CIRCLE Entertainment has a whopping 11 releases on DSiWare, with 3 Heroes — Crystal Soul the latest arrival. And while the medieval theme the developer is obviously fond of is still prevalent throughout the experience, this time around it's more of a puzzler than the usual strategy title.
At the start of your adventure, you'll find yourself in the middle of an area, completely surrounded by a barrage of enemies and crystals. Each round, you'll see a highlighted hexagonal grid that will display where your character can move and attack. You'll also see a display of your character's special skills that are highlighted once they become accessible to you.
Attacking and defeating enemies will not only help you achieve your goals in each level, but also earn you valuable experience and energy points that will allow your character to make use of special skills that can be extremely effective in dispatching some of the game's stronger enemies. You'll also find that defeating one enemy will in turn defeat all of the similar enemies in the immediate area, another strategy you'll need to get a grasp on in order to complete some of the tougher sections.
Each time your character moves a space on the grid, it will cost you some hit points. Losing all of your HP will cause you to fail the level, so you'll have to make sure you pick up purple crystals along the way in order to restore your health. There are also treasure chests that will pop up when you defeat six or more enemies in a row that will earn you gold coins. Of course you'll often be forced to time your attacks in order to leave yourself enough moves to reach the treasure chest before it disappears and more enemies respawn. There's even a meter on the top screen that will show you how many moves you have until the next respawn occurs.
To mix things up a bit, the developers have created three different character races for you to use. Each character has their own unique special skills ranging from the sword thrust of the swordsman, which will wipe out an entire line of enemies, to the mage's ability to teleport around the area or shoot devastating fireballs. All three characters are very useful in their own way, so it comes down to a matter of personal tastes as far as which one you'll want to make use of.
While the goals tend to be varied, the main gameplay premise remains fairly similar throughout the entire game. The bits of strategy that come into play give the game some twists and turns, but most of your time will still be spent just walking from spot to spot taking out was many enemies as you can before all of your HP runs out. The boss fights are a nice touch, but even they feel like more of an afterthought than an integral part of the package. And while the touch screen controls work well enough in navigating the various areas, the sluggish pace can sometimes make the overall experience feel a bit tedious.
Since most of the visual presentation revolves around fields filled with the various heads of your enemies, don't expect a lot of visual fanfare. There's some nice sprite work to be found, but the overly simplistic animation used to bring it all to life doesn't help matters much. The musical score of the game is probably the highlight of the package and features some really catchy tracks chock full of great piano music with symphonic overtones that do a fantastic job of adding some intensity to the experience.
3 Heroes - Crystal Soul is certainly not a bad game, but its repetitive nature and somewhat sluggish pacing make it feel more like work than play. There's some nice sprite design at work, but it too ends up being heavily overshadowed by the game's monotonous gameplay. Unless you're a die hard puzzler fan who has to snatch up every title in the genre, you might want to make sure you know what you're getting into before you pick this one up.