Review: 3 Heroes: Crystal Soul (Nintendo DSiWare)

3 Heroes: Crystal Soul
Publisher: CIRCLE Entertainment
Developer: CIRCLE Entertainment
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 01/05/2012

While I’m not known to be real big on the puzzle genre in general, I confess that I will play most anything if you put RPG elements in it. Such is the case with a game like 3 Heroes: Crystal Soul that has you solving puzzles in the name of your kingdom… or something like that. Time to find out if it’s enough to stand out on Nintendo’s portable downloadable service.

There isn’t a whole lot to 3 Heroes‘ story: you are a Crystal Champion setting out to harvest Crystal Soul for the land of Crystennia. In other words, there are monsters to slay, crystals to harvest, so on and so forth. And not that it matters much anyway, since aside from the fantasy aesthetic, you could replace all of the sprites with little circles and squares for all the amount that it translates into actual story. Still, I like the fantasy overlay as it brings a sense of familiarity into a genre I don’t dabble a whole lot in, and the cutesy graphics are definitely a strength for this game.

The sound effects are pretty basic, filled with your fantasy styled death cries and magic effects. There are also audio cues that let you know when your objectives have been met and it is time to move on. The soundtrack is rather pleasant, which helps in coping with replaying similar stages or even the same stages should you meet with failure. These piano compositions are a welcome choice, so kudos to whomever composed or decided to make use of them.

Before you begin the game, you get a choice between either a swordsman, a mage, or a ranger. The rules of the game are the same between them, and since they level together, you can alternate at will. The key differences are the abilities they have access to, though I didn’t notice one having a distinct advantage over the others. It’s a matter of preference and you will likely stick with one and play the entirety of the game with that.

The bottom screen has a hexagonal grid littered with enemies of various colors with your character smack dab in the middle of them. The top screen will show you an overall map of the area and where you are in relation to important landmarkers. The game can be played entirely with the stylus if you so choose, though the face buttons can be used as hot keys of sorts to bring up the different menus. When you tap on an enemy that is on a panel that’s adjacent to yours, you will attack that enemy and occupy their space. You’ll also simultaneously defeat all other enemies that shared the color of the one you just defeated so long as they are next to each other. It costs one HP to move and attack an enemy and as you might imagine, losing all of your HP spells game over. Success in the various stages will gain you experience that will level all of your characters up at once and increase their HP total.

Sometimes, defeating an enemy will leave behind a rune that if traveled over will cost you two HP. This is something you have to constantly be wary of as there are cases where you may trap yourself in a corner as a result. There is a meter that indicates when enemies will respawn in these places, so if you find yourself in said situation, you have the option of waiting a round at the cost of one of your HP before progressing. If you need to heal, there are purple crystals scattered all over that don’t dish out a penalty for destroying and will instead grant an HP bonus if you can string together a bunch at once. There are also treasure chests that spawn if you defeat enough enemies in one attack that will regen your HP as well. They are set to the same timer as the enemy spawns though, so if you can’t get to them quickly, you will miss out.

Each character class has a list of skills that can be utilized during each stage that are color coded in the same way that the enemies are. Defeating so many of a particular colored enemy will enable the use of the skill you have that matches their color, enabling characters such as the swordsman to leap over spaces or the mage to cast spells that affect an entire area. In fact, making use of these skills is a requirement in some areas, as you have a list of objectives you must complete before moving on that will force you to use them. And this is where the game begins to break down a bit.

For a game that was so well thought out at its core, it’s a shame that progress involves completing some very menial tasks. Rather than clearing out an area or reaching a goal or something to that effect, you are instead tasked with “Defeat 50 yellow enemies” or “Use a green skill 5 times.” The clever groundwork laid down by the game mechanics becomes wasted on what amounts to busywork for pretty much the whole game. And unfortunately, it doesn’t evolve too much throughout the experience. On certain stages you will encounter boss battles that are simply a test of endurance rather than strategic positioning or anything like that. There are also larger forms of the various colored enemies that you encounter on some of the later stages that will cost you two HP to destroy instead of just one, for example. But aside from this, most stages feel the same. They change their shape from one to another (and most of them are shaped like letters from the alphabet), but for the most part, once you’ve played one you’ve played them all. Without other modes to fall back on, 3 Heroes becomes a tough game to commit to beyond the opening stages.

3 Heroes: Crystal Soul is not a bad game by any means. The core mechanics are very sound and it is very fun to play… at first. The experience just doesn’t evolve very quickly, or at times, at all. Fortunately, $5 isn’t too terribly much to ask for a game like this, though I’d be more apt to recommend it for a $1 or $2 as it has the same entertainment value as most smart phone games. If there were more modes to play or more imaginative goals for each stage, this would be a fantastic game. The way it is now, it’s merely okay.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Bad
Graphics: Decent
Sounds: Above Average
Controls/Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Dreadful
Balance: Good
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Mediocre

Final Score: Mediocre Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
I saw a lot of potential in 3 Heroes: Crystal Soul. The gameplay is very cleverly done, and I enjoyed the seamless blend of puzzle solving and RPG elements. The problem is the conditions for winning are virtually the same for each stage and are not very imaginative. I think that having a few more modes would have alleviated this slightly, but as it stands now, this is a game with a solid foundation that needed a bit more polish. I really hope that CIRCLE Entertainment brings these mechanics back for a future title or even a sequel and expands on the ideas presented in this game. In the meantime, 3 Heroes may be worth a look for hardcore fans of puzzlers, but be wary of the lack of longevity in the experience.


One response to “Review: 3 Heroes: Crystal Soul (Nintendo DSiWare)”

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