to sink some hours into, easy to get into, easy to stay attached to.
[Reviewed on PC]