Poor Prince Theo. Not only is his first game still unavailable in the eShop, but his second adventure begins with all of his previous hard work being undone, an evil spirit being set free by would-be grave robbers, the Sword of Hope being stolen, and a young orphan accusing him of murdering his father. He really can't catch a break, can he?
Fortunately for us, Theo's misadventures make for a very good game. While we have to make do with the fact that The Sword of Hope II is available before its predecessor, there's not much room to complain when this game is so much fun. It's got a fantastic soundtrack, lovely visual design, and the opportunity for some serious strategising in the battles. What's not to like?
When the game begins Theo is a lone wanderer, hoping against hope to find some way to undo the evil that's been released into the world around him before it can interfere with the peace in the land. Before long, however, he partners up with others, and it's your job to manage the team's items, armours, and spells. Managed properly you'll have a walking armada of brute force. Misjudge an enemy or an attack, though, and you'll find yourself overwhelmed quite easily.
Luckily, death is not the end in The Sword of Hope II. Should your entire party fall unconscious, you're instantly transported to the first room of the game, where good King Hennessy heals your wounds and sends you back on your way. You have to fight your way back to where you were, of course, but along the way you can rack up more experience and gold, and thus you'll always end up better equipped to handle yourself the next time through.
It's a nice touch that makes the game enjoyable to those who aren't seasoned veterans of RPGs. For those who are, there's still plenty on offer here, including an interesting story that evolves as you progress, and numerous vendors and games of chance that you can use to customise your forces.
Everything in The Sword of Hope II is handled indirectly through menus, including movement, which may seem clunky at first but very quickly becomes easy to navigate. Battles are random — apart from a few preordained ones — and turn-based. You always have as much time as you need to consider your next move. That's important because enemies begin ganging up on Theo almost immediately, and they continue to do so throughout the entire game.
The lack of an in-game map is worrying initially but, with the exception of a few optional rooms, the game world is organized in a pretty linear fashion. You may get lost, but it's unlikely you'll be lost for very long. There aren't any cruel dead ends or mazes here, and there is some admirable effort put into making even similar screens visually distinct from others. Before long Theo can learn a Teleport spell as well, which allows you to warp instantly to any major area you've visited before, thus negating even the smallest amount of confusion you're liable to experience.
There's very little room to complain with this title. Like Avenging Spirit and Catrap before it, The Sword of Hope II is a fine unearthed gem that now has the chance to find a wider audience, and it's particularly welcome in the absence of much else to satisfy RPG fans on the 3DS Virtual Console. It's a great little adventure to have on the go, and we hope we'll soon be able to enjoy its predecessor as well.
The Sword of Hope II is simple but rewarding fun. It doesn't offer much in the way of replay value, but it's absolutely worth experiencing once. The challenge is fair and there are a massive amount of weapons and spells to master, as well as a great soundtrack and some crisp pixel art. RPG fans haven't been particularly well-served by the 3DS Virtual Console, but The Sword of Hope II takes a huge step in making up for that.