I've already played a bunch of Heavenstrike Rivals: I went hands-on with the soft-launched version a little while back, and found it a thoroughly pleasant experience.
But this is the full week-long review. This is the real deal.
How will Square Enix and Mediatonic's strategy role playing game with collectible card game elements fare over the course of a full week of scrutiny?
Let's find out.
Considering Heavenstrike Rivals is in a traditionally quite complicated genre, its intro does a bang up job of putting you at ease and convincing you its systems are all very easy to get to grips with.
You have a pot of energy that can be used to summon characters to fight for you. You place each character you conjure on your side of the playfield - a playfield which is comprised of you, your opponent, and three channels for your army to advance upon.
Once placed, you have no direct control over how they attack and move, except that you can shift which lane they're in.
This means that you need to think about how your units will move after you've placed them, and attempt to predict how your opponent will counter you.
The unit types are divided into your typical classes, Priest (healer), Gunner (long range), Defender (damage absorber), and so on.
Within these classes comes a lot of variety, and most units you field have special abilities too. One of my characters will enter the field and deal a load of damage to every enemy unit, whereas another will heal my team each turn.
You can level-up each of these character through combat in the single player or PvP multiplayer or by sacrificing other characters to them in the Training menu.
If the characters you win through regular play aren't to your taste, you can always give the gacha machine a go and hope some Legendarys are added to your collection instead.
So far, I'm impressed.
Day 3: A confession
I have an addictive personality.
Cigarettes and energy drinks were probably the worst things I'll publicly admit to being addicted to, but I've also been hooked on collectible card games, Games Workshop models, video game magazines, and Maoam.
This unfortunate condition is why I try to avoid games like Heavenstrike Rivals. I know that if I were to ever truly get into one in a major way, I'd end up spending all of my spare cash on digital booster packs.
I feel like I might be getting to that point.
The game's not helping either. The first hit is free, as you're given enough Cores to play the gacha machine about a dozen times, but after that it hands out the premium currency quite slowly.
The game is still perfectly playable without buying loads of new units, but the opportunity to see lavish new character art - designed by Ryoma-Ito of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance - is enough of a draw.
Music comes courtesy of Ryo Yamazaki (Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles) and is a suitable blend of the epic, the folk-y, and the wistful.
It's a shame that the voice acting doesn't quite match these high standards. Thedialogue between battles must be read, there's the occasional lacklustre performance, and too many characters use the same selection of voice samples.
I'm coming back every day to play a few rounds in order to progress in the single player, and I'm dabbling in the daily events too.
I have an addictive personality.
Day 7: An admission
I've downloaded Heavenstrike Rivals to my iPhone as well as my iPad now, and I'm actively trying to get my partner - who has an Android phone - to get into it too. It's safe to say I really like it.
The more time you spend with a game, the more you notice the subtleties that pass you by when just taking a cursory glance.
One example is the plot. The main storyline characters are quite stock, but they're far from generic.
Khale and Jack have a bit of the Balthier to them, Lapom Lapom is a sweet and excitable mage that constantly annoys the hot-headed and practical Olivia, and Adele is a sort of down-to-earth deity, if you can imagine such a thing.
After more than a few hours with them, and as the story starts rolling, you grow to like them more and more.
Organising your team is crucial. Having a good flow of low and high-end units that give you plenty of options no matter what stage of the battle you're in, as well as combining certain characters with others to develop high-end strategies, will win the day more often than brute force.
There are also tiny, near imperceptible details that reinforce how high calibre this production is. One of these minor elements is the ability to fast forward through battles.
As soon as you tap the go button to begin your turn, the button turns into an arrow that can be tapped to speed through the actions.
It's fast enough to get through battles quickly, slow enough to clock everything that happens, and placed in just the right space so that thwacking it becomes second nature. As you go back and grind previous stages for more rewards, you'll come to appreciate it a great deal.
If you do want to spend a lot of time with the game you'll eventually run up against the energy system and PvP tickets.
It costs a certain amount of energy to play the single player, and a number of tickets to enter the multiplayer.
Players who want something for their commute won't find any issues here, but play for more than 45 minutes and you might need to cough up premium currency for more access. It's a disappointing blemish on an otherwise excellent game.
Heavenstrike Rivals blends CCG and strategy brilliantly, with lavish presentation, and a gameplay structure that is rewarding, deep, and highly compulsive.How are you getting on with the game? You can tell us and the rest of the PG community about your experiences by leaving a comment in the box below. Click here to learn about our free-to-play review policy.
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