Loot-driven role-playing games combine the thrill of slaying terrifying beasts with the lure of earning powerful abilities and valuable gear. It's a delectable rhythm when done right, but when one of these aspects falters, the other invariably crumbles as well. In Heroes of Ruin, the demons roaming the land are little more than hideous pushovers, which diminishes the impact of your plentiful upgrades. Why bother tinkering with your skills when spamming your basic attack is enough to win most fights? This problem overshadows many of Heroes of Ruin's strengths, turning the harrowing life of an adventurer into a pleasant stroll through a monster-infested park.
The fantasy storyline that serves as the framework for Heroes of Ruin gives adequate motivation for your actions, but little more. The many locations your travels take you do a better job of drawing you in than the static cutscenes that detail major events. A deep-sea labyrinth containing jail cells guarded by screaming abominations gives way to a twisted celestial world populated by all manner of demonic creatures. Roaming through dimly lit forests with howling wolves and acid-spitting spiders sends shivers down your spine, compelling you onward to see what horrible creature or creepy locale waits around the bend.
The structure is similar to other hack-and-slash RPGs. After selecting one of four classes (gunslinger, architect, vindicator, or savage), you set off to free the world from imminent destruction. Nexus, a bustling city that serves as your hub, has all manner of individuals in need of help. Some tasks are necessary to progress the plot, but most are ancillary activities to keep your wits sharp and experience points flowing. Although the objective may urge you to find a lost key or collect elf ears, your actions usually boil down to cutting down everything that moves and picking up whatever prize is left behind. Thankfully, Heroes of Ruin does sprinkle in the odd puzzle so your mind doesn't drift to other things. The puzzles aren't too tricky--set off geysers in the correct order or make a path through concentric circles--but they offer good variety and ensure you can't plow through the game on autopilot.
And those moments of thoughtfulness are appreciated considering that most combat is quite easy. When confronted by a shark/man hybrid in the briny depths, you might be scared of this digital realization of the dreaded land shark. But a few swipes from your trusty blade later, the beast is on the ground and you're hunting for more prey. Even the gigantic bosses fail to enliven the experience. Hacking away at a giant squid is as easy as pie, even when its tentacles are sprouting up all over the battlefield. You may have to dip into your reserve of health potions occasionally, but your supply rarely drops much below your carrying limit of 20. Aside from two bosses who have instant-kill attacks, there aren't any who can do enough damage to make you shiver, and even in those fights, they telegraph their moves well in advance so you can safely move to the side before your life is in danger.
A lack of any challenge is a serious problem in Heroes of Ruin because you rarely have to put much thought into your upgrade path. Every time you gain a level, you add a few points into your attributes and then choose a new attack, buff, or passive ability from the skill tree. Poring over the best way to build your character is one of the main draws in loot-driven RPGs, but that appeal is missing here. It hardly matters what you choose. The standard attack is more than enough to dispatch most foes, so discovering advanced tactics to kill more effectively doesn't factor in. The same problems persist with weapon and armor upgrades. Analyzing the pros and cons of each piece of armament is useless since just about any piece of equipment near your level is enough to vanquish those that hound you.
It's a good thing you don't have to stress over your equipment because there are serious problems with how this basic system is implemented. There's no ability to sort your items, so you have to scroll past dozens of items intended for a class other than your own before you find something you can equip. Most of the time, you just end up selling off most of your inventory.
Saving cash for a pricey sword you've been eyeing is part of the hook in action RPGs, but the monetary system in Heroes of Ruin breaks down halfway through the game. There's a cap to how much money you can carry. Once you reach 99,999 gold, you can't sell any more items. There are two solutions, and both of them are messy. You could just dump all of your unneeded items in the corner of a dungeon and then continue collecting more loot that you'll inevitable drop back down. Or, you can go back to town, blow your earnings on useless junk just to spend some money, and then go back out to nab more weapons and armor. Either way, it's a fix for a problem that shouldn't exist in the first place.
Even with these faults, Heroes of Ruin still creates an enticing experience. Cutting nasty enemies to shreds is empowering, even if they don't put up much of a fight, and trying out new abilities gives impressive ways to slay your feeble attackers. Heroes of Ruin also allows for four-player cooperative play, either locally or online, and though the framerate dips a little when playing with friends, the benefits easily outweigh the small hiccups. Mowing through waves of enemies with your buddies by your side is difficult to pull yourself away from, and you can even talk to them via the microphone built into every 3DS.
Heroes of Ruin is a competent adventure that encompasses the key aspects of the genre but never goes beyond the expected. And through your initial playthrough takes roughly 15 hours, there aren't harder difficulty settings, so there's little incentive to go through again. Heroes of Ruin is an adequate hack-and-slash adventure for dungeon hunters on the go, but problems in many areas hold it from reaching its full potential.