Early on in Loop Hero, I earned an extra card called Blood Grove. This card could only be placed next to Grove cards, which spawn an enemy every two days. I had been placing cheerful little Groves along my loop, my hero steadfastly slaying each rat dog that the forest spawned. When a Blood Grove is next to a Grove, though, when any enemies on that tile fall to 10% of their health, they'll be eaten and absorbed by the Blood Grove. It applies to all enemies, too, not just the ones spawned by the grove. Putting these two cards together was a synergy the game offered to me, and I took it up on it.
I stacked Groves and Blood Groves next to each other, watching the rat dogs being devoured by the bloodied roots of the forest. Then an idea struck—why not put a Vampire Mansion next to all these groves, putting them within the radius of their vampiric powers? All creatures within the radius of a Vampire Mansion steal health from the enemy they're attacking. Using all three of these cards in combination made it slightly easier to defeat enemies that gave me trouble before, especially the Vampires. The life sucking fiends would eventually be consumed, themselves by the roots of the Blood Grove. I imagined my little hero smirking as the nightstalkers ended up tangled in roots and vines, the predator now hunted.
It was I who learned a real lesson: several loops later, a shambling Flesh Golem lumbered out of the Blood Grove. A Flesh Golem is the reconstituted flesh of the enemies that had been fed to the forest. Now, the forest would feed on me. My looping hero died to the frankensteined creature's slow, powerful swing. He was sent back into the liminal existence of the sole remaining village, his goal of remembering and rebuilding the world once again thwarted by the world itself.
Loop Hero is a game about waking up every day and doing your silly little tasks: slaying slimes, hoarding loot, and rebuilding existence as you used to know it. It's about the titular looping hero, so named because all he does as a character is walk along a pre-set track. As a player, you have a deck of cards that change the kind of monsters or environments that he encounters when placed on the loop. When the hero runs into an obstacle in the loop, you won't have control over his attacks, but you can set him up for success by equipping new weapons, armor or accessories that you win from defeating monsters.
Loop Hero's world is one that's not just empty, waiting for the player to fill it, but a universe that's inherently cruel. The hero of Loop Hero is the only one who can remember the old world, and it's implied that by placing cards on our loop, we are helping him rebuild the world. It's just that each new card placement reveals something more haunting and grotesque than the last. As time went on, I couldn't help but identify with this wandering hero's plight. He's the only one who remembers existence, and even if his memories of the world are ones that indicate its cruelty, he's still trying to put the pieces back together.
One of the most appealing things about Loop Hero is in the way it allows you to discover its parts. The game is as complex as you want it to be, and can become extremely complicated indeed as you gain more and more cards. Some of the interactions between cards can only be discovered by placing them in certain combinations, sometimes transforming them into entirely new tiles.
After placing ten Forest cards, a new tile appeared on my loop that was similar to, but not the same as the Villages that I'd placed manually. Villages are tiles that heal you, and that healing is enhanced by placing a Wheat Field next to it, so I decided to see what would happen if I placed one next to this ersatz village. Instead of a Wheat Field, the tile transformed into an Overgrown Field. It's not a real village, so no one was there to tend to the wheat. Oh, and also the field was sentient and full of knives. It's enough to make you ask why you're rebuilding a world that seems determined to hurt you.
Every day, I wake up and enter a world of horror, one where each day seems as numbingly same-y as the last. I'm yearning for a return to an old version of this world, one that is now little more than a memory for me. Loop Hero's ultimate fantasy is the feeling of control, even if that control is ultimately illusory. The hero's memories can be made into flesh, or stone, or even a running river. Even though the mermen in the river want to kill me, and gargoyles that fly down from the mountains also want to kill me, and the Flesh Golems rising from the forest also want to kill me, the hero does have the ability to rebuild. What he finds is not what you always expect when placing down a tile, but the chaos is what proves that the world is truly living.