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‘Hero Emblems II’ Review – There’s No Catch to this Match

100x100bb 8Seven and a half years ago, the original Hero Emblems ($2.99) was released on the App Store. Just under six years ago, its sequel was formally announced and a trailer was shown. A couple of weeks after that, I played Hero Emblems II ($6.99) for the first time while attending the 2016 Tokyo Game Show. At that time, the folks at Heat Pot Games told me that the game was still a ways off from release, with a late 2017 date at the absolute earliest.

he2 battle origWell, they didn’t tell me any fibs. It was indeed a ways off release, and I honestly had tossed it in the Sword of Fargoal, Princess And Knight, and Questlord bucket of games whose sequels had gone out to buy some smokes one day and never came back. So when Heat Pot Games announced a release date for the game and even went so far as to put up a preorder page on the App Store, I was pretty surprised. I’m not even going to try to speculate what took so long. Making games is a complicated business, especially for small teams. But I’m happy that it finally made it to the finish line.

It’s weird to look back at that video I took at TGS 2016 and see just how much of the final game’s core elements were already in place. The party members shown in that version are here and their sprites look about the same. The board and the pieces you match on it look almost identical. Even some of the distinct elements of the sequel, such as the characters having individual health and defense meters instead of the party sharing them, are there. That tells me that they got their fundamentals down quickly and spent a lot of time making a huge adventure in which players could apply those mechanics.

And indeed, that does appear to be the case in Hero Emblems II. We’re introduced to a new party of heroes, albeit ones who fill very similar roles to their predecessors. We’ve got an offense-focused fighter, a defense-focused shield-bearer, a healer, and a fire-lobbing mage. As you play the story, you’ll eventually add a handful of other characters to your roster, and knowing who to swap in and out, and when to do so, is a key strategy in this game. While the heroes of the first game were royal guards, this time we’ve got a simple group of adventurers who get in a lot more trouble than they would probably prefer to. It starts with merely aiding an amnesiac elf, but soon sees them wrapped up in a plot where the fate of the very world is at stake.

RPG stories are like that, I guess. Hero Emblems II is very much an RPG, at least as much as it’s a match-3 game if not more so. You’ve got your party of heroes that level up, equip new gear, get new skills, and so on. There’s a node-based world map you wander around at your leisure, fighting random battles, sniffing out secrets, and heading to wherever your current quest or sub-quest take you. There are towns where you can buy stuff, sell stuff, and pick up quests. You have an array of items you can use if you find yourself in a pinch in a fight. As mentioned, there are additional party members to find, and the story is going to drag you all over the place.

Basically think of an RPG except that when it’s time to battle, you make your moves by playing a match-3 game. Each hero has a piece associated with them, and making a match with that type of piece will cause the character to take an action. Making bigger matches makes special pieces which, when matched, will see the character doing one of their special moves. You can earn new moves and set them as you like, by the way. Match five of a piece and you’ll get a really fancy emblem that when matched will trigger that character’s super move. It’s all turn-based, so enemies will get their crack at you after you take your turn. You can of course rack up multiple matches in a turn even without trying, but it’s important to really consider which character is the best choice on a given turn. Despite the random elements, it’s a very strategic combat system.

he2 battle3 en origThis will probably all sound quite familiar to those of you who played the first Hero Emblems, and it should. Even though its development period was lengthy, Hero Emblems II is a fairly safe sequel that closely resembles the original game in many ways. Yes, the visuals are totally new and they look a lot nicer. There are more characters to deal with, and each of those characters have a lot more complexity in their builds. It’s a completely new story, there are tons of new enemies, there are more quests and sub-quests to solve, and there are more secrets to find. It’s undoubtedly bigger and it builds on the original in sensible ways. It doesn’t turn the original game on its head, however, and its no-nonsense premium design feels like it fell out of another era of mobile gaming.

That added complexity does have a few drawbacks, depending on your tastes. You really need to engage with all of the new mechanics and old ones to create a solid strategy, or the game will take you out back to the wood shed for a good thrashing again and again. Even grinding isn’t going to get you far. While the original game was challenging in its own right, this one ramps up very quickly and you’ll need to use all the tools in your box if you want to make progress. There are definitely breezier puzzle games out there if you want to scratch that itch.

The added elements also require the UI to step up to manage it all, and that’s one place where Hero Emblems II could use a little work. It’s not always clear how to do what you want to do, so you’ll have to do a bit of experimentation to sort things out. The story itself is interesting, but the localization is really rough and amateurish, which hurts the otherwise excellent overall presentation. It’s never bad enough that you can’t get what’s going on, but it’s full of grammar mistakes, strange word choices, inconsistent capitalization, and anachronistic language. Not the end of the world but I would have hoped to see the script a little more polished with so much time in development.

Overall though, it’s hard to find much of any note to complain about with Hero Emblems II. As unusual as the first game was in its time, this sequel is an even rarer jewel. It adheres doggedly to what was established in the first game, increasing the depth with new mechanics and variables without stepping too far away from what worked. It’s also absolutely massive, with a full RPG’s worth of story to play through. If you’re looking for a great premium game to pick away at without worrying about gacha pulls, subscriptions, or buying bags of gems, give Hero Emblems II a go. It’s worth it.