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   Croket! DS - Heroes of the Heavens -- Staff Review  

Pennies from Heaven
by Michael Baker

PLATFORM
DS
BATTLE SYSTEM
3
INTERACTION
3
ORIGINALITY
3
STORY
3
MUSIC & SOUND
3
VISUALS
3
CHALLENGE
Easy
LANGUAGE BARRIER
Moderate
COMPLETION TIME
20 - 40 Hours
OVERALL
#/5
+ Makes material easy for newcomers to get into.
+ Interesting blend of battle systems.
+ Tons of optional/bonus material.
- Tactical aspects are lacking.
- Artificial intelligence isn't.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   A month or two back as I absent-mindedly browsed through the shelves at a local used game store I came across this game. At 310 yen ($3.50) used, Croket DS - Heroes of the Heavens was the cheapest game I'd ever seen for the DS. How awful, I wondered, must a game be to hit such a price? I bought it mainly out of morbid curiosity. Now I'm glad that I did.

   Croket! is a popular fighting manga and anime series for kids in Japan (and in fact several of my students recognized this title), so it was to be expected that the DS spinoff would have many cameo appearances. All but a handful of characters in the game arrive with fully fledged personalities and relationships. While potentially confusing to anyone who has never seen the show, the story helps the player along with some concise, informative exposition to introduce recurring characters, making this a fairly easy game to understand.

   The story, both in the anime and the game, is focused on powerful treasures called kinka, an invented homophone for the Japanese word for "coin," replacing the symbol for "gold" with the one for "forbidden." If someone gathers enough kinka together in one place, the Bank Wizard will appear and grant a wish in exchange. As such, many characters (both allied and enemy) obsess over getting the things at all costs, and the plot is heavy with themes of greed versus friendship.

   The game's story begins as young Croket and his best friend Risotto are camping one night. The starry sky reminds Croket of a story his dad once told him about a vast treasure in the sky. Just as his friend scoffs at this, a kinka falls out of nowhere and brains Croket. This sets off a fantastical and ridiculous adventure to reach the fabled Sky Land. The plot itself plays out like a lost season of the Croket! animated series, complete with episode numbering.

Caption Watch Out for Falling Rocks

   Combat in Croket! is an odd blend of the tactical and beat'em-up genres. The player and computer maneuver characters around the field in a normal T-RPG fashion, but when someone is attacked the view changes to a side-scrolling combat arena in which the opponents duke it out mano-a-mano for sixty seconds. What makes the tactical side so important is simple positioning. A character's starting position in a battle is determined by his or her relative elevation on the tactical screen. Adjacent characters can be brought in as computer-controlled allies for two-on-one, two-on-two, or three-on-one battles. Characters can also use one item or field skill per turn to boost stats or damage enemies.

   That's about the extent of the tactical side's impact, however. Battle goals are almost always "Kill All Enemies," and the computer controlled foes seem quite eager to assist the player as they never take advantage of terrain or numbers except by accident. Many later battles are concluded in just two rounds because the enemies will just rush clusters of the player's characters one at a time and be wiped out in the process. On the other hand, one-on-one battles can be rather challenging, and things are sure to be difficult if the player character is outnumbered.

Caption Walking through the forest...

   The fighting section of the game is very friendly towards players who are not familiar with the genre. The various power moves aren't always easy to activate, but the allied AI characters are very free with the bright flashy maneuvers as compensation. Unfortunately, the AI also provides one of the biggest headaches in some battle arenas -- it has little to no concept of hazard avoidance. A majority of arenas have some sort of hazard involved, and some of them are hard to avoid in any case. In at least half a dozen areas, however, the hazards are fixed in place (lava pools, poison bogs, bottomless pits, etc.), and yet they are still the source of most damage taken by AI-controlled enemies and allies. On the other hand, the player can take advantage of this to get an advantage over higher-level enemies in a one-on-one situation. Much like on the tactical side, the goals and methods of fighting section don't vary much throughout the game with the exception of the final boss, which plays more like a platform action game in style.

   The graphics are on par with similar tactical and fighting games for the DS, and make the most of the source material when it comes to providing a bright, cartoony atmosphere. All conversations are told with character portraits on the top screen and character interaction on the bottom screen. The combat sequences are similarly cartoony, and feature a lot of motion from characters, enemies, and general hazards. While the game supports 3D graphics, it generally avoids using them for anything but background material. On the music side of things, it's about as one might expect. Most of the music seems to be adapted straight from the anime, and is decent for what it's worth.

Caption Can you feel the intensity?

   Something that really must be mentioned in a review for this game is the amount of optional content made available to the player. The RPG content makes up just over half of everything there is to do in this game, but just in that area, there are optional and mutually exclusive story path branches at two points in the game. It all comes together by the end, but the player will still have to go through the game a second time before every map is explored and every character recruited. Also, hidden on each and every game map is a single kinka coin, which must eventually be found if one is to unlock the game's Side Mode. The Side Mode is the game's alternative storyline, following the path of destruction one series villain leaves in his wake as he rampages across the land. All the playable characters in this mode are actually bad guys from the series, and it makes for an interesting experience. For the non-RPG side of things, there's a Tournament Mode for the fighting game. Every character recruited or battled in the RPG is available for use in this mode, and it's a good way to build up experience for characters that haven't seen as much action. It features four different challenge modes and a battle royale mode, and is a nice way to waste a few free hours.

   While this will never be listed as one of the great games of the Nintendo DS, Croket! Heroes of the Heavens is by no means a bad game. It's light, easy, and playful with its material. It's obviously meant for a fan of the series, but is equally playable for someone who (like this reviewer) has only the vaguest idea what the backstory's actually about. All in all, this is probably the best $3.50 I've spent in a long time. I definitely got a good value here.

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