Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes - Staff Review  

Dare to be Surprised
by Sam "Nyx" Marchello

20-40 Hours
+ In-depth combat system.
+ Lots of additional battles and side quests.
+ Great to play in bursts or in longer sessions.
- Visuals and music are fairly average.
- Frustrating boss battles.
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   On the surface, Capybara Games' Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes looks as though it could be a rip-off of the popular Puzzle Quest franchise. Considering Puzzle Quest could barely hold my attention, I was quite skeptical at first about Capy's puzzle/RPG hybrid. It wasn't until my visit to Capybara's studio back in August that I became less cautious of Clash of Heroes, and found myself overjoyed by the amount of variety that the game offers.

   Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes is considered a prequel to the enduringly popular Heroes of Might & Magic V. In the world of Ashan a war is on the rise as the demons imprisoned in the world of Sheogh seek a power known as the "Blade of Binding." During certain lunar eclipses known as Blood Moons, the walls that surround the demon world are weakened, causing restless demons to take up arms, plunging Ashan into deadly war. Whoever possesses the Blade of Binding has the ability to paralyze demons to their will, yet under the power of a demon the blade would allow for the total control of Ashan by demonkind.

   The story begins with five main protagonists: Anwen leads the elven faction, Godric commands his mighty knights, Fiona wields the power of the undead, Aidan harness the power of demons, and Nadia controls wizards. Upon their meeting in the Irollan forest, the relations of the protagonists who sealed the Blade of Binding in a previous war are murdered by Azexes and his horde of demons. However, Azexes' goal of retrieving the Blade of Binding doesn't exactly go according to plan when the children survive. Rushing to a nearby portal, Aidan, Fiona, Godric and Nadia escape, while Anwen is left behind to fend for herself.

   Clash of Heroes is built into five chapters, each focusing specifically on one protagonist. Each chapter offers a glimpse into the lives of the characters as they struggle to find the Blade of Binding, and seek retribution on Azexes and the demons of Sheogh for the murder of their families. The writing in Clash of Heroes is very strong, demanding that players care about the protagonists and their collective effort to save their world before it's too late. While the story is strong, some of the situations are more affecting than others, causing personalities to seem hit-or-miss. The chapters of Finoa and Aidan in particular truly showcase their strength of character, while others such as Godric struggle far more to add flavor to the story.

My, my, aren't we just attractive? My, my, aren't we just attractive?

   Combat is Clash of Heroes' strongest aspect, and Capybara delivers many variants to keep the combat system from ever feeling stale. Unlike Puzzle Quest, both the top and bottom screens of the DS are used in combat: the top screen showing enemy movements while the bottom screen is controlled by the player. Each of the five factions has three unit levels: cores, elites, and champions. These units level up as the characters level up. The main units cap at level ten, and the various units cap at level five. During combat players must match corresponding units together by colour and type. Join three units together to create charging troops, or if players connect three units of the same type and colour side-by-side protection against enemy soldiers is created. There are also advanced tactics to employ as well. For example, linking two sets of the same unit together creates a chain-link, while fusing soldiers that are already charging again with the same colour and type creates a more powerful fusion attack. By creating links and fusions, players can gain extra turns, and battles will play out better with additional turns.

   Larger units such as elites and champions have long charge times, but also have special abilities that can be invoked during combat. For example, certain druids and mages in Anwen and Godric's chapters will heal the protagonist as their attacks charge, while zombies in Fiona's chapter can cause poison to an enemy unit by simply charging at them. There are many different types of units that players can use, and combinations are endless once players acquire elites and champions in each chapter. Since every unit has a special ability, players can mix and match according to play style, however if elite or champion units are destroyed in battle they must be repurchased at their corresponding monuments for a fairly hefty price. Main units such as the protagonists have special abilities that are charged either through chain creation or being struck by the enemy. For example, Nadia can harness the power of lightning, Anwen can snipe enemies from a distance with her bow, and Fiona can steal the souls of the undead to launch a poisonous bullet.

   Leveling in Clash of Heroes is incredibly important in how combat plays out. Being one level lower than the enemy can mean the difference between victory and defeat, and sometimes even having a good strategy might not be enough. Thankfully, there are plenty of options to level units and the main character, and these options are not limited to simply defeating the enemy. Even at max level, some battles are fairly challenging, even frustrating because of the enemy's overpowering strength. This is why the game offers many side battles that way there are plentiful opportunities to level up units without having to walk all over the map for tedious grinding. Some battles may not require that the enemy be vanquished, but instead might ask players to hit a specific target on the battlefield, or protect an item on the field. Sometimes the requirements may simply be using units to open doors. There are also special puzzle battles which give the player a precise number of units that must be used to defeat all enemies in one round.

   Despite the plentiful content and in-depth battle system, the visuals seem to lack the same richness offered by the gameplay. The backgrounds and character sprites are very simplified, and while they don't detract from the game, they aren't particularly remarkable. However, the character portraits and artwork used to portray the plot is visually stunning and shows immense detail. The art direction is mostly strong, but the sprites lack detail.

Poor Fiona. All pale and undead. Poor Fiona. All pale and undead.

   The music is also fairly average, and not a lot of the tracks really stand out. That being said, the music does fit the atmosphere of the game and highlights the emotions that play into the plot. Personally, I didn't find the music very engaging, but it does its job to fit the tone and atmosphere of the game very well.

   Clash of Heroes' main campaign takes roughly thirty hours to complete, and probably closer to thirty-five depending on how much optional content is completed. This is a game that demands the completion of the vast majority of its content, especially if players want to gain more cash. The majority of special items are acquired through chests or by defeating important enemies along the way. The difficulty in Clash of Heroes is fairly moderate, though the boss battles are immensely challenging and are borderline painful depending upon how the battle proceeds. Even so, the majority of battles are a lot of fun and usually don't pose too much of a challenge.

   Capybara Games has done a phenomenal job creating a very unique RPG/puzzle hybrid that will keep gamers happy. This is a fantastic game to play at home in bed for a few hours straight, or it can be played in bursts on a commute to work. Not only does the game feature a lengthy campaign, but it also offers a local multiplayer experience, along with a quick play feature that has a sliding difficultly. Those who seek something with a lot more depth than Puzzle Quest as well as a unique challenge will have no problem deriving enjoyment from Clash of Heroes. While Clash of Heroes may seem like the underdog for DS Game of the Year, those who have discounted this quirky title out may be missing out on a remarkably refreshing new experience.

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