Tactical games appear to be this year’s Match-3, with every other title on the app store lately throwing its hat into the ever-growing ring of titles chasing the status of top-dog. What was an almost exclusively paid game genre is quickly seeing freemium entries that have very different takes on how the same content can be presented.
Unlike ‘Fantasy War Tactics’ which had a very Nippon Ichi inspired take, Heroes Tactics feels like it’s riding the recent success of games such as ‘Battleheart Legacy’, with a cartoon style that’s western in origin and easily accessible. More streamlined in its systems than ‘Fantasy War Tactics’ however, Heroes Tactics feels like an introduction to the genre for new players.
Graphically the game has a great deal of charm, with small characters represented in animated 2D using a clean illustration style reminiscent of high-end flash games. Characters are not sprites, but rather moving illustrations that show a great level of detail on a mobile screen, and possess a charm that turns even fierce Griffins cute. Menus show a huge amount of character, looking great and featuring small artistic twists that help to keep the whole game feeling high-quality, and the games central hub is a nice multi-layered panoramic view of a city that greets the player upon starting the game.
The sound effects presented in Heroes Tactics are a little on the cartoony side, this will either play up to the games visuals or break the immersion for you because there’s no effort to present a serious tone using the sound samples the game provides. Musically the game does a better job of marrying the fantasy setting with the cartoon-like visual style that the game has achieved. Gamex present us with a genuinely nice title theme and the battles are kept interesting with a melody that presents a sense of danger without falsely promising pace and action in a tactical environment where thought and a slower pace are the desired effect.
There’s not an abundance of story in Heroes Tactics, but there is a whole lot of world-building. The game feeds you snippets of dialogue between your party and opposing team as you start combat, which can range from ‘I hate thieves’ to ‘You’ll never take me back to the city alive, I’m done with the Knights I tell you!’ and every item or location has descriptive text attached as to its function or origin in the world. Many elements of gameplay that people take for granted (menus for example) are explained with an in-game purpose and help to immerse the player that little bit more. That said the lack of a decent story to engage you as you take on the linear campaign is a wasted opportunity, with snatches of ‘go here to do this’ having to work overtime.
Gameplay takes place across a linear map that follows way-points that act as location in which battles can occur. Each battle is heavily pre-set, meaning that there’s no randomised content to be found here and battles can be replayed as many times as necessary in order to achieve all three stars for your performance or to grind experience for low level characters. Battles themselves take place on a hexagonal grid with character moving according to their speed stat, though able to defer their action to the end of a turn or block to skip entirely. Each different unit type has a pre-set movement range and attack type, with archers able to shoot long distances but gaining better damage whilst within a 5-tile radius of the enemy whilst knights can take a battering and counter attacks. Each character type has a special meter that when full triggers a special attack that can easily be implemented by tapping their portrait on their turn in place of a regular action. Attacks usually involve clicking an enemy in range that is highlighted with the blade icon to represent their availability as a target, then selecting which square to attack from. This moves the character to that spot and triggers the attack. Moving on its own occurs when any non-monster spot is clicked and can accidentally cost you a turn if you’re not careful. You’re given the opportunity to choose which units to field and where they start on the field before a battle, with some areas featuring different types of terrain to help/hinder you. It’s extremely straightforward with one side winning when the other is dead, and many battles play out like a puzzle rather than battles in their own right. Grinding isn’t always necessary, but occasionally levelling a character will cap. When this happens you will have to promote them by equipping a set of relevant items (found in battles or bestowed upon you from a daily free-draw mechanic if not available in the handy shop). This not only removes the cap but turns them into all-round better characters to use, unlocking new skills. Outside of the main map on which the single player experience takes place there’s a PVP arena, store, tutor and fountains from which items can be drawn for free, all set within the fictional city you’re adventuring out of. Mechanically they work well, and regular challenges and quests can help to fill out your purse. The game largely uses gold as currency, but a premium version does exist (I’ve yet to feel the need to buy or use any) and all of the games various units can be recruited if you collect enough of their tokens.
Overall, Heroes Tactics isn’t trying to reinvent the genre. It’s a little over-simplified in places in all honesty and may not be to the tastes of a ‘Disgaea’ or ‘Final Fantasy Tactics’ veteran, using combat as a series of puzzles rather than as a traditional battlefield. What it does do however is create a uniquely accessible take on Tactical battles than anybody can pick up and play in relatively short order without a lengthy tutorial period. The games visuals and dedication to having gameplay all flow from the setting, sinking menus as houses in town and pulling items from the fountain at its centre, works extremely well. It’s only a shame that it requires a constant internet connection because many elements of the linear campaign would work just fine offline given the chance. As it’s free I advise people to download and experience it for themselves.