Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes (DS) Review

Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is a fantastic strategic role-playing game (SRPG) that deftly uses puzzle-based gameplay to spice up what has become a predictable and repetitive genre. By revamping the complex yet overly passive turn-based combat traditionally found in SRPGs, developer Capybara Games has found a way to open up the genre to players of all experiences. In the same way Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords made role-playing games accessible for the entire market, Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes has the potential to make SRPGs accessible to players who find the traditional combat systems too complex.

Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes takes place in the world of Ashan about 40 years before the events of Heroes of Might and Magic V. The story follows five main characters – Anwen, Godric, Fiona, Aidan and Nadia – as they attempt to recover the Blade of Binding and uncover a mysterious demon plot to bring war and misery to the land.

The story and characters are the usual generic fantasy fare, borrowing equally from Japanese-style role-playing games and the more typical Dungeons and Dragons-style favoured by most western developers. There is nothing terribly wrong with the story, but it does feel as though its main purpose is to support the style and execution of the gameplay rather than the reverse.

Even though the story is a little uninspired, the gameplay is superbly balanced and each battle requires plenty of thought and strategy. The learning curve is gentle to begin with, but soon ramps up considerably, providing a solid challenge for veterans and newcomers alike. Battles are divided into easy to consume, bite-sized missions which are often over and done with in a matter of minutes. This makes it perfectly designed for the Nintendo DS and the short-burst gaming requirements of handheld systems in general.

A hallmark of the most successful games of the Wii/DS generation has been the ability to combine simple core gameplay concepts with a game system that requires plenty of thought and perseverance. The battle system in Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is, at the same time, amazingly simple and satisfyingly strategic, making for a game that encapsulates everything that Nintendo itself has effectively exploited in its most successful titles.

Battles are fought across the DS’s two screens with each combatant occupying one screen each. Battle is turn-based, with each player allowed three or more moves per turn. Troops, which are colour-coded, are initially placed randomly and players must strategically move or remove their units to create a variety of formations. Linking three or more of the same coloured units horizontally creates a defensive wall and linking three of the same coloured units vertically creates an attack. There are other formations that can be used in conjunction with the more powerful special units and these give the player access to more powerful attacks or useful defences. Contrary to what some of the screenshots may look like, it is not a Bejewelled clone. The easiest way to describe it is that it is like a modified version of Puyo Pop, Dr. Mario or Puzzle League, with its own unique rules and twists, and without the time pressure.

While the battle system is unique, the game still features all of the usual role-playing game staples. Units and characters can level up and equipment and artefacts can be equipped to enhance the various abilities of each. There is enough variety in the effects of each item to make a real difference to the strategies employed by the player.

Control choices include touch screen and traditional buttons. Thankfully, each control scheme has been well implemented and navigating the in-game menus and on-screen action is a breeze. Both work well and, in the end, the best scheme comes down to a matter of personal preference.

The visual and audio design is also excellent with plenty of small touches that really make the in-game world feel alive. The 2D sprites are detailed and it is easy to tell the different characters and enemies apart. There is also excellent use of colour and animation throughout the game world, making for a vibrant and convincing fantasy world. The sound design and soundtrack are pretty standard fantasy fare, but what is presented is more than adequate to set the right mood. While graphics and audio have never been the most important aspects of SRPGs, the attention to detail and effort that has gone into making Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes look and sound good is indicative of the overall quality of the title.

The game features a lengthy single player campaign that can easily take 30+ hours to complete. The story does drag on a little and some editing could have helped with improving the pacing, but the continuously challenging gameplay does keep the entire experience interesting. There are also single and multi-card multiplayer modes, which do provide a reasonably well executed distraction from the main game, and a quick battle mode. There is no online mode, which is a poor decision on behalf of the developers as the speedy, puzzle-based battle system would have really suited an online mode with a good raking system.

Overall, Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is a well crafted and well balanced game. It looks and sounds great, controls well and above all it is fun to play. It does more than enough to stand out in the overcrowded SRPG market on the DS and is well-deserving of the attention of not only fans of the genre, but of DS fans in general.

Personal thoughts

I really like this game. It is so easy to pick up and play and the short battles make it perfect for my ride on the bus. The use of puzzle-based gameplay is a masterstroke as it makes the game accessible to so many people who would otherwise be put off by the hideously complicated world of SRPGs. I think the battle system is one of the most original ideas that has ever been implemented into a SRPG and it makes it so much more playable. The battle system also makes me feel far more involved compared to the relative passivity of most SRPGs.

Anyone with even a passing interest in SRPGs should at least give this little gem of a game a try. Even those that are comfortable with the mind-numbing statistics of traditional SRPGs will find plenty to love about Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes.

I do have one complaint though… why do we constantly have to take on the role of children when it comes to strategic war games? Does no one consider that it is morally troublesome to put children in charge of slaughtering thousands of enemy troops in battle? Child warriors are a sad part of real life with children all over the world forced to take up arms against their will. It is sad and horrible, so why do we continually depict children as generals and warriors in games? Just because a game is on the DS, it does not mean that we have to make it ‘kid-friendly’, okay developers?

Graphics 8.0

Colourful 2D graphics are nicely drawn and there are plenty of small animations and touches which really make the world feel alive. Character design is a little generic.

Gameplay 9.0

A fresh, simple take on a genre that is known for being overly complex and overly familiar. Well balanced single player.

Sound 6.0

Standard fantasy fare that works within the confines of the limited hardware.

Tilt 7.0

A long single-player campaign with plenty of side-quests and secrets. Multiplayer is available, but not strong enough to be a big drawcard. Online mode with leaderboards would have been nice.

Value 9.0

I really like traditional SRPGs, but I think this one is really taking the genre in the right direction. Making things simpler can only help the genre appeal to more people and that means higher sales and more SRPGs being made.

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Theo Georga

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