Review: Mage Knight: Destiny’s Soldier (DS)

Mage Knight: Destiny’s Soldier
Developer: Big Blue Bubble
Publisher: Bandai-Namco
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Date: 09/27/2006

Even after playing through Mage Knight, I’m a little mystified that it came out. After all, it’s been well over a year and a half since the actual collectible miniatures game was cancelled by Wiz Kids. Out of all their properties to make into a video game though, this makes the most sense. Heroclix would require additional licensing, Horrorclix is too new, and everything else the company makes well, sucks.

As a person who played, and became decently competent at, Heroclix, I was actually looking forward to this. I quite Heroclix for two reasons: the first is that the game was inevitably flawed and was too unbalanced. The last tournament I did was the Armour Wars pre-release. I went 3-0 and was just bored with how monotonous the game had become. The second reason was the creepy comic geeks that played the game. My interests in things like comics, table top gaming, anime, and whatever is strictly very casual and I loathe the though of being drawn into hour long discussions by smelly virgins that want to debate if the Hulk can beat up Superman. If it’s silly banter, that’s one thing. SERIOUS DISCUSSION about fictional characters, fan fiction, slash, and the like is, to me, creepy. If I’m going to play a collectible board game of sorts, I fun it to be fun and light-hearted, not OMG serious to where the collective players make Urkel look hip and Cameron from Ferris Buller look cool, calm, and easygoing. Trust me on this. Gloomchen accompanied me to one tournament and she will recount with horror the level of geekdom that was encountered.

Please note that’s not all that I played against. Several were nice people that I enjoyed playing against, like the people down at Air Traffic in Burnsville, MN. They were helpful and quite fun to whittle away a Saturday morning with. Nice guys that were the exception to the rule.

As Mage Knight is 90% compatible with Heroclix, I thought this would be a good chance to remember just why I decided to try a casual gaming thing in the first place. MH:DS was a chance to see what exactly drove me away from Clix: A lack of innovation in the game, or an inability to relate to the players.

Let’s Review

1 Story

I’m not familiar with (or even if) the collectable version of Mage Knight had a plot to it, but Destiny’s Soldier has a pretty generic plot to wade through. You can play one of five characters, each with different stats befitting a “unique” piece, but they all have the same personality, dialogue, and story. There only thing separating the characters are the stats.

The plot is pretty generic. An evil group called the Solonavi is conquering the fantasy world left and right. Your character is the chosen of a particular MK deity who prophesizes you to a druidic hippie guy that you and your followers will bring peace to the world. As with any good fantasy setting, WAR is the only way to achieve peace. You character gathers a group of clix figures that have as much personality as you would expect from a plastic figure and then you go through battle after battle in pure linear fashion, with a tiny bit of story linking the battles.

What plot is here is amazingly generic and cliché. Matters are made even worse by some of the worst dialogue I’ve seen in an RPG or DS game. It’s pretty insipid at best, and eye rolling-ly bad at worst.

The game reminds me of a very early 8 bit or 16 bit video game. Had this come out back then, the story would have been acceptable. I mean, I love the very first Dragon Quest, but I could write the entire story of that on a napkin. Mage Knight: Destiny’s Soldier is up there the deepness of plot, and it’s 2006. Not good. Especially for an RPG.

If you can get past the levels of ham and poorly contrived conventions to justify your next bad, the game’s fine. Table Top gaming isn’t know for the deepness of plots. It’s an excuse to move gaudy painted figured on a map for an hour and role some six sided die. It’s RPG-lite in terms of any plot, and MK:DS is no exception. Skip the plot scenes and just play the battles. You’ll thank yourself later.

Story Rating: 3/10

2. Graphics

This game is ugly. There I said it. Not only does it have the PLOT of an 8 bit game, it looks like one too. Character designs for the pieces look a lot better in real life than in the game. And if you know your WizKids products, I just said, “Badly painted plastic looks better than a DS game.” That’s painful.

The character portraits are pretty genetic and bland. The in game graphics are very jaggy and uninspired. I know Strategy RPG’s are generally graphics lite, but compare this to Age of Empires for the DS or Advanced Wars and this game still remains ugly.

What really hits home about the low quality of the graphics is when you roll a critical hit. You’re treated to a close up of the character hitting it’ opponent. This isn’t bad in theory, but you get a magnification of jagged, pixiliated crap, and that’s no reward. No reward at all.

The background designs, such as the maps and the Inn are decent, but they hardly make up for the rest of the game. I honestly have to say this is the ugliest DS game I have ever seen. If you game for graphics first and foremost, run from this game. RUN!

Graphics Rating: 3/10

3. Sound

I can’t really say much here. The music is generic and passable. It’s nothing memorable or even good. It’s fair. The sound effects are mediocre as well. You here things hit. You get a little ugh when something dies. It’s a no frills auditory experience. Everything we’ve looked at so far has a “do the bare minimum and get it out the door.” It’s as if halfway through making the game BBB realized they were make something for a cancelled toyline and if they didn’t get it out the door pronto, there’s be no fanbase to scoop it up off the name value alone. Such as there was in the first place…

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Okay, after all that bashing, it’s finally time to start saying nice things about the game. Without a doubt, Mage Knight: Destiny’s Soldier is the second best Table Top game to Video Game I’ve ever played in terms of converting the gameplay into a video game format. Shadowrun on the Sega Genesis is of course the first. M:TG, Pokemon: TCG, the horrible V:TM Games, Warhammer’s butt awful games, and the like all pale compared to Mage Knight. It’s a perfect translation of a clix style game into a digital format, which means if you enjoy any of WizKid’s games at all, you’re probably going to enjoy playing MK:DS, even if you think it’s ugly and poorly plotted.

Clix games are quite different from the normal minis or tabletop RPG game. Your figure’s base contains a disc with all their stats and powers. As they take damage, you “click” the base and the stats change. Often the stats get worse, but sometimes they get better. Often they reveal new powers. Sometimes it’s to your advantage to take some damage so your character can be knocked to their “sweet spot.” I call this “KC Superman” syndrome. This adds a great dimension to gameplay in theory, but sometimes it means you’re stuck with guys on the board whose attack is so weakened, that no one can hit anyone else. This can be frustrating when the video game version of Mage Knight has one big variance from the tabletop game in that there are battlefield conditions. You have to beat the enemy in specific ways. You just can’t slaughter the army. Also, the conditions change with each battle. This might frustrate the more cheese minded gamer who would play for “points” in the tabletop mode, but I find this refreshing.

Each battle revolves around a point total. You mix and match characters from your army, each of which is worth a certain amount of points, and get your team as close to the point max as possible. Then you send them into battle and hope for the best. Some characters that you can recruit are worthless. Others are far too good. Here’s a hint. Village priest has Stealth and Mage Blast. Stealth Good. VERY GOOD.

There’s no character limit, but there is a turn limit in which you have to accomplish your goals. As well, you have only a limited amount of actions per turn. One action for every 100 points. The average character in the game is about 35-50 points so not every one of your guys goes each turn. This is a good thing actually because Clix games have a concept called “Pushing.” This means that if your character goes two turns in a row, they take a point of damage due to straining themselves. No piece can go more than two turns in a row.

You use the stylus and touch pad for everything in this. You slide your characters across the map via the stylus. It’s smooth and fluid, but I wish the control pad was an option for more precise movements but that’s more me as an olde tyme gamer adjusting to the DS touch screen than any problems with the gameplay. Your battle results are also different from the usual tactical RPG in that Namco has left dice rolling part of the game. In order to hit someone, your attack + the die roll must be greater than the opponent’s defense. Simple, right? Well, much like in real life, I have a knack for rolling snake eyes in this game. That’s called a critical miss, and if you roll it, you not only fail in your attack, but you take a point of feedback damage as well. In return, a critical hit is rolling a 12, and you do an extra point of damage. This is great except when you’re in a mission where you’re supposed to subdue an opponent instead of kill them, and god knows I hit a critical every time when I was attempting to injure them enough to capture them and instead my troll ends up caving their skulls in and dancing over their corpse. This means “BATTLE REDO.” D’oh.

Everything you would want from a Mage Knight tabletop game is here and intact. All the different powers from the game are here, including the Mage Knight ability to have two powers in the same category (Movement/Attack/Defense./Damage) at once. This threw me off a bit. I heard about it, but didn’t encounter it until the 12th battle or so. It was a nice touch and added a level of complexity I feel Heroclix is sorely missing most of the time. The clix system feels a lot deeper in this game as there are only 100 or so pieces to choose from, when in the tabletop game, every three months you’re given 100 pieces, all of which start to feel the same after a while. Limiting choices sometimes actually makes things feel deeper.

Excellent interface and it really does feel like you’re playing a Clix game. Unlike say, the M:TG for the Playstation that was an action RPG and had no card play whatsoever.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 10/10

5. Replayability

There is so much that could have been added to the game to give it a level of replay value. You would think a single battle mode would be possible. Or even player vs player over 2 copies of the game. These are nonexistent. Even the option to replay any battle once you’ve beaten it is not in this game. MK:DS is a straight forward ultra linear walkthrough. You play a battle, save, then play another.

I wanted to say, “At least you can completely customize your army,” but even that’s not true. You’re stuck with a limited set of figures for each part of the game, and you only get new ones at certain times. You can’t even adjust point size or difficulty of battles. All you can do is play through the story mode again and again with one of the five playable main characters, with the plot staying exactly the same.

This game is a one hit wonder. Again, it appears the game was just shoved out by Namco. There is so much they could have added to this game to enhance it. Instead it looks and feels like the bare minimum was put into Mage Knight, and that’s a real disappointment. Instead of a game worth keeping in your inventory, you have a game to play through once and then trade in or mail back to Gamefly.

Replayability Rating: 3/10

6. Balance

I’m an experienced Clix player. I’ve even won a few tourneys. I have to say though that Mage Knight jumps around from super easy to quite difficult with little warning or abandon. Now part of this is due to the turn limits combined with the goals. As I mentioned earlier you might have a battle where you need to capture someone and you end up killing them. Or you don’t kill enough people in the allotted time limit. The big one are the gauntlet battles where you play several battles in a row. All the enemies are fresh and your guys get one clix of healing. Ouch. This is honestly the first ever Tactics game where I’ve lost a battle or had any degree of challenge since the first Shining Force and the Lazer Eye battle. That impresses the hell out of me. This of course means the game is quite hard and will be a badge of honour for SRPG fans if they can beat it.

One of my favorite things is that the game doesn’t allow you to see your enemies full stats. You can only see the click they are on and the previous clicks they had after you hurt them. This adds yet another level of thinking to the game.

I’ve been complaining for the last two generations that SRPG’s have gotten too damn easy. Even Disgaea was a cakewalk. This though? This is tough. And I love it. People new to Clix or SRPG’s need not apply. If you want a great challenge though, play MK:DS. It’s definitely going to be the point of contention for how hard/easy a DS RPG is.

Balance Rating: 7/10

7. Originality

Well, this is the first WizKids game to hit the video game screen. However, the Clix style of gaming has rather worn itself thin and proven to be very limited in terms of options. The DS version also has a very cliche plot and no real options other than a tunnel visioned story mode.

You’ve got an amazingly original engine that’s a lot of fun and offers video gamers a whole new level of complexity. Besides that though, you’ve got nothing. Nothing at all that reeks of innovation. Indeed, the whole thing almost feels like a throwback. And not in the good way either.

Originality Rating: 4/10

8. Addictiveness

The gameplay is super, but when there’s no deviation and the plot is awful, it’s hard to stay motivated. The challenge helps some, but it’s not enough. You pretty much have to be a hardcore Clix player in order to stick with this game to the end. Hell, I was bored by the end of the first six missions due to the plot. I kept playing and was rewarded by a massive leap in difficulty. I don’t know too many gamers willing to sit through the story and lack of any side stuff though.

So much potential, but it’s bogged down in crap. Unless you are a big Mage Knight fan or that much in need of a SRPG challenge, I can’t see anyone willingly picking up this game for long.

Addictiveness Rating: 3/10

9. Appeal Factor

See above. SRPG and Clix fans only. Everyone else will use this game as a way to practice profanity and to make fun off on Internet message board. It’s only for a very VERY small niche crowd. You can respect the engine, as I’m sure a lot of well versed gamers will. But it’s very hard to love, or even like, this game.

Appeal Factor Rating: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous

Oh man, with even a few little tweaks this game would be above average and not below average. A pvp mode would have helped so much. A one shot skirmish mode would have helped so much. Side quests or more flexibility in your armies would have helped. Different dialogue between the playable characters! Any extras or variants at all would have been welcomed by any and all who play this. Instead, it’s a one shot and then a deep seated need to dispose of it however you can. It’s too bad too, as I had fun playing the game, but only because I used to play Clix. There’s not much here for the average gamer, and I think in order to say this game was fun for you, you have to be like myself or Mark, or Tom who are all ex Heroclix players who got creeped out by the other Heroclix players. The best way to sum it up is this game is worth playing, but not worthy BUYING.

Miscellaneous Rating: 4/10

The Scores
Story: 3/10
Graphics: 3/10
Sound: 5/10
Control & Gameplay: 10/10
Replayability: 3/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 3/10
Appeal Factor: 3/10
Miscellaneous: 4/10
Total Score 44/100
Final Score:4.5 (Below Average)

Short Attention Span Summary
Despite the low score, I enjoyed my time with the game. It helped me to remember what I liked and disliked about Wiz Kids games. The biggest flaw of the game is also its biggest strength in that it feels exactly like a table top game. Only uglier. I wish there was a little more substance, but I suppose my big problem with Clix gaming in the first place was even there, there was little substance. I don’t know why I was surprised that it wasn’t in the video game version either. Ah well. C’est La Vie.