It’s a shame that everyone who’s missed out on the Java-enabled cell phone game craze – niche as it is in English-speaking markets – will lack familiarity with the lore underlying Heroes Lore III, but its game world still benefits from the hefty foundation laid in previous titles. This third installment finds the Soltians, a clan of beleaguered magic adepts, recently driven from their homeland and clinging to a new foothold in the Askran Empire. As luck would have it the gun-toting Askrans don’t take kindly to land-squatting refugees. Their seemingly eternal conflict has stricken two young men with bloodlust: the Soltian Kei and the Askran Rits view the deadlock from opposite angles but each dreams of laying claim to the hero’s mantle and ending it once and for all.
It’s a premise teeming with grand potential — and alas, one that Heroes Lore III fails to capitalize on fully. The plot gets so wrapped up in fantastical beasts, floating continents and magical doodads that it forgets to breathe and tell a story about human beings. Kei and Rits are mere variations on your average spiky-headed RPG protagonist, and it doesn’t help that the translation – quest lists especially – could still benefit from one more good round of script editing.
On the other hand, the adventures of Kei and Rits are intertwined in a fascinating way; keeping one save file active for each scenario and hopping between them periodically lends the game an excellent Pulp Fiction feel, not to mention greater replay value than the typical iOS Action RPG. While the protagonists tend to evoke too much déjà vu for their own good, at least they’re surrounded by comparatively interesting NPCs. A particular standout is the mousy explorer-turned-peace activist Helene, whose factional brokering and attempts to yank a war-hungry Rits from the brink of self destruction are a big part of what makes his scenario the more compelling of the two. I can’t count the number of times I wished Rits would just pass his guns over to Helene and let her step into the spotlight.
Not that Rits necessarily has to take up Askra’s trademark firearms. Upon starting a New Game the player chooses not only which character to play as but also his class; each class, in turn, is associated with a particular primary and secondary weapon type. The two-weapon system is a winning gameplay mechanic and what lends Heroes Lore III a bit more depth than previous games in its genre. The composition of the player character’s passive skills and special attacks is directly linked to the chosen weapon combination. Skillsets are large enough and skill points – predictably awarded upon Level Ups – are in short enough supply that the player will spend plenty of time strategizing over whether to activate an extra special attack, upgrade an existing one, boost stats, or increase the number of regular attacks Kei or Rits can chain together.
The character class system feels a bit limiting when it comes to equipment management: Kei and Rits soon find themselves swimming in a collection of weaponry that belong to other classes or to classes only the opposite character can access. This phenomenon does complement the game’s money system nicely, however. Turns out enemies don’t bleed cash in Heroes Lore III — whodathunk!? All those unusable weapons scavenged from the battlefield become the player’s main source of revenue, which is a nice touch. Fetch quests can be sought out and completed for money but the game’s tight focus on plot and setting means that these are more rare than genre fans may be used to.
Where Heroes Lore III feels most superior to previously released games of this ilk is its regular enemy stat balancing. The existence of chained attacks in Action RPGs has often been accompanied by absurd enemy hit point totals, making each encounter with a roving adversary devolve into drawn-out button mashing. Kei and Rits tend to slice through hordes of foes like knives through butter by comparison, especially when the player learns how to link primary and secondary weapon attacks effectively. Unfortunately boss battle design veered in the exact opposite direction. These uninspired, closed-in slugfests usually hinge on how fast the player can mash the attack buttons and force healing potions down the protagonist’s gullet, rather than combat finesse. The Kei versus Rits battles, of which there are several, feel a bit more exciting.