Immediately upon starting our demo of Heroland, one thing is clear - it's a JRPG unlike near anything else on the market. Instead of directly engaging in combat you're "guiding" your parties actions, and most of the time they'll be acting autonomously on their own. Indeed, your traveling companions themselves aren't actual heroes, but rather tourists to "Heroland" - the setting of the game, a tropical resort island designed to let people fulfill the fantasy of being a hero. In fact, it's even your employer, as you guide wannabe heroes through their quest.
It's a unique premise for an unorthodox RPG, one filled with talent that worked on Mother 3, Fantasy Life, Legend of Mana, and more. Want to find out an enemy's weakness? Stand in on a meeting as they literally tell you their plan of action, and what you need to know since they aren't just "enemies", but also your own co-workers! Want to get new equipment for your party? Head to the gift shop. It's quirky, it's weird, and it's a breath of fresh air.
Combat isn't exactly deep, and most of its intricacies come from your party management rather than any actual tactics during the battle. Your party members will, for the most part, move on their own in real-time. Once your party members or an enemy decide on an action, a bar will act as a timer underneath a text box denoting said action - this gives you time to "guide" your party members that might be in harm's way, and let them know what to do. Let's say an enemy is targetting Prince Elric, but he's being stubborn and readying an attack of his own. You can tell him to focus on defense to prevent this horrible mistake in the making.
Once a battle is finished, you have the option to choose who gets what spoils. What you'll receive from each battle depends on what enemies you're facing, and what they're carrying at the time - something that you can glean from meetings with your co-workers before delving into the dungeon. Letting a party member receive a gift raises their morale, which makes it easier for them to learn new moves, and of course, they get to keep the gift as well. If you choose to keep an item for yourself, you can sell it in a shop later for money to go towards other goods.
It was a little hard to get a feel of the game's soundtrack with such a limited time to play it, within such a crowded space, but the game's visuals were easy enough to parse. XSEED claims that the art director worked on MOTHER 3, and the character sprites definitely exude a similar style. It's about a half-step from being a carbon copy of the aesthetic, even, but I won't complain - it fits the tone of the game, and if it's coming from the same artist, it's not like it's plagiarism either.
Heroland reminds me, in many ways, of Half-Minute Hero - one of my favorite titles from XSEED's lineup years back. Both titles are a quirky take on the jRPG genre, that almost distill them down to their very essence to try something new. Whether or not Heroland's full release will land as well as Half-Minute Hero did for me way back when, we'll have to see, but I'm eagerly awaiting its Fall 2019 release to see more.