Mystic Heroes review
A Heroic Game


At first glance you might be forgiven for thinking that Mystic Heroes is essentially Dynasty Warriors aimed at a younger audience, but that's only if you look at the outer surface. While a comparison is fair game, this is more like DW with magic and monsters to create an entirely different hack and slash experience.

The visual style is done in a chibi fashion which looks nice in a fantasy setting and is handled very well. Individual character models general possess a lot of detail in terms of facial expressions and their costumes, including things like flowing ribbons. Granted, some of the extra details tend not to obey the laws of gravity but aside from that it looks very nice. You have to look really closely to notice any degree of flatness to them so that element of depth to the models is nice.

The animation and effects are very good too. Characters will dance and dodge around as they unleash melee combos and spell attacks, get knocked down by strong attacks and show off some impressive evasive moves that look good. Watching the spell effects can be awesome too, as lightning bolts rain down on the battlefield or fireballs swarm all over the enemy. It's also great that the game can have quite a lot of characters onscreen at any given time and still run at a good pace.

The environments, on the other hand, aren't quite as impressive. I can't nitpick the detail, as desert wastelands, ancient castles and classic towers are recreated beautifully. However, the scheme looks a bit dull compared to the characters and spells within. There's also a fair amount of noticeable fog around, which is painfully visible on the more open maps. Most likely this is done to keep the frame rate reasonable, but it is still a shame that I can't see far away.

Music is adequate. There's definitely an air of Eastern war flowing in the tunes but there isn't a single track in the game I can single out and say "this is great". What is actually bad about the audio is the voice acting. I've heard worse but a lot of this sounds fairly unconvincing. Naja's voice is one of the worst offenders, as it really doesn't look like it fits her.

As for the story I found something interesting. After completing the story mode I realized I had little idea what the plot was about. There's something about a bunch of bad guys who somehow release themselves from some seal and now have some orb and are using it to be mean to people and some other things. Unfortunately, the game is very vague about what is going on, where events happen with little explanation, characters turn up out of nowhere and things just happen.

This also means the characters are about as one dimensional as you can get. Lani is literally just the staff chick. Her only purpose in life is to fling spells around. There's some backstory in the character profiles, like Lani is a member of an ancient civilisation and how Shiga and Tai fought together in some old war but none of this is ever really explored and these details may as well not exist for all the cutscenes do in the main mode.

Anyway, onward to the gameplay, which is the real reason to play the game. Much of the game typically involves you and some allies pounding the crap out of literal armies of enemies. You can choose from four characters to play as that possess different strengths and weaknesses. Shiga is the typical all rounder, Lani the fast mage, Tai is the slow powerhouse and Naja is the physical sweeper. This gives you some reason to take a chance with each one although approaches will be limited. The characters are paired off and follow two routes through the game, though for the most part this only means a few unique level layouts and a different order of the reused ones.

Circle is your basic melee attack, and tapping repeatedly will throw out combo strikes. To simplify matters your character will adjust their aim and type of strike to suit whoever is the nearest enemy target. Sometimes this can result in watching your hero diving right into trouble when you were trying to smack that enemy on his lonesome just off to the side but for the most part the auto target helps to keep the action flowing. You can also mix in some other basic attacks, like a jump attack that's useful for quickly knocking most targets down and the fairly useless spin attack seemingly plucked from Zelda simply because it seemed cool.

The real core of your offensive will come in the form of magic. Each character has four kinds of magic that can call upon that uses up varying amounts of magic power (regained by charging up or use basic melee strikes). Triangle gives us access to direct and target spells, which are probably the more classic kinds of spells. Direct fires magic directly in front of you, which can be a little tricky to hit with for the lower level spells but can prove devastating with the right spells for nasty combos. Target spells lack the speed of direct spells but enters a first person perspective and lets you lock onto enemies to accurately strike even over larger distances. These can be powerful options for distance combat.

Square is more designed for close range magic. Jump magic is useful not only for getting out of a tight bind but hitting groups below you effectively. It's powerful but costly. Sword magic is interesting in that it's the only one to rely on physical attack and not magic strength and the name is misleading considering how few people in here actually use swords. It's really a powered up melee strike with some variations. A slow powerful knockdown hit with a tap, or a constantly attack if held down. Both variants can prove devastating if used right and gives the more physically inclined fighters a reason to use magic. Sword magic also provides a special combo move if used at full magic power where the character will dance around automatically hitting anything in range, but this is not as useful as it sounds since it tends to land you in trouble at the end of it.

Gaining and equipping magic spells requires some notable strategy. Each character has equip up to two runes that allow access to certain spells. Want that lightning target spell? You'll need a rune that has this spell available then. The key to success lies in finding a good combination of runes that gives you the spells you want. The game will assign default spells for any category that doesn't explicitly have a spell set, although these are only level 1 spells to dissuade players from relying on them. Even with the runes though, all spells have a level and each character has levels associated with the spell types. The more you use a spell type the more experience you gain in it and you'll gain the ability to equip more powerful spells as you level up. This setup allows for a complex yet engaging system, although finding the specific runes might prove a bit bothersome as for many of them you'll have to search hard in the levels while at the same time keeping your allies safe.

The magic system is balanced by the magic gauge. I like the rate of consumption and recharging, as it allows for solid use of the spells without letting the player go too wild. One oddity with it though is how any spells aside from sword spells will also send your own allies flying as well. Not entirely sure why this is, considering melee and sword spells - which in realistic terms wouldn't be all too healthy for your guys either - have no effect and so it feels very weird. Regardless, the combat is a hell of a lot of fun given the freedom of choice offered. It does feel a bit limited as you often resort to similar tactics, but when you're ripping through enemies with flashy attacks then it doesn't matter, as the fast action pacing keeps it exciting.

Speaking of enemies, the battlefield will be filled with mooks swarming around ready to tear you apart given half a chance. You do indeed have the basic sword swinging soldiers easily bashed aside but you will also face the likes of wolves that dash swiftly, archers that attack from afar, undead soldiers that don't flinch and sorcerers that can revive certain fallen soldiers. There is certainly more than enough variety in the enemy forces and they will happily stack the numbers against you, which makes it all the more fun when you send large groups sprawling. This is generally where the difficulty comes from, as you try to figure out the best approach to rip through the groups without getting hit from others not in your target zone. There is a solid challenge here as you fight to keep your health up.

Bosses pop up from time to time too. A handy health gauge appears when you are near them to let you know how far off defeating them you are. Early bosses are only slightly tougher than standard enemy groups but balance this by typically appearing with other enemies. Later on you'll find tough bosses unleashing powerful attacks like illusionary copies, swift laser strikes and homing blasts. These battles will test your skills like little else and will be welcome for experienced gamers. One aspect of these battles I'm not fond of is how badly physical combat tends to fare. Trying to get anywhere near them to unleash a close range melee combo can be quite suicidal, which forced me to resort to rely entirely on magic. Fine for characters like Lani that specialize in magic combat. Absolutely terrible for Naja, whose battles in the latter half of the story mode were dragged out because of her weak target spells.

Combat is hurt a bit by the camera. Most of the time, as in when fighting in open spaces, it's good. The camera typically points in the direction you left it in and simply moves along to track your character. Get near a wall though and it stops co-operating and won't face away from the wall. Try and move it to see the enemies attacking you and it'll swing away again, forcing you to make blind leaps just so you can see what's busy pounding your health away. It's not a massive problem but for times when you're fighting in enclosed areas it can be a real pain.

Most of the time you're not alone, but in real terms there isn't much help. You usually have some computer controlled allies on the field that will dash about trying to engage the enemy in combat, but suffice to say these allies are too dumb to live. They will run into obvious traps, manage to get themselves surrounded, ignore the more dangerous long range foes to attack the mundane mooks next to them and fail to regroup before running full speed into the next huge group of enemies. About their only real use is to distract enemies and I'm just glad that their survival isn't a necessity. It's also handy that when a unit is badly injured they can retreat and heal without stealing your health pickups.

Level layouts are fairly good. You've got boardwalks on a swamp, mountain passes and trap filled castles. There are some offshoot areas and multiple paths and there tends to be good items waiting for those going off the main path, although you do have to balance this with saving your hopeless allies from whatever danger they've landed in. In part due to this it would be nice if characters moved naturally faster to make exploring easier but it's mostly good. Not a fan of the wasteland style areas though, as they don't feel as well constructed.

When you've finished with the story mode (which should take a while as there are a good number of stages around) then you can try other modes. Free mode is basically story mode that lets you pick any stage to start from but only for characters that have already cleared story mode. With the ability to transfer stats across this can make tracking down missing runes or just simply blasting through earlier levels again a lot of fun. Survival mode is for all intents and purposes the same as story mode in that you simply have to kill all enemies, kill the boss or reach a destination on a set of levels. The only real difference is you can use more unlockable characters, your stats do not carry over from story mode (runes do though) and your spell levels are automatically maxed. Nice to play but you're not seeing much new.

Mission mode deserves a mention. Some of these levels are nothing new either, as they task you with defeating all enemies in a set time frame or scoring a certain hit combo. You don't get to pick custom rune sets though but instead get preset spell selections to choose from. The interesting part about this mode are the alternative missions. One has you controlling Ariel in a time trial race to the finish flying through the air and another has you firing spells first person in a different manner than normal target magic to defend a castle. While they do have an air of mini game feeling to them they are a nice change of pace.

There's also a multiplayer mode for those wanting to grab their mates for some entertainment. There's a variety of modes on offer from a co-op kill the bad guys, outright versus, capture the (flag) orb and so on. The co-op modes can have computer controlled players in play as well to take the place of human players, although they are barely anymore intelligent than allies in the main game, but the other modes are for human players only. You can tweak some settings like time limit and friendly fire as you want in order to fine tune your gaming session, so there are some good options on offer.

This mode can be somewhat fun, as most multiplayer experiences are, and supporting up to four players can be a blast. It's not the best though as it suffers a few problems. Due to the reduced viewing area I found it much harder to keep track of the action, especially when near walls where the camera would screw about and the fog is just as bad as ever. Spell setups are as limited as in mission mode here, which is a real shame as being able to fully customize your rune setups would be ideal in a multiplayer environment.

Koei once again show us why they are well known for the genre, as Mystic Heroes delivers a very fun experience that lets you tear through masses of mooks with some impressive techniques. Don't let the poor storytelling put you off, as the gameplay is where this really shines.

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