App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
User Interface Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
In the time since posting my review of the first Hero Emblems game, I found myself feeling somewhat out of step with most other mobile enthusiasts. The match-three rpg had some neat combat ideas but it was wrapped in a pretty dull fantasy setting with very poor writing. Those that celebrated the title did so by praising the strength of the puzzle combat as a panacea for the rest of the game's weaknesses and appreciating it for being an IAP-free experience. Fast forward seven years and Hero Emblems II feels a lot like it's going to play out the same way. This follow up title lands almost a decade later with some updated visuals, but otherwise feels all too familiar.
It's a match
Hero Emblems II fashions itself as your typical fantasy role playing game. You follow a group of adventurers comprised of a warrior, priest, etc. and what starts as a simple quest to retrieve an item leads them to discovering an amnesiac elf in need of help. This kicks off a long, meandering quest where progress forward involves a lot of turn-based match-three puzzle combat.
Along the way, you'll meet other adventurers to add to your party, and by mixing and matching your abilities you can take down any number of spiders, skeletons, wizards, etc. that stand in your way. Much like the first Hero Emblems, the story here is not worth the price of admission. In addition to being very cliche, the same localization issues from the previous game erase much chance of finding charm in these characters or nuance in how the tale plays out.
Swapping it up
Instead of story, puzzle combat is again the star of the show in Hero Emblems II, and boy is there a lot of it. For the most part, the basic rules of the original Hero Emblems remain intact here, though there are a few twists that make Hero Emblems II conceptually deeper than its predecessor. In this game, each party member has their own life bars and your squad of four can tag out with other heroes in the midst of a battle.
Characters also unlock passive traits as they level up, some of which trigger when you swap them into a battle. This, along with access to customize what kinds of abilities party members can trigger on matching certain numbers of their emblems, allows for a somewhat granular level of customization that I'm not sure I've seen before in a puzzle rpg. My only issue with these systems is that they only sound impactful in theory, while in practice I found myself using most of the same strategies I used for the first game over and over again and not feeling like many new skills really changed any party member's role or function all that much for the majority of the game.
Swap some more
To add to the disappointment of Hero Emblems II's customization system, most of your ability to play around with it is limited by how much gold you've accrued on your journey. In order to afford new gear and abilities for your party, you'll definitely have to grind through dungeons multiple times, which makes Hero Emblems II's already somewhat lengthy combat format feel like a slog for long stretches. You won't necessarily have to grind for all the new gear you encounter, but some uneven difficulty spikes can and will eventually force you to get on the currency grind.
For some, this might be exactly what you want. To its credit, Hero Emblems II gives you a ton of match-three combat with some somewhat interesting systems layered in and some goals to aim for outside of its hard to parse story, all without ads or IAPs. This makes it a decent companion for a flight or to occupy the back of your brain as you watch tv on the couch. As a main event, or a game you want to really sink your teeth into, though, it leaves quite a bit to be desired.
The bottom line
Overall, if you enjoyed the first Hero Emblems, this sequel will probably serve you just fine. It very much feels like more of the same, but with some more customization options and updated visuals. None of these changes feel meaningful enough to change the core of its match-three combat, and outside of that the series continues to struggle in making any of its rpg trappings compelling.