Celestial Heavens Review:

Clash of Heroes

This latest entry in the ever-expanding Might and Magic franchise is a very nice puzzle-based RPG for Nintendo DS, along the lines of Puzzle Quest and (in my opinion) its superior follow up Puzzle Kingdoms. Although I have only completed what I believe to be about 60% of the game as of writing this, I can safely say that this game does raise the bar for this style of game.

Gameplay

As with other games of this style, you take the role of a new hero, and battles are resolved through a puzzle game. Unlike the others, however, you only have access to one half of the board, and you fight your opponent’s forces on the other side. Battles involve not only making the usual lines of 3 or more items, but there is a lot of strategy on how, where, and when you make them.

The story is what you have come to expect from an Ashan storyline. The time of an eclipse is nearing, and the demons of Sheogg are once again planning an invasion. At a secret meeting to discuss the protection of a demon-controlling artifact, the guardians are ambushed and killed, leaving their heirs to barely escape (guess who your heroes are?). The story unfolds through campaigns focusing on each faction. Each one takes another of these heroes, and follows his or her quest to recover the artifact and repel the demon invasion before it is too late. Meanwhile, the demons are fomenting war between the allied nations, and so you need to expose this plot as well.

You find gold, ore, and gems in caches, through winning battles and completing quests. Use these to purchase those elite and champion troops. Many quests will also award you with an artifact. These give all sorts of abilities, sometimes even fundamentally changing one of your unit’s special abilities. You can only equip one at a time, however, so choose carefully.

Let’s take a closer look at the battle system.

Battles take place on a twelve by eight grid. The bottom six by eight is your staging area, while the top six rows belong to your enemy. Although some battles start with a preset army configuration, your units will usually be placed randomly. You have three types of units. There are basic units, called “core” units, advanced or “elite” units, and master or “champion” units. You always enter battle with three basic units (you may have duplicates) in the three colors for your faction. These units are unlimited in supply. You can also have up to two different units from the elite and champion levels. These units, however, need to be purchased from dwellings on the map (so at the start, you don’t have any of them). Next, your hero has a leadership skill. This tells you the maximum number of units you can have on your field at one time. More units are usually better, as you have more to work with, but congestion on your field can also be a problem.

All units automatically move as close to the middle of the battlefield as they can while staying in their column (so your units move up, the enemy’s move down). On your turn, you are given a certain number of moves to work with your troops. Usually, you get three moves, but there are exceptions, and you can earn more for forming combo. A move can be any one of three actions: First, you can take the bottom unit from any column and move it to another column, provided that there is space for it, and it is idle. Second, you can remove any wall or idle unit from your battlefield. Third, you can call for reinforcements, which calls out as many random creatures as your leadership allows.

Now, you might ask, what is an idle unit? Basically, an idle unit is one that is not preparing to attack the enemy. Once a unit is given attack orders, you cannot do anything else with it. You put a core unit into attack mode by lining up three of the same color vertically (note that units of different colors will not match, even if they are the same unit). There are special configurations needed to have an elite or champion unit attack, but the same principle applies - you need core units of the same color as the stronger unit. Once a group of units are set to attack, they move in front of any idle units, and begin to charge their attack. The stronger a unit is, in general, the more turns it takes before it reaches full strength and can attack. For example, elves can attack quickly in one turn for minimal damage, while an angel can unleash a devastating blast, but takes six turns to shoot. Once a unit attacks, it is removed from the battlefield (even if it survives the attack). When a unit is done charging, it crosses the battlefield to the enemy. When (if) it encounters an enemy, they fight, the stronger getting weakened, and the weaker being destroyed. If the attacker survives, it continues to the next defender. If it gets all the way to the other side of the battlefield, all remaining strength is used in an attack on the enemy commander. Note that all elite or champion units that are killed while idle or defending are lost from your supply, and will need to be replaced - and they usually aren’t cheap!

Of course, there are advanced techniques, which involve getting multiple same-colored units to attack simultaneously, and identical units in one column. Although these techniques often require wasting a move, they are usually worth it. Damage done to the enemy commander, or taken by your hero also charges your spell meter. When it is full, you can cast a powerful spell. This doesn’t even cost an action to use! Keep an eye on enemy heroes, though - they have a spell also. If you line up three or more core units of the same color horizontally, they are replaced by a wall, which generally has much better health, but cannot attack. Walls move to the front of their columns, and weak walls combine to form stronger ones. Note that walls count towards your leadership limit, so if you play too defensively, you will find it hard to pull off an attack - but you can always use a move to remove a wall segment.

Most battles go on until you defeat the enemy or are defeated, but there are also special cases. Also, many core units (and all elite and champion units) have special abilities. This makes for an enormous range of possibilities, and strategies do need to change based on the units being used.

Factions

There are five factions in the game: Sylvan, Haven, Necropolis, Inferno, and Academy. Each faction has its own theme for abilities. For example, many haven troops heal units or the hero when preparing to attack. Most necropolis troops have combat abilities that weaken or outright destroy enemy units. Knowing the strengths of the units is important to defeating enemies and defending yourself. Each faction also has distinct hero abilities. The type of wall formed by defensive units is determined by this. Also, the magic spell you can cast varies by faction as well.

Winning battles earns experience for both your hero and the units you brought into the battle. When a unit gains a level, it gains points in attacking power and/or defensive power. When a hero gains a level, he/she gains maximum health, leadership skill, and sometimes wall strength.

So, who will enjoy this game?

If you loved Puzzle Quest, or any of this style of puzzle RPG, this is a must-buy game (if you own a DS, of course). I won’t quite go so far as to say this game justifies buying a DS just for it, but it is close. The varied styles of play needed for each faction, as well as the problem solving needed in some of the side quests makes this a very enjoyable game. So far I have put in about twenty hours, and it is not feeling repetitive at all. This is helped by the fact that random encounters can be avoided, so you don’t need to fight them if you don’t want to. If you enjoy this type of game, then it is a bit heavier on the strategy side. If you like a lighter game, this may be at your upper limit, but it is by no means an overly hard game. (although the boss battles might be a bit hard on you).

What about the Might and Magic enthusiast? The story continues the current world setup. If you liked the story, this is more of the same. However, I find that the events are well done, and the story is quite interesting. There are interspersed bits of levity that serve to lighten the tension, and during the necromancer campaign, I actually caught myself laughing at some of the events (in a good way). You will not be disappointed in this. The strategy level, in my opinion, is higher than in other games of this genre, so if you are more a Heroes player than Might and Magic this would go nicely for you as well.

In summary:

This is a title that anyone with a casual interest should try, and fans of the game style should almost certainly get a copy.


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