As we mentioned in our Game of the Week post, there’s a certain amount of oversaturation that has hit the Match-3 genre on the App Store. Thus, the launch of Hero Emblems [$3.99] was met with some skepticism that it would be yet another Match-3 with nothing to differentiate itself. Thankfully that’s not the case with this gorgeous puzzler. Impressive strategic implications, beautiful visuals, and great RPG mechanics make this title worth checking out.

As guardians of the princess of a kingdom, things take a turn for the worse as the King falls ill. As your princess runs off searching for a cure, she gets captured by demons. As her (failed) bodyguards, you are naturally charged with recovering the princess while searching for a cure for the ailing King. Hero Emblems’ overall tale is probably the weakest aspect of the game, but only because it doesn’t really tread on new ground. However, the game’s characters have a certain charm that shines beyond the iffy translation. I didn’t play for the story, but I appreciated the personality.

IMG_4110The gameplay, however, is something that I very readily play for. At its core, Hero Emblems is a traditional Match-3 with four basic tiles (representing each character) that cause different effects when matched. Swords and Stars cause physical and magic damage, respectively, while shields and hearts refill your defense and health. While the basics are familiar where Hero Emblems really shines is in its nuances. For example, matching 4 or 5 of the same icons creates special icons that, when matched, cause special moves. These moves actually correspond with different skills that be purchased (or found) and equipped for each character. Skills can actually vary significantly, such as causing different kinds of elemental damage or DoT vice immediate damage.

Skills get particularly important because some enemies that are encountered can be strong or weak against certain types of attacks as well as elemental damage. In addition, you may encounter missions that throw enemies at you that cause lots of debuffs (such as fire or poison DoT attacks or skills that lock down your tiles). Thus, if you’re having a problem with defeating a certain mission, it might make sense to reevaluate your skills to see if they match up. Typically, match-3 titles tend to focus entirely on the match-3 gameplay itself and very little strategy. It’s a pretty nice breath of fresh air that Hero Emblems focuses o both.

Adding to the strategy itself is the game’s tendency to be pretty challenging. Hard enemies will require either grinding (something that was rarely a chore for me as the match-3 gameplay is pretty great) or some pretty good strategy and luck in order to overcome them. For example, tough enemies may require you to make hard decisions as to whether it makes sense to replenish armor or life during a round or go for heavy damage. Your decision will hinge on whether you think you can take out the baddies before their next turn, which requires some substantive thinking for a match-3 title. Of course, grinding and upgrading your heroes’ gear (in the form of skills and attribute altering emblems) can address that challenge, but it's always cool to beat a tough opponent via employing good strategy.

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While I mentioned that Hero Emblems’ core gameplay is pretty standard, its production values make it pretty enjoyable to play. The game’s world map is pretty beautiful from an artistic standpoint and nice touches such as your party smoothly transitioning into a battle make the whole game one smooth transition between travel and battle. Battles are also strike a good balance between offering a challenge without being unnecessarily long, allowing players to get in a few random encounters with some small amount of spare time. I’m also a huge fan of the music which offers tunes that speak to both the fantasy and epic aspects of the game.

Offering an enjoyable experience in most of its aspects, Hero Emblems is proof that there’s still room in the market for a great match-3 adventure. The game’s RPG elements work well with its well-implemented match-3 gameplay while the game’s visual and aural flourishes differentiate it from the pack. The fact that the game is presented without any IAPs also provides a refreshing take on the fact that the game’s challenges can (and will) only be overcome with good strategy, a bit of luck and grinding when necessary. Hero Emblems is simply a great match-3 title that’s worth the price of admission.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • dmpunks

    Spot on review!

  • Alvin Wang

    I've been playing this for the past few days and love it. I like it even better than Puzzle Quest, and that's saying a lot.

    • Amenbrother

      Agreed.

    • gaymerX

      Yes! I'm 12 hours into the game and I'm still loving it!

  • NukeBulldog

    Great review. I really like the game but wish you could transfer your save game to another device. Still, it's a fun game

  • RickyBrooke

    Fantastic puzzle RPG, needs a few updates, but want more please!

  • Fangbone

    I love this game!

    • Exact-Psience

      Yup.... LOVE.

  • scottsoapbox

    I don't understand the allure of match 3 RPGs. But then I don't like match 3 so...

    • Jetjet

      So try this game and your opinion will change !

  • Brendan Charles

    Hands down my favourite match 3 game for iOS.

    I do hope, however, that the dev releases updates with localization fixes and maybe the addition of a Quick Match or New Game + Mode.

  • bababewey

    I'd have happily paid 9.99 for this. I don't know who the developer is or where he came from, but he really has a mind for development.

    • John

      Agreed! The choice to go with semi-premium pricing for this exceptional game was a great one.

  • imdakine1

    One of my favorite games ever! Just the right mix of match 3 and RPG elements. So pleased to see a non-freemium game that is absolutely stunning! I believe the developers said a future update would include iCloud support...?

  • kleerkoat

    would have paid more as well. it's something I have wanted for a long time. strategically it is on par with puzzle quest in that aspect.

    two minor gripes, not being able to listen to my music. the in game music is good in the same vain and quality of vintage FF. but sometimes it's not appropriate. lol

    one other, unless i missed it, no way to assign targets to maximize what attack you can do. sneaker gripe, enemy health bars could be shown a little longer.

    great game worth it. 9/10

  • evilelvis777

    Just for once the goings-on in the top half of the screen actually have relevance to the match three game, whilst the (admittedly cheesy) story adds to the overall sense of achievement at the end of each area. This is an excellent game and thank god it's not freemium......

  • Mj1ggy

    Great game. It has some balance issues in terms of running into overpowered enemies without warning and then having to do the entire stage over, but it's less of a gripe when the game is so much fun. I've had to grind just enough to afford a new upgrade or two but other than that is moves along pretty smoothly. Worth the price for sure.

  • xerosided

    I enjoy this game a lot. Surprisingly the awkward-as-hell translation doesn't bother me too much. It's kind of... charming... in its quirkiness.

  • ste86uk

    Very happy with the game and highly recommend to anyone. You'll get a lot of game time for your money

  • shaymon

    Well deserved review. I hope this game does great! It really does play like a good rpg 😉 and I enjoy the occasional need to grind. I have almost ten hours into it and feel I have that much more until the end. Knowing what this game is now, I would have paid 3 times as much.

  • Steve Belli

    Great review (although I would have laid down the full 5 stars). This is simply the best match-3 RPG on iOS bar none. Well thought out strategy that makes it rise well above the (mostly) freemium crap in the genre with charm and old school level challenge.p (ie., the kind that actually means you have to think and play well to win).

  • gcl

    Even though a lot has been said about grinding difficulty and spontaneous overarching bosses, I hope the developer doesn't change it. I have a short attention span at these games but I'm on second continent and the game really rewards persistence. FTL, now that is a hard game.

    • Azi

      I agree with you. The difficulty is what keeps me trying over and over and it's a real sense of achievement when I win. I may not replay it but that's ok because I've gotten my money's worth and more importantly I'm satisfied every time I win or lose!

    • John

      Oddly enough, those brutal boss fight loses haven't upset me enough to want to put the game down, they've encouraged me to make some tweaks to play style, grind a few in-betweens, and come back again. And so far, I've gotten little bit closer to winning each time. I think that is the unspoken magic of this game right there. When I feel like progression has become impossible for my wit-level (or my cash-level), thats when I always lose interest in a game.

    • DaviddesJ

      I am not complaining about "difficulty" but it's dumb that each boss is very vulnerable to some skills and resistant to others so I end up playing through the whole dungeon and losing just to discover the weaknesses, then I have to do the whole thing again with the right skills. Waste of time.

  • John

    I haven't been able to put this down. Great game! I do wonder why these guys didn't just have someone who speaks english polish up the dialog. It probably wouldn't cost very much for them if anything at all to do this and would really smooth out the production.

  • Zepfhyr

    Reminds me a lot of the iOS version of Fat Princess. But I like that this is a one-time purchase rather than a free game with energy mechanics.

  • Annii

    I really love this game. Sadly the grammar nazi side of me hates the translation.

    • speltrong

      I almost wonder if it's bad on purpose just as a throwback to remind us of great RPGs with horrid English translations.

  • iosuser

    Awesome premium game! I'm about 14 hours in and it is a great mix of match 3 with old Final Fantasy vibe. I'm enjoying the challenge and the grinding for new stuff. By far my favorite match 3 game ever on iOS!

  • Papa Deuce

    I hate to admit it, but no matter how good this game is, the art style makes it so that I can't buy it. I hate anime with a passion.

  • speltrong

    Been hooked on this for two days now - excellent game, and a very fair and accurate review.

  • Zenfar

    Thanks Eric for your write up on this game it is my new go to game on iPhone.

  • John

    Upon much more playing, I believe what I love about this game in particular is the lack of a 'hurry up' feeling which has been replaced instead with 'you better get that next move right' feeling. The tuning of the difficulty level seemed very difficult at first, but as the reviewer noted, I actually feel myself getting better the more I play this. Excellent stuff here.

  • http://deadjam.co.uk AKA James Bolton

    I'm just over an hour in and totally hooked. I don't play match-3 games after the hype of the Candy games but Hero Emblems has enough originality and great gameplay with the addition of the RPG mechanics to satisfy casual gamers and those looking for a bit more. This also makes me want to get back into RPG games. Of course there is always room for improvement and the intro story is dangerously close to being a little too long for impatient gamers but overall a great job.

    Top game - 4/5

  • Dorfdad

    GRIND FEST! Love the game but having to do thing 1000 times to get coins stinks. But my biggest complaint is when I do a boss mission have to travel through 8 levels and die all the coins and keys I collected are gone and you have to start over. I'd like to be be given credit for the coins at least so I could buy more potions to try again..

  • heretikeen

    I like the game and that it's more difficult than your average "can't fail"-match 3, but anyone giving any props to the story or the props must have fallen on their head badly as a child. Every single dialogue or "plot twist" is making me cringe.
    Great game, no IAP in sight, very fair pricing, tons of fun to be had, but oh my god, that story and its "characters" ...

  • John

    Coming back to this thread to say once again and still this is one of the best games I've played in years. Hooray for Chun Lung Kuo and BRAVO for choosing a pay model that is honest!

Hero Emblems Reviewed by Eric Ford on . Rating: 4.5