Preview: Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes - Definitive Edition

19 Jun 2023

Match-3 puzzle-based RPGs have been popular ever since Puzzle Quest arrived back in 2007. It seems like a pretty natural formula to fall back on, only slightly impacted by the fact that as a rule, most of them have kind of been absolutely terrible. While the basics of the puzzle gameplay are solid (we have, uh, lots of games proving that), the fact of the matter is that it’s a little harder to marry that to an RPG naturally.

However, Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes – Definitive Edition technically predates this becoming a gold rush, because the original version of the game was released back in 2009. It’s often been rereleased, but this is the most recent version, and it’s kind of surprising given the franchise that it has never gotten a sequel. But maybe this will be the time. How is this game, then? What’s it about? Does it hold up? Does it deserve the name that’s on the front end of it, at least a little bit?

Teens & Troubles

If you’re a big fan of Might & Magic lore, well… this one does actually have a place in the continuity. Specifically, it takes place a few decades before Heroes of Might & Magic V, which itself is different from prior games in the franchise by taking place in the fantasy world of Ashan. And Ashan immediately sets my teeth on edge because the five major unit factions are Elves, Knights, Wizards, Demons, and Undead.

This is a thing that a lot of Eastern games do where the game acts like “different human occupation” is the same as “different humanoid species” and functionally identical in some way, which always rubs me the wrong way. I hope no elves in this world ever want to grow up to be knights or even just, like, architects. It’s nonstop hunting and living in the woods in tents for you, people. A deep and rich fantasy setting the game may be elsewhere, but not so much here.

However, there’s no time to worry about that, because the game starts with three kids of the Unicorn family (as in they are humans with the last name of Unicorn, not that there’s a Unicorn faction) meeting up with the elves and wizards to discuss something going on with an ancient artifact used to push back the demons. Demons attack, one of the kids grabs an artifact blade, another is wounded, all five kids watch parents die and run away, oh gosh there are five children and five factions I wonder how this is all going to play out.

Honestly, this is not a game you play for the story, and that is kind of fine. The game recognizes that the primary goal of its story is to provide you with a situation wherein you have a few good guys to choose between, bad guys to fight, and a not-quite-generic fantasy world to do it all in. The writing is not great, the characters are pretty thin from what I’ve seen so far, but… that’s not the point. It exists to move you along and communicate a clear sense of what the heck you’re doing and why. Nothing else matters.

Match & Manage

Most of the point of the game – and indeed, most of the point of this preview – is about the gameplay. Which was one of those things that at first I was like “this feels like a mobile game” before saying “oh, but in a good way.”

Here’s the basics. You field three types of units, depending on your particular faction of units, with a selection of three different colors for your units. Match up three units of the same color vertically and they begin to charge their attack. Match up three units of the same color horizontally and they form a wall, which buffers the damage done by a unit’s attack. Idle units also intercept damage, and each turn you have a limited number of moves you can make from the bottom of each stack. Damage that goes through hits your “area” on your side of the screen; reach 0 HP and you die.

That might sound a little complicated, and at first it is, but the game has a very good tutorial to explain it and it actually makes a lot of sense in play. It’s an interplay of aggressive and defensive movement, and you get a sense of when enemies have a lot of extra power and you need to focus on defense, or when you can barrel ahead with attacking. It’s complicated just enough to make you feel smart and just simple enough that you rarely feel like you can just out-number an enemy.

This is also why the game’s online versus mode is as fun as it is. It’s the centerpiece of this preview, and while I find most two-player head-to-head modes in puzzle games and strategy games to be some mixture of “this is tedious” and “this would be more fun if I weren’t awful at this and also losing,” this one really does a good job of splitting the difference. I always felt like I had a shot, and when I screwed up and lost it had that perfect feeling of “yeah, I see where I screwed up.”

So this is very much a game where the story is a vehicle for the gameplay. Fortunately, the gameplay is really solid.

Look & Listen

There’s no way to say “this game looks and feels kind of like a mobile game” without sounding insulting, but… the game looks and feels like a mobile game. I’m sorry, but it does. When I looked it up I genuinely expected to find that it had originally been some sort of gacha mobile title and this version had excised the gacha. That is not the case at all, for the record, but it says something about the game’s visuals and sounds and even storytelling that this was my assumption.

Now, to be fair, this is not to say that the game looks or sounds bad by any stretch. It does not. Rather, it’s to say that the game just has a sort of soft-focus, not-anime-but-trying-to-be design and a control style that feels custom-made for a touch screen. The reason for this, of course, is because the original game came out for the DS. So… yeah, that definitely tracks.

Again, though, it’s a vehicle for gameplay and it looks solid there. Heck, the various sprites, colors, and abilities are easy to read even in a kind of messy game style. So that’s a net win.

Cute & Curious

My biggest critique – or perhaps concern would be more accurate – is that Might & Magic: Clash of Heroesis a bit of a wisp of a thing, like the main draw to players who already have and enjoy the original is an online multiplayer mode, and if there aren’t a bunch of people down for that… well, it’s not going to do much, you know? Unless your DS is broken.

But that might just me being a cynical old man in some respects, and the fact of the matter is that Dotemu has definitely taken what may be a forgotten but decidedly compelling game and polished it up for a modern audience. If you’ve never heard of the game before, or if you’ve never played it and like puzzles, strategy RPGs, or both? Yeah. This is well worth your time from this early look.

Preview copy provided by Dotemu for PC. All screenshots courtesy of Dotemu.