Heroine Anthem Zero

A game by WindThunder Studio for PC, Mac, PS4, Switch, and iOS, originally released in 2016.
Heroine Anthem Zero is an action-adventure broken into multiple episodes, with the first being released under several names on different platforms, appearing as Heroine Anthem Zero, Heroine Anthem Zero: Episode 1, and Heroine Anthem Zero -Sacrifice-, with the second episode being called Heroine Anthem Zero: Episode 2 and Heroine Anthem Zero 2 -Scars of Memories-. The game is part of the Heroine Anthem franchise which got its start in with Heroine Anthem: The Elect of Wassernixe and Heroine Anthem II The Angel of Sarem, which only saw release in Asian regions. There are references to the original games, but the new game is meant to stand on its own.

The story begins after the world’s most recent cataclysm, as the world rises and falls in inverse proportion to the greed of mankind. This time around, the world is built around the World Tree Terasyr, which gives rise to Fae folk, who live together in harmony with humans and anthropomorphic animals. But years of prosperity have caused mankind’s greed to rise once again, and a pestilence is spreading through the land. You play the role of Wanin, a Forest Keeper, and his faerie companion Mormolia, as they press into the dark reaches of Longhorn Woods to turn the tide of evil away from the civilization they are sworn to protect.

Wanin begins the game wandering through the forest with his friends, all of whom are Forest Keepers, and they are on the lookout for packs of horned wolves who have been on the attack recently. Right away, the game introduces its brand of humor, with the characters poking fun at one another and generally giving each other a good-spirited hard time. The game is filled with this sort of humor, along with quite a lot of playful, sexually suggestive humor and imagery (or “ecchi” in manga and anime terms). Throughout the game, Wanin refers to his faerie companion as “Fluffy”, or makes references to caterpillars (fae folk apparently cocoon as part of their metamorphosis), and Mormolia insults Wanin’s intelligence from start to finish.

Wanin has a 1x variable jump, and learns how to double jump early into his adventure. The player can double-tap forward to send him into a dash, allowing him to run, jump, and change directions until the player lets off the button or until he runs into a solid object. He can also wall jump, wall slide, and jump up most vertical surfaces. When attacking, he has a fast 3-hit sword slash, and there is no pause between combos, so he can slash away as quickly as he likes. He has a large overhead swing when jumping, but no air combo. With a tap of a button, he can send Mormolia flying forward in a straight line in an attack she proudly refers to as “The Flying Ferret”. This move kills weak enemies outright and stuns larger enemies, including some bosses, allowing Wanin to follow up with sword strikes. There is a long cooldown period after performing this move, with Mormolia letting out a cry when it’s available to use again.

Killed enemies and destroyed objects occasionally drop coins, health restoring food items, axe icons, and vigor icons. As expected, coins are spent in shops to buy weapons, armor, and health restoratives. Food items recover a bit of health on the spot and cannot be stored, with apples restoring a small bit of health and hunks of meat restoring health to full. Axe icons grant a small increase in attack strength for a limited time, and vigor icons grant stronger attacks, larger flaming flourishes that increase the range of attacks, and increased running speed. Up to three vigor icons may be stored, representing three levels of power, but taking a heavy blow causes Wanin to drop these icons, which may be re-collected, but one is always lost in the process.

Combat is not very technical, with most enemies falling in a single strike of the sword, and stronger enemies taking a few strikes, usually being killed within the span of a 3-hit combo with no ability to retaliate. For the most part, the player can run up to enemies and rapidly swing the sword until they are killed. The same works in boss encounters, with the player running up to a boss when it is within striking distance, and mashing the ATTACK button repeatedly until the boss becomes invincible or moves away. Later in the game, the player earns the ability to kick weak enemies and perform a charge attack against shielded enemies, but this amounts to using one type of attack versus another rather than blending attack types together strategically.

Acquiring new weapons grants greater attack power, and new armor increases your total number of hit points. Most of the best weapons require locating a blueprint before they can be built, with many blueprints acquired by defeating bosses, and others hidden around the environment. There are lots of side paths and alternate areas for exploration, with rewards taking the form of large amounts of currency, blueprints, or permanent HP increases. Players may return to previous areas to farm for resources – with even treasure chests reappearing – making it easy to acquire new equipment and stock up on health restoratives and temporary strength increase items.

Health restoratives may be assigned to a hotkey for quick use during combat, and checkpoints appear frequently, making much of the game fairly easy… although players can bump up to the “nightmare” difficulty mode if they like. That said, there are a lot of insta-death bottomless pits, and a couple of areas where you must rely on your wits rather than raw strength and platforming prowess to move forward. Later in the game, the player gains the ability to fast travel between certain points on the map.

Most early quests see you running back and forth on the map to complete minor tasks, and the story takes a long time to really get underway. Furthermore, the game is absolutely packed with dialogue sequences, offering lengthy cutscenes for every major action in the game. This keep the pace very slow, especially in the early going, as there is little weight to the proceedings, and you’ll spend as much time reading as you do playing. Dialogue sequences may be skipped entirely, or the player may press a button to advance to the next line of dialogue… although sometimes he must wait until the voiced dialogue ends before it can be advanced. While much of the back-and-forth character dialogue is mundane, there is some interesting world building, accompanied by beautiful full-screen illustrations, and the game’s pace picks up in the back half of the game with weightier challenges and less dialogue.

Throughout the game, you repeatedly encounter a red-haired cat girl who regularly finds herself in compromising situations, only to be rescued by you before she goes running off again to get into more trouble. Said cat girl, Shama Kutami, becomes a playable character in the second episode. Despite this being an obviously female character, most of the characters refer to her using male pronouns… to the point where it seems like some strange translation issue (for what it’s worth, the translation is generally decent), but it is later revealed that everyone has somehow been fooled into believing that she was male all along. This, like much of the game’s humor, is flat and becomes tiresome upon repetition.

There are lots of areas to explore, including pastoral plains, darkened caves, ancient temples, and a twisted forest infected with some kind of corruption. Players will find themselves hopping through the treetops, jumping across crumbling bridges, kicking bunnies and porcupines into the sky, sliding down walls, dodging thorns, hunting for treasures in hidden alcoves, and activating occasional switches to open doors and solve environmental puzzles. Enemies range from cute (but deadly) forest creatures to the abnormal creatures that lurk within the dark forest.

Aesthetically, the game offers gorgeous environments and some wonderful illustrated artwork for major cutscenes. Character designs are colorful and distinct, even if the characters themselves aren’t terribly well fleshed out by the story. Character and enemy animations are generally simplistic. The game is accompanied by lovely soundtrack, with some sweeping scores during major cutscenes, and the Japanese voice cast includes YĆ«suke Kobayashi and Tomoka Wakabayashi. The Switch version has some significant performance issues, with long load times, woefully unoptimized menu interfaces, and some jarring periodic stuttering.

Heroine Anthem Zero was developed by WindThunder Studio, based in Taiwan. The studio was originally a team within Technical Group Laboratory and worked on the Guardian Sword RPG series between 1998-2000. In 2000, the team became a standalone studio, working on the Heroine Anthem franchise and releasing Heroine Anthem: The Elect of Wassernixe in 2002, and Heroine Anthem II The Angel of Sarem, in 2003. Then, in 2003, the studio became a part of Winking Entertainment.

The game was published by Winking Entertainment, a studio operating in Taipei, Shanghai, and Nanjing. The studio previously published a number of VR titles, including the Unearthing Mars series.