There haven't been many new franchises so far in 3DS's short life so far, but RPG masters Square Enix and handheld specialists n-Space are busy preparing a very promising new IP for release in 2012: Heroes of Ruin. We recently went hands-on with the game, and from our early impressions it's one that should hit your radar.
From the off it's clear that Heroes of Ruin's biggest influences don't come from the Japanese giant's revered Final Fantasy series, but Western dungeon-crawlers like Diablo: the combat is entirely real-time, with the main focus being connecting multiple players together, and it's here that the game should make you sit up and listen.
For starters, it's online compatible for up to four players, with Square Enix looking to implement voice chat for parties to make teamwork a little easier. You can open your game to anyone or set private slots if you just want to party with friends, with a friendship levelling system coming into play to reward regular play with the same group. It doesn't matter either if your friends are massively over or under-levelled compared to you: the game will change accordingly, scaling damage down for weaker players and stronger fighters drawing more attention from the enemies. Square Enix also promises that it won't matter if you're further in the story than your friends, or are drastically lagging behind: the concept behind the game is removing barriers that traditionally prevent players partying together.
It's also removing a lot of the other small hindrances that slow down action RPGs, with a particularly quick menu system. If you walk over an equippable item, its statistics appear on the top screen: a quick tap of Up on the D-Pad equips it immediately, while Down will sell it just as quickly. Mapping skills to buttons is easy too: three touch screen buttons represent X, Y and A, and tapping them cycles through your available skills until you've got a set-up you're happy with. You can still go through traditional-style menus if you want more in-depth control.
There's no shortage of skills and character customisation either: as well as the 80,000 or so dynamically-generated items, there are distinct skill trees for each character class with the ability to put your skill points into statistics instead, meaning you could have a group of four characters of the same class but each with totally different statistics and playing styles.
We were also told about some of the game's StreetPass and SpotPass features which should ensure a steady stream of new content, with more information on these due to be revealed later. n-Space is pushing the connectivity features of 3DS more than many other studios so far, and hopefully what we've seen so far is just the start.
The game we played was in an early pre-alpha build, so much of what we were told about wasn't playable at this point, but if n-Space can deliver on the game's potential this could be the best showcase yet for 3DS's connectivity features, even dwarfing Wii's brightest beacons.