With such a terrible name, you'd be forgiven for thinking Kingdom of Heroes: Tactics War is just another run-of-the-mill gacha cash grab. The mobile landscape has become inundated with these low effort titles that pump millions into marketing, only to revolve around the most mundane gameplay imaginable. Their primary goal? Keep the cash flowing out of its users' pockets by offering hundreds of unique characters, the best of which are locked behind impossible pull rates.
However, that's not Kingdom of Heroes. Sure, it features its fair share of impossibly low gacha percentages, time-gated events, and some choppy localization, but overall, it’s a beautifully crafted SRPG with plenty of engaging content that isn't constantly begging for your money.
The bread and butter of this game is its combat system, and everything else revolves around this one mechanic. You'll select four heroes, each with their own skills and abilities, before heading out on your selected quest. Battles are a turn-based affair and take place on a hexagonal grid, the layout of which varies between levels. Each turn you'll be able to move around the map before executing your attack and, although most of the stages are small, there's a fair bit of strategy involved in each encounter.
That's largely because all Heroes are assigned to one of five elemental classes, and most attacks are best utilized under extremely specific conditions. For example, Arthur's Forestallment can pierce through two enemies, dealing damage to both. However, they must be lined up properly on the grid and Arthur must be attacking from the proper angle. Arthur is of the Fire Element, meaning his attacks deal more damage to Tree opponents and almost nothing to Water opponents, adding a second layer of complexity to your actions.
Then there's Freyja's Raven attack, which bombs an entire area of the map. While incredibly powerful, she must be at least one tile away from her target, making her all but useless at close range. Assigned to the Dark Element, her attacks are best when used against Light opponents. Learning how to control the battlefield and knowing who to attack are of utmost importance and, although easy to understand, are difficult to master.
As is the new standard with mobile games, an Auto-Battle button is available to speed up the gameplay. However, it should only be used during easy battles, as it's much more efficient to control your Heroes directly. I found myself using it during semi-AFK sessions while watching TV or taking the dogs for a walk - it's a great way to make bits of progress before hunkering down for a difficult boss battle.
As you progress through the Main Story (which is broken up into sections on an overworld map) you'll encounter a motley crew of characters, many of which will join you on your quest to unite the world of Lorasia. Players step into the shoes of Arthur, a prince who is tasked with stopping evil forces from gathering the shards of a fragmented crystal and destroying the world. The dialog is passable, although a few lines clearly got lost in translation and lead to some hilarious conversations. There's a bit more to it than appears on the surface, but it's not the reason you'll be playing for hours on end.
Instead, Kingdom of Heroes is all about upgrading your party. There are a variety of ways to achieve that goal - transferring experience from unused Heroes, upgrading their skills with duplicate Heroes, using the Awakening system, and leveling up Runes are just some of the systems you'll need to become familiar with in order to pose a threat to your enemies. For the most part, these are all easy to grasp and standard for the genre, but the Rune system stands out as one of the game's best features.
With it, players can drastically alter a Hero's attributes by assigning them an entire set of Runes - items that can be found just by playing the game. Equip a Hero with a set of four Charge Runes and they'll see their Attack stat boosted by a massive 35%. Or you can give them a set of two Life Runes and increase their HP by 20%. Better yet, these effects stack, so you can equip a Hero with six Life Runes and receive a 60% HP bonus. Each character can only hold a total of six Runes, so figuring out how to best equip your party quickly becomes a game all its own.
The Rune system is a great mechanic to improve your Heroes attributes, but summoning these Heroes is about as generic as it gets. Players have access to six different types of currency that can be used to pull new characters, the best of which are all but locked behind a paywall. The game will periodically reward you with Crystals, a common form of premium currency used in Summoning, but with the strongest Heroes dropping less than 1% of the time, it's obvious you'll need to spend money if you have any hopes of competing at the highest levels.
Regardless of rarity, all Heroes are wonderfully animated during both cutscenes and combat. The animations outside of combat are all highly detailed with a clear anime inspiration, while characters take on a chibi appearance during battle. The two styles work well together and make Kingdom of Heroes a game that's easy on the eyes. Unfortunately, many of the female characters are ridiculously oversexualized, but beyond this tasteless (and increasingly common) design choice the graphics are largely impressive.
If you get bored of following the game's lengthy Main Quest, Kingdom of Heroes offers a few other ways to spend your time. There's the Tower of Arrogance, which rewards you with premium currency as you climb its 100 floors, the Arena, which offers asynchronous PVP, a Guild system that is the perfect way to play with friends, and seasonal events, among others.
If you're not a fan of SRPGs with a heavy focus on gacha mechanics, Kingdom of Heroes: Tactics War isn't going to change your mind. It's not gratuitous with its cash-grabbing, but that doesn't change the fact that this is, at its core, a gacha title. And that will almost always mean players who spend real money will have a massive in-game advantage. However, developer NEOWIZ has done a great job of minimizing this pay-to-win aspect, and free players still have a wealth of content at their disposal. If you're able to get past its terrible name, Kingdom of Heroes: Tactics War has a lot to offer players looking for a deep SRPG experience.