Games aren’t always fantastical adventures about scenarios that could never happen in real life. Sometimes, a little reality slips in as we wander through worlds filled with otter-people and robots. Furyu and XSEED’s Heroland might seem like silly fun. A prince who suddenly isn’t the next in line to inherit the throne heads to a theme park known for its “dark lord” to fight the boss and regain some prestige, and one of the employees is stuck helping him out. Yet there is a lot of truth in this game. In a world where many people might be coming of age and finding it might not be as easy to have their dream job, or even one that pays all of their bills and has considerate management, Heroland taps into the same sorts of struggles.
Lucky, one of Heroland’s two protagonists, is a young man who comes to the theme part with hope in his heart. He wanted to find a place for himself in the world. He wanted friends and a job. Especially since things aren’t great for his family. In the letters he gets from back home, we learn the economy is bad and that none of his siblings were able to find any jobs. In the first letter, we even learn that weddings were call off, due to financial issues, Lucky’s dad is sick, and the parents had to sell off some of their farmland to keep everyone afloat.
We have games were we see economic issues in action. Final Fantasy VII is one example, since Cloud spends time both above and below the plates of Midgar, where the higher and lower class citizens live. We also have Fire Emblem: Three Houses, where inequality is a major plot point. But in Heroland, we have a protagonist who is in the midst of it. Lucky isn’t a hero who is above it all, attempting to alter the status quo as a leader who could help revolutionize a country, or who gets to see the socioeconomic issues as window dressing as he goes off on some other adventure. He is in the thick of it.
Especially since Lucky can’t get out. When he came to the Heroland park, his boss Ada let him know real money wasn’t accepted there. All people get is $tarfish, the official company currency. (I thought it felt like a nod to the company stores in coal mining towns, where the employer would give people vouchers ahead of paydays to use in stores they owned.) Then, after Lucky resolves to quit after his initial tour, there is an “accident” in which a priceless vase Ruby is carrying is destroyed, Ruby blames him when Ada appears, and it is considered “his” fault. Lucky can’t leave until it is paid off.
It might get people thinking about the situations in their own lives where debts sneak up on and hang over them. People could identify with Lucky, because they’ve been there. They’ve had that boss or teacher who seems to have it in for them, even if they are doing their best. There is that coworker or classmate, like Ruby, who seems to attempt to bully or sabotage you for reasons you can’t immediately see. There are the customers, like 18, who might not be “bad” people, but definitely have some unreasonable expectations.
But, in a way, all of this can help make Heroland feel more satisfying. While people might be dealing with these sorts of issues in their own life, Lucky’s virtual problems do eventually have an out. While the things he is going through, the annoying customers he is dealing with, and the hoops he jumps through may be discouraging or frustrating, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel here. We know there is hope for Lucky and that something is building as we go through the game, make friends with 18, and learn more of the theme park’s secrets. While this doesn’t guarantee a happy ending in real life too, maybe this could help provide a sense of hope or at least satisfaction when we’re able to help gradually work toward maybe making Lucky’s life better.
Heroland is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC.