Imagine that you are part of a team of mercenaries that has been hired by the King of Ematrias. Your mission is to help the King’s knights capture an abandoned castle town rumored to house technology so powerful, it can turn the tide of war. Your band of mercenaries are to be very instrumental in the war against the Al-Waav Urban Allied Forces. Men, Elves, and Orcs all have a stake in the outcome of this war. This is the basic premise of Aquire‘s (Tenchu) new game. The latest game to be published by NIS America, Clan of Champions is a 3v3 arena-combat action game. Does Clan of Champions prove to be as epic as the premise of the story, or does it fall short of glory?
Clan of Champions begins with you creating your warrior. You have the option to choose between Human, Elf, or Orc. The caveat is that you cannot change the gender. After choosing the race, you have your standard customization options - head shape, hair style, voice, skin color, etc. While you do have wiggle room while creating your warrior, the customization options are quite limited. After creating your warrior, Clan of Champions takes you to a tutorial mode to get you acclimated with the controls, and it does a good job of it.
The story of Clan of Champions follows you and your band of mercenaries as they aid the forces of the Kingdom of Ematrias in their war against the Al-waav Urban Allied Forces. Your mercenary crew is tasked with the important mission of capturing a long forgotten city. Why is this city so important to the war? Deep in its ruins lays a hidden technology that is capable of creating war-changing weaponry. Time is of the essence, because the Al-waav Urban Allied Forces have their eyes on the city as well.
While the story sounds epic enough, it is simply an illusion. Why is this? Because the story is moved along by walls of text, with a few cutscenes sprinkled in for good measure. The writing does a good job of convincing the player that they are taking part in an important mission, however, walls of text is not the ideal way to move a story along in video games. Once the veil is lifted, you’ll find much of the writing to be fluff. There is no character development, no accounts of what is happening on other fronts of the war, not even camaraderie between your mercenary crew. Looked at as a memoir-style of story telling may ease the pain, but sadly the story runs circles around your head and tells you nothing of importance.
Obviously you will not be playing Clan of Champions for its story, but for the gameplay. At its core, Clan of Champions is essentially like any other hack ‘n slash game, just mash the buttons until your enemy is dead. However, the game throws a curve ball in its design. Armor plays an important role in Clan of Champions, and can be equipped to any of your limbs. Adding some depth to this mechanic, each piece of armor is capable of withstanding a certain amount of damage before falling off, and in order to dish out maximum damage, you have to knock armor off of your enemies. That is where the three different strikes come in. Keep attacking the breast-plate? Eventually your enemy will protect it more, so try to break their guard by attacking their shins or head.
Armor is not the only thing that can be knocked off your enemy; weapons and shields can also be dropped. A fun little mechanic is that you can pick up and wield just about anything in Clan of Champions. Dropped your sword and can’t get to it? Just pick up a helmet and proceed to bash your enemy to death. But why stop at a helmet? Slap your enemies with gauntlets, boots, or even dual-wielded shields–if you are feeling desperate enough. The ability to wield almost anything as a weapon adds a sense of desperation to the battles. Besides the ability to switch your gear in the heat of battle, you can also change your fighting style at any time during a fight. Your warrior may enter a battle ground with Sword and Shield in hand, but you may walk away with just your fists. There is a nice bit of freedom that is given to the player in Clan of Champions.
Swords, flails, maces, and helmets get the job done, but you can also use magic to eliminate your enemy. Magic skills are powerful and can cause damage, buffs, or debuffs. Using them is simple enough, but aiming is another issue. Clan of Champions does not have a lock-on mechanic, so you just aim in the direction you’re facing. Most of the time, this was not an issue, but it does get frustrating rolling out of harm’s way only to launch a fireball into a wall in a failed attempt of retaliation.
In addition to the problematic lack of a lock-on system, the A.I. is not terribly bright, even on higher difficulties. Friendlies have a tendency to walk right in front of your magic attack, and enemies will back into a corner and start rolling endlessly. While Clan of Champions wants the combat to have a desperate element to it, more than not the game was too easy for its own good. Most of the time you will pick up a helmet to beat your enemy just because you feel like it, rather than necessity.
Overall, the combat is pretty solid in Clan of Champions. It may be a little too simple and lacks a real sense of intensity, but it is a solid foundation. Combat is weighty, and everything feels nice, but it can feel empty at the same time.
At the end of a mission, you have the ability to purchase anything that was dropped on the battlefield. This gives the player a chance to upgrade to a better shield, armor, or weapon. There is also a chance that a grimoire maybe discovered, allowing for a new magic spell to be learned. Also, the more you use a specific fighting style, the more experience you gain with it. As you level up, new active and passive skills will be acquired. Active skills can range from a powerful thrust to the head, or a shield attack. Like magic, active skills use mana to perform and require a cool down. Do not fret though, cool downs are short and your mana constantly replenishes itself during battle. Passive skills are buffs that help augment your play style, such as gaining 20% damage when using a sword. Aside from this, you will also gain experience points to upgrade your active skills and make them more effective.
There is a nice amount of RPG elements in Clan of Champions, but the menus are finicky. You have to leave the mission screen and then go to either equip, upgrade, or shop to get to what you want. It is not the best system and it can get annoying. Also, if you wish to sell your equipment after a battle, do not forget to leave the mission screen to equip your new gear. Nothing is worse than strutting into battle naked.
Graphically, Clan of Champions gets the job done but it won’t blow your mind. The characters all look the same, battle damage is a simple gash, and you will have difficulty distinguishing the differences in environments when going from one mission to another. While the aesthetics leave much to be desired, on a technical level, the game runs fine. There was no account of frame rate issues, screen tearing, clipping, or anything of that nature.
The sound of Clan of Champions can be described as a mixed bag. Sounds of the weapons clashing are muted, and the battle cries will get annoying rather quickly. However, the soundtrack does a really good job of making you believe that you are taking part in an epic battle.
Missions are all the same in Clan of Champions. Enter an arena, slay everyone, go to the next chamber, slay everyone, mission complete. Aside from the occasional boss battle, all the missions play out the same way. This type of gameplay is better suited for a portable experience, and it just feels too hollow for a console game. Now, there is a competitive and cooperative mode for Clan of Champions, but the modes were empty. As it stands, you have no choice but to play solo, and seeing as how there are only 24 missions, the experience is a short one.
Overall, Clan of Champions is a by the numbers game that fails to set itself apart from its contemporaries. The battle system does offer some fun and unique mechanics, but it is hampered by shaky AI, bland level design, and repetitive missions. Clan of Champions is built on a solid foundation though, and with a little more effort the folks at Acquire could have had a great game on their hands. What is presented is a very solid game, but it is just not particularly memorable one.
This review was based on a final version of the game provided by NIS America