Square Enix games are traditionally some of the best-presented games in the industry. Their flair for the extravagant is never unappreciated, nor is their dedication to gorgeous-looking games. Heavenstrike Rivals aims to be the embodiment of classic Square Enix aesthetics mixed with strategic gameplay.
Heavenstrike Rivals is a strategic role-playing game set in a world being invaded by the Fallen. These evil beasts descend from the chains the hold up the floating world you and your fellow compatriots inhabit. The invasions have been ongoing for many years, and it is your job to push back the Fallen and protect your people. This Asian steampunk-styled game has plenty going on, but is the gameplay as imaginative as the story?
Is there substance beneath the highly polished veneer of Heavenstrike Rivals? Read on to find out…
Strategy RPGs tend to have a high difficulty curve that often suits more hardcore gamers and doesn’t favor casual gamers quite as much. Heavenstrike Rivals, however, is far more accessible and has a great series of introductory missions that help you get to grips with the game’s core mechanics.
The story begins right off, and you’ll find yourself invested in the characters quite early on – as is the Square Enix fashion. You’ll get to choose your character along the way, and this is who represents you in each of your battles. However, in some of the missions, it would appear you are traveling as a group, yet you sadly never see your companions on the field of battle.
You are essentially a captain of units who you send into battle. Your avatar represents you on the field, and the gameplay follows a basic ‘attack the base’ style of gameplay with your avatar acting as that base. You and the enemy captain have a set amount of hit points each and the first one reduced to 0 loses the battle.
Resources are managed in the game using the familiar incremental system of maximum resources going up each turn. However, in this instance, your resources increase by two per turn. The thing that is most noteworthy about the resource system in battle is that it doesn’t replenish each turn. Instead, once a unit of yours falls in battle you are refunded their cost for use on your next turn. This prevents you flooding the field with too many units at once and adds a decent balance to the game, especially in PvP battles.
The battlefield splits into three lanes, and you can summon your units to the start of any of these lanes. Each unit has their own statistics, abilities, resource cost, and movement allowances. The rarer the unit the more powerful it is likely to be and thus, the more of these you have, the better chances you stand at taking on the campaign and other players online. You can freely move your units between lanes on your turn with no penalty – opening up deeper strategies as you progress through the battle.
Attacks are conducted automatically with no input from yourself. There are no special abilities to trigger other than the unique ability your captain can use. This ability is placed on a cooldown once used and depending on the length of the cooldown you’ll probably only use it once or twice per battle. So its impact isn’t all that critical on the gameplay as one might think it would be.
Several different unit types share similar basic abilities — such as scouts that can move further than other units each turn, or the fighter class who gain more attack power for each successful hit they land on an opposing unit. How you focus your team of units is entirely up to you, and this is where the game becomes less simple and more deeply rewarding if you learn your units’ individual competencies.
Your player profile will level up as you win battles and go through the lengthy campaign. Completion of the initial story missions and quests yield a generous amount of the game’s main currencies. Gold is the most freely available currency and this is used to level up your recruits (units). Cores, on the other hand, are your premium currency. The game throws Cores at you as if they were candy at the start of the game, but slows down considerably once it’s given you enough of a hit to pay for about twenty new recruits.
This is when you come to realize that despite the game being free if you want to compete in the PvP world you are going to have to part with some real money. The pricing for the Cores isn’t cheap either and sets you back a considerable amount for a very small return. This was the most discouraging aspect of the game and it does affect the enjoyment if you cannot beat anyone online who has paid for more Cores than you in order to have a team full of legendary recruits.
The gameplay is also time restricted, as you are bound by an in-game resource system called Supplies. This system ensures that you cannot play for hours at a time and is once again monetized if you wish to refill your Supplies without having to wait for it to refill. I dislike these stamina systems, but also understand why they exist – it’s just a shame that they do!
MODES AND FEATURES
The campaign mode of Heavenstrike Rivals is long and enjoyable with plenty of replay value. The story is thoroughly engrossing and well-written, as per any Square Enix title. The attention to graphical detail and special effects is astounding. I found myself in awe whenever I witnessed a new effect or saw a unit type I hadn’t seen before.
Each mission can be replayed for rewards such as Gold and additional recruits. You’ll want to replay several of the missions for the chance to earn a higher level recruit or even one of a higher rarity. You’ll then put these to use in training your current team of recruits to enhance their stats and abilities.
Training (accessed via the Inventory option) is the only way to increase your recruits’ power if you’re unwilling to spend money on obtaining new recruits through the in-game store. You can combine recruits with one another or use special items awarded from campaign missions or completing quests to upgrade them. Not only will this boost their base stats once they’ve leveled high enough, but it will also increase their ability power. Healers, for example, may heal far more per turn than their base value once you’ve combined enough units into them.
Even more items are used to promote a unit. This is where you increase the rarity of the unit for one that can once again be leveled to increase its power and abilities. There are specific side missions on the map that can award these items over and over if you wish to make this one of your primary ways of enhancing your recruits.
The social menu on the main screen is a way to battle against a player in the same location as you. So if you fancy a battle against a close friend or family member who also owns the game, then have at it via this option! There will be further enhancements to this menu in the future, and one could assume this would mean battling friends via Game Center on iOS or the Android equivalent.
PvP is handled via Tickets and just like the Supplies system is limited in number. You will only be able to partake in a set number of PvP battles and then wait for your Tickets to refill. For ladder purposes, this is great as it slows down those that spam battles to make it to number one.
However, the chances are if you’ve spent money on the game and have a team of legendary recruits this won’t slow your progress to the top. There are several league tiers for you to rise through. Each win will earn you victory points that go towards promoting you to these higher-tiered leagues. Once you’re in the highest league, the only goal is to obtain the coveted number one spot and stay there!
DECKBUILDING AND STRATEGY
We can’t really call the recruits “cards”, as they are represented as avatars when you make your team in Heavenstrike Rivals. However, it is just like making a deck in any typical digital TCG/CCG. The game shares a lot of elements with strategic TCGs/CCGs, so it could be considered a pseudo-card game.
The deck building process is a simple drag-and-drop mechanic that is well presented. The usual filters are available to make the deckbuilding much easier if you’re trying to adopt a particular strategy.
One of the game’s many strengths is the amount of different strategies you can use. Low-cost Scout rush is one such strategy that could catch people off guard. If you’re up against a player who has too many high-cost units, you can get plenty of damage in before they have a chance to respond.
You will always want to have diverse resource costs among your recruits so that you aren’t caught in the scenario mentioned above, no matter how tempting it is to load up on powerful and rare recruits!
Pay attention to the number of different unit types you’re using. There is no point to including a recruit who buffs those of its same type if there are no more of that type in your squad. Abilities go a long way to gaining a tactical advantage over the opponent. Plenty can immobilize an enemy unit, allowing yours to move into another land unhindered.
Heavenstrike Rivals will impress you. The usual Square Enix quality shines throughout the game. There is very little room for improvement, with the only gripe I have being the cost of the in-app purchases. However, the game is very generous at the beginning with its premium currency, and if you only want to play the game’s campaign mode then this is more than enough to get you through it.
The graphics are superb, as is the story. I fell in love with most of the characters exceedingly quickly. The game wins very few points for originality and does little to shake up the genre, though. Heavenstrike Rivals excels at the basics of the genre and sometimes this is all that’s needed to create an enjoyable game. Not every game has to reinvent the wheel!
If you love role playing games and card games, then this is a highly recommended play. There is plenty to enjoy and enough content for you to be satisfied for hours. The game can truly be played for free if you’re willing to sacrifice wins in the PvP arena.
Heavenstrike Rivals is a gorgeously presented title that embodies everything that you’d want in a strategic RPG.
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