The Hero and the Demon is a beloved fantasy story about a brave hero called the Yuusha saving a princess from a dastardly villain. On one particular iteration of the story, however, something goes wrong. An outside force has corrupted the story, seeking to remake it. Teaming up with the Demon Lord that wants to be different and a Princess searching for a purpose, the Yuusha sets out to stop the Puppeteer hijacking the story.
Today, we return to Torch 60’s work with Brave Hero Yuusha EX, a 2018 commercial remake of his 2015 freeware RPG. This is a definitive version of the game featuring revamped graphics, a remastered soundtrack, better balanced gameplay and a disconnected post-game story.
For most of the game, your party consists of the Yuusha, the Demon Lord and the Princess, who you can freely name. The Yuusha is a physical attack juggernaut with star elemental moves and self-buffs. The Demon Lord has dark-elemental skills like you’d expect, but he is also surprisingly the healer and can inflict poison-like statuses on anyone, while the Princess is a straight mage. Besides some pieces of equipment that gives the mages more physical prowess, there isn’t a lot of divergence from this standard model.
I found the game’s combat to be generally well-balanced, if a bit easy – if you’re looking for challenge, you gotta play on hard. It is overly straightforward, though it isn’t exactly a bad thing if combat is just connective tissue for you when it comes to RPGs. However, a neat thing that players of all stripes could appreciate is that encounters in an area become skippable after you pass a certain level threshold, which is handy for grinding since it acts as a definitive tell on where to stop and gives casual players more of a break.
The gang sets out to fight the Puppeteer, who has commandeered the Demon Lord’s army and has torn voids all across the friendly lands in trying to remix the story. Go into the dungeons, collect story pages to restore the voided out parts, and head to the next place. Along the way, the Puppeteer sets his lieutenants against the party as bosses. Acting as villain counterparts to the heroes, they’re idealized by the Puppeteer as possible replacements to the heroes in his quest to upend the story.
However, remixing a story isn’t exactly a bad thing, at least from the perspective of the main cast. Brave Hero Yuusha takes a look at the basic mold of a “hero saves the princess” story through its characters examining their roles. The Demon Lord questions his motivations in being a villain and the Princess finds enjoyment in having agency as an adventurer and questions her past damsel in distress status. Meanwhile, it’s clear that the Yuusha is extremely reluctant about the quest they were originally assigned to and is only doing it because everyone around them is railroading them.
But the thing is, they’re still fighting to maintain the original story and bring it back together since it’s so beloved. By the end, they’re happily playing into their roles, but doing so with a wink and a nod to each other like they’re actors playing the characters instead of just being characters. While it’s interesting that they recontextualized their roles by the end of the game, it’s kinda bizarre that it’s still in favor of a story they’ve come to question. Like, I think it would have been more compelling if the heroes were to agree with the Puppeteer’s belief in the story needing to be changed and it’s just that they disagree with his creative direction and intent, since he’s only changing things out of malice.
Like, sure, a story can be beloved by lots of people, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be flawed and open to reinterpretation. Like, Harry Potter fucking sucks (shout out to the Shrieking Shack), but people have a better, more positive impression of it through the movie reinterpretations and fandom culture redefining different aspects and fanfiction letting fans create their own versions of the world. Point is, the Hero and the Demon is flawed, but instead of reckoning with it, the characters are like “well, we’re all friends now, but we should still follow our roles,” which still feels weird if you just read their conflict as one about determinism.
Brave Hero Yuusha‘s story also feels further weakened by the outer story. In the real world, a boy named Edward is a huge fan of The Hero and the Demon and wishes to become as heroic and great as the Yuusha – even in spite of his reclusive attitude. He even tries to play into this role by helping out a classmate named Ashlyn, viewing himself as her protector… which winds up leading to some troubling behavior.
My problem is that Edward comes off as really unsympathetic because he’s obsessed with this story to an unhealthy degree without any justification as to why. And like, I’d understand if he’s supposed to be akin to a Twitter weirdo basing their entire personality off a fictional thing, but by the end it feels like he’s supposed to be read as a normal misguided kid. If there was some additional reasoning to his behavior, I’d be more understanding, but it just rings hollow to me. Like hey, give Edward Ashlyn’s back story of losing her parents that doesn’t go anywhere to him to give an emotional weight to his obsession, like The Hero and the Demon being a story they read to him or something instead of him just… being like that.
While the actual narrative of Brave Hero Yuusha falls flat for me, the actual writing of the story is fun. It very much has JRPG parody energy, but it’s very affectionate. All the characters are goofy to some degree, while successfully toning that goofiness down when the game tries to be dramatic. Again, I was into the characters examining their roles in their story, just not their conclusion. I especially like the Demon Lord, who reads to me like Bowser as portrayed in the Mario RPGs, except more ineffectual.
But all things come to an end and we move into the EX version’s exclusive post-game chapter. With the story completed, the trio slips away from their roles to go back to being adventuring buddies. And they have a reason to go on an adventure, because it turns out there’s still some loose ends to tie up. Because the Yuusha involuntarily skipped to the final dungeon, they never collected most of the artifacts the story originally demanded, so the gang decides to set out and collect them.
To keep things from getting stale, the King and his recurring jester, Horace, become new party members that you can switch in. The King has physical variants of fire and ice moves, skills that puts enemies to sleep and has the unique niche of spending money for some skills, which is a useful way of counteracting the endgame issue of having a lot of money and nothing to spend it on. Horace in the meantime is a secondary healer with situational buffs and expanded access to star-elemental skills. As somebody that likes to have all their bases covered, I prefer keeping the Demon Lord over Horace since he’s the only one with dark-elemental skills, but I think the King’s a genuinely useful addition when the situation calls for it.
From here, the game becomes open-ended where you have to go back to past areas to seek out the artifacts. NPCs all get new dialogue, happy but kinda bored with the whole peace thing. Indeed, there aren’t really any stakes. It extremely feels like “RPG player doing sidequests” mode. In fact, you can just kinda fuck off and check out the game’s arena, which tests your understanding of the game’s battle system by fixing your party’s stats and movesets for fights so that you can’t just cheese it with level grinding.
But really, the main meat is the reward you get from collecting all those artifacts. You get an airship that will enable you to go to a shrine that was previously inaccessible and it winds up taking the characters outside of The Hero and the Demon. As it happens, our heroes aren’t the only ones reaching outside of their stories. People from other stories that’s been ignored in favor of the Hero and the Demon are pissed about being forgotten, and they’re more than happy to take their rage out on them as they investigate the library.
And ultimately, I’m kinda mixed about it. In concept, I think a story about fictional characters from one genre of media exploring other ones could be interesting, especially considering that the main plot gave them an awareness of, well, plot. However, all the actual exploration is limited to the library outside of the stories. There’s no banter from the characters either besides from the rival book characters, which may be a consequence of the game suddenly having different party members to account for.
I will say that I liked the final sequence. However, it’s a sequence that can only really be appreciated if you played Torch 60’s other works. It’s not exactly “Two Brothers showing up in YIIK climax” because it’s actually kinda fun, but it’s still something that can only be appreciated if you played Soma Spirits.
The EX version has a very different look compared to the original. The original game’s look (images 1 and 3) is more in like with NES RPGs (especially Dragon Quest) while EX has a softer, cleaner look. It’s more in line with the visual style of Torch60’s later works. The game looks nice and cute and I’m into it. I also really appreciate that even though it’s a small part of the game, I love that the EX chapter gives the separate fiction worlds their own unique looks to contrast with the fantasy RPG you’re used to.
EX also has a remastered soundtrack (both the original and this one brought by SpecialAgentApe) and… it’s not bad at all, but as the game still feels more in line with old RPG sensibilities, playing with the original chiptune soundtrack (which you can readily switch to) feels more fitting.
Brave Hero Yuusha EX was an extremely mixed experience for me. It’s perfectly fine to play, but the story feels half-baked with segments that I thought were bad and segments that could have been explored better. You kinda lose nothing from checking out a game that’s just 3 dollars, but personally, I’d put the time investment in Torch 60’s later works.