A Healer Only Lives Twice is an original take on turn-based dungeon crawling but it’s execution leaves a lot to be desired. The FingerGuns Review;
The role of the healer in gaming is almost always under appreciated. Whether that be buffing and healing in World of Warcraft or saving everyone’s ass as Ana in Overwatch, medics very rarely get the credit they deserve. A Healer Only Lives Twice turns that notion on its head by forcing you to play as the dutiful healer who is backing up a knight as they try to escape a dungeon filled with slimes, goblins and skeleton warriors.
Firing up A Healer Only lives Twice for the first time is a confusing experience. There’s no tutorial, no guidance, no explanation of anything. You’re met with a cutscene that looks like it’s from a Dreamcast game of a Knight and a Priest who proceed into the deepest sections of a dungeon in order to map it out. Just as they finish and turn to leave, they’re set upon by monsters. In the game you play as the Priest who must heal, buff and guide the Knight to the exit.
Once the game actually begins, you’re met with a mess of a menu that’s almost totally unusable until you’ve trial and errored your way through it. There are bars that indicate your “mana” which allows you to cast magic. There’s a bar which displays your XP, which when filled will allow you to unlock new skills. There’s an inventory bar that contains potions. In a grid below that are the skills you can use. None of this is explained to you. You have to learn this for yourself. It’s an irritating start to the game that leaves a poor first impression.
As you stumble your way through the menu’s trying to figure out what to do, the Knight in front of you will fight the oncoming enemies in turn based combat. You don’t get to play as the Knight but you can guide his attacks towards one of the procedurally chosen enemies on the front row. As he’s hit, you’re expected to heal his body, limbs and head to prevent him from getting injured. When the Knight dies, it’s game over.
On top of the healing is the resource management. Mana recharges during the nighttime hours but during the day, you’re stuck with what you’ve got. You can make potions, healing items, buffs and protections from materials you pick up. The dungeon is dark and you must have a lit torch to light your way. Run out of torches and it’s game over.
Once you die, however you die, the game rests back to the cutscene at the start of the game and presents your previous attempt as a dream that the Priest was having. A Healer Only Lives Twice is a “roguelife” game which allows you to spend any XP earned on any previous dungeon escape attempts on upgrades for the next run. These include reducing the mana cost of certain abilities or unlocking the ability to recoup materials used to overcome a wave of enemies. These upgrades help overcome the random nature of the game but they’re not necessary to clear the game. I almost completed the game purely by accident on my third attempt after everything seemed to fall into place. The game clocks in at around 5 hours for me but I imagine that’ll vary greatly depending on what upgrades you unlock and how lucky you are with enemy and item spawns.
A Healer Only Lives Twice is a lesson in substance over style and usability. The game isn’t visually impressive and the fact that the game just throws you in at the deep end and expects you to learn what to do is either a). A poor design choice or b). Designed to artificially lengthen the game while you scramble up the learning curve. The short length of the game leads me to believe it’s the latter but I think I’d have had a more enjoyable time if the game had told me what to do and had been an hour shorter. It’s a crying shame because there’s a depth of play here that’s unusual to find in a budget indie title.
A Healer Only Lives Twice is an original idea with deep mechanics that’s executed very poorly. While some people might enjoy the repetition and hands off approach to this game, the fact that it is almost entirely menu based and offers no explanation to what anything is or does left a sour taste in my mouth. That taste never subsided, even when I had figured out what each button, gauge and bar was for. I find it hard to recommend A Healer Only Lives Twice to anyone other than the dedicated gaming healers that would like to take a share of the limelight for a change.
A Healer Only Lives Twice is available now on PS4 (review version) and PC.
Developer: PonPon Games
Disclaimer: We purchased a copy of the game in order to complete this review. Please see our review policy for more information.