There’s two ways you can experience this game, through the pixel-perfect retro grade lens of the DS or in stunning high definition redrawn artwork on the Playstation 3 (a port later used for the X-Box 360, PC and mobile devices). Both are excellent, but how does a series like Might and Magic make the jump from epic fantasy RPGs to puzzle hybrid?
Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes manages to fuse the RPG experience into a puzzle-game formula in a manner that’s not been seen before or since, although fan outcry for a sequel has been high. More than any other title it’s taken what makes a sprawling epic RPG to heart and done its best to replicate that story, characters and stakes in a manner that doesn’t grind against the puzzle elements. Might and Magic has always been a diverse brand, with almost 60 titles in its lineup at the time of writing, and after the release and success of ‘Puzzle Quest’ and its failure to capitalize on the same epic concepts for a sequel, stepped in to throw their own hat into the ring.
Graphically the version game I’m reviewing is the HD remastered edition for consoles because it’s seen the most ports and conversions. I loved the DS edition however and felt that the sprite work showed an above average level of quality. The remaster redraws every asset the game has to offer as 2D illustrations, often animated to a high quality. Backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous to look upon and character artwork is crisp and well defined. Visually the style of the game is more cartoony than Might and Magic usually venture, but it serves the feel of this title perfectly. Touches such as transparent layers on ghostly sprites that fade in and out of sight as the animation rolls are well implemented and battle animations are smoothly shot. There is very little to complain about in the presentation of the game, although the loading screens are a tad dull (inspired by the Dragon Age school of ‘let them learn while they wait’ mechanics) and the price for such fine artwork at such a high visual definition is some longer loading times than expected.
The game makes good use of sound effects in place of voice acting to give a feel for what each character is like through small noises they make and the sound of their gear in action. Everything has a very solid feel that is accompanied by the sounds you expect, especially choosing an action and setting it on its course, which feels nicely final. Musically the game has some excellent tracks that set the tone of the piece and reflect the nature of each of the story’s chapters. There’s not a stand out track among them however, leading to an overall feeling of high quality that never quite peaks into a single ‘theme’ that stands out above the rest. This may be because the game chooses to focus on multiple protagonists in separate chapters and so a single theme never recurs enough for the player to latch onto it. A voiced narrator does drop into the game at intervals to fill the player in on events at the start of each chapter and sounds suitably in character for the tone of the game.
The games story sits in cannon between ‘Heroes of Might and Magic V’ and after ‘IV’, acting as a sort of prelude to some of the themes and historical events mentioned in V and Dark Messiah. This adherence to the series timeline acts as a strength to the narrative, allowing for a sense of history and placement into a bigger world than what we get to see. The game’s story mode centers on its five main protagonists by the names of Godric, Aidan, Anwen, Nadia and Fiona. Each is linked by a shared tragedy at the games outset and scattered as a result of a failed evacuation spell, leading to them each starting a force to combat one element of the villain’s schemes. A demon lord plans to open the gates to hell and using a powerful relic will bind the monsters within to his service. The narrative is told through conversations between characters, narrative moments and through play as events unfold. A key part of the villain’s scheme is to try and turn the multiple allied races against one another and this is well handled as each action you take genuinely feels like your unpicking the work he has done to do so. A standout character from this narrative is Fiona, who is killed at the game’s opening and manages to work her way through the underworld, thwarting the demon lord’s schemes from the other side with an army of ghouls and spirits. In less careful hands her story could have come off as silly, but instead we are treated to something amusing but sad in tone.
Gameplay is split between exploration, conversations, mini-quests and shopping on the map for each location. Usually spread out over several areas these maps allow for movement between nodes in a linear fashion before opening up to include random encounters as well as pre-scripted ones and puzzles that require careful movement to avoid starting over. You can dodge an unscripted battle with a quick button press to avoid the attacker entirely, which is great for passing through dungeons on your way back to a previous location, and you can acquire bounties from mercenaries to add extra challenging optional fights for big rewards. The game uses a few currencies which make you have to think about which units to replace in your troop when things go south, with the bigger more devastating ones requiring an investment. Everything levels up to 5 including the player in each chapter before starting over, and doing so quickly makes the game less of a stiff challenge in the latter half of each story. Equipable artifacts found in chests require some seeking out but offer a variety of different combat bonuses, allowing you to have as many as you can carry but only use one at a time. Combat is a puzzle where you rank troops into threes over multiple turns to activate their attacking the opposite side. Walls and enemy units shield the damage line for both player and opponent and you’ll want to avoid receiving too much punishment. Each character has their own special move that can be triggered when a counter has filled and can turn the tide of a losing battle early in the game. Lining your forces up a matching three vertically triggers their attack countdown, whilst horizontally immediately turns them into a wall to catch damage. Bigger monsters take up more space and need to be powered by smaller monsters of a matching colour stacked behind them in order to start their own countdown to attacking. If it sounds complicated, relax because it works fluidly from the word go. Puzzles can also be attempted where situations are presented to the player and a limited number of turns can be used to beat them and earn rewards. Some battles change up the victory conditions and boss encounters are a particular treat. If all that weren’t enough then you can launch online to combat other players with everything you’ve accomplished so far in the game (though some hardcore players will destroy you!) and each chapter has special hidden powerful units to unlock and the option to drop back into it to level those characters further. In all it’s a very complete package. An expansion pack with an additional challenge exists for the Playstation version of the game that now sells bundled with it as well for those craving more.
In all Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is the Puzzle/RPG hybrid we thought was possible when Puzzle Quest first tested the water. The mobile markets have been flooded with match-three games with light RPG elements lately and some (such as Spellfall) have done a good job of quelling both the feel of turn based combat and exploration, whilst thousands of others fail to provide an experience other than asking for more money, and yes I include the new Puzzle Quest title in that category as well. This game is the defining entry into the genre for many and shines across all ports as a work of genius. Invest in a copy immediately and you won’t be disappointed.