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My first taste of card-based battle was from the anime Duel Masters followed by Yu-Gi-Oh! and Bakugan. So, I pretty much had an idea how cards with monsters in them can basically decide the world’s fate. But I seldom understood their rulespower cards, trap cards, energy―God! It was all over the place! And for this exact reason, I even avoided video games based on strategical card battles (*cough Midnight *cough Suns). Well, that was until I came across Mahokenshi. So skeptical at first, I dove into it. But it explained the rules so well that within minutes you’ll know what you’re supposed to do!

Mahokenshi is a strategical deckbuilding and adventure game developed by Game Source Studio and published by Iceberg Interactive, Mahokenshi was released on Steam on 24 Jan 2023.

Long Time Ago in a Land Far, Far Away…

The Celestial Islands, a mass of floating islands above the clouds, is a place of unimaginable beauty where both men and the Kami (gods) reside. Ruled by the four houses, peace is maintained across the lands. But that is until an ancient corruption emerges from the shadows and vows to engulf the celestial lands within its dark folds. This is where us, the player, comes in. Our job is strengthening the four houses, train them in the way of the blade and magic, and unite them to bring the evil down to its knees. Such is the path of the Mahokenshi.

I really loved the intro cutscene, consisting of glorious artworks worthy of desktop backgrounds and a hyping narration to get you into the game. The plot is very simple, the lore being loosely based on medieval Japan during the golden age of the samurai, but many small events happen throughout the campaign like some Oni (demon) has attacked a village, and you’ve to stop it, then find out about cultists inducting normal humans and turning them against their own, etc. It’s decent enough to keep you hooked. However, the real strength lies in the gameplay.

Get, Set, Build!

It’s a turn-based strategy game where movement is on hexagonal tiles, and each movement costs energy (you start with 4). The entire map exists as tiles consisting of hills, forests, mountains, lakes, and only movement across plains cost the least energy. The more complicated the topography, the more the energy requirement (e.g., moving on mountain tiles costs 3 energy, and you can’t move on lake tiles). And once you’re out of energy, you’ve to end your turn for the enemy.

This means you can’t blindly move everywhere. What if you startle an enemy by moving near him just when your turn ends? This would give the enemy a wide berth to initiate the first strike. Furthermore, complicated terrains, despite their high energy requirements, provide better defense. So, you’ve to think tactically at every step: should you engage with the enemy or retreat into the forest? Or should you kill them all to get gold and some extra powerful cards?

Throughout the map, you’ll find cards, powerful ones even, but they require you to explore the whole map. And so far, I’ve played, almost all the missions are in a state of urgency. Like there’s a cultist leader razing down villages, and you’ve stopped him before he destroys 5 of them, then there are goblin summoning pits, and you’ve to close them as soon as possible else the map’s going to be crowded with nasty goblins, and all.

So again, tactics are involved: should you explore the whole map or just follow the objectives and side challenges? As, in addition to cards, many upgrade shrines are scattered throughout where you can meditate to increase your strength, defense, base health and energy etc. And you’re likely to miss any potential upgrades for your character if you only go for completing the objectives. However, mind you! The more time you spend on a map, the harder it gets, especially if there are summoning pools present!

Speaking of hardness, the enemies can be an utter nuisance. First, there are the goblins: annoying little bastards that have the ability to increase their defense and can poison you for a few turns. So, you keep losing health till the poison wears off, or you find a card that removes all effect.

Then come the cultists who can cast a curse on you, basically forcefully insert a curse card into a deck and as long as they’re there you’ll lose health. The only way to prevent that is playing them in your turn at the expense of your energy.

Then comes the various Oni from events scattered across the map. You’ll come across random events like protecting a village from an Oni or defeating an Oni within certain number of turns etc. And during these evens you’ll encounter choices, as in to choose between increasing your stats or getting a rare powerful card, or just gain gold so that you can buy something from the market.

Treasure chests are scattered across the map, and you also get gold from defeating enemies, and you’ll need them to buy or upgrade your best cards at the market and Dojo respectively.

Mahokenshi has these Mahoken crystals that let you select one permanent attribute, like starting a map with initial gold, or option to heal yourself at village markets at the cost of your energy etc. Although, I wish we had a skill tree like those RPGs, because our four characters are fixed. The more we play using them, the more they level up, thus, unlocking starting equipment that can increase your base stats. True, decision-making is still there as in which equipment you need to take, but it would have been even more engaging had there been a skill tree.

Visuals, Performance and Sound

Visually, Mahokenshi looks good because of its cute little low poly assets used to make the entire geography. It’s kind of reminiscent of my Warcraft days with its tiny trees, lakes, mountains etc., and Mahokenshi has that ancient Japanese flavor thrown in. The various architectures like castles, Shinto gates with Sakura blossoms, etc. are well done. 

Performance wise, only minor lag I experienced when rainfall was involved, but it was well and good for most. As for the sound, I really loved the narration. But apart from that, there’s a lack of decent soundtracks. It’s only serviceable at best.

Real Talk

Overall, Mahokenshi is a great deckbuilding strategy game with easy to grasp gameplay, decent enough plot and beautiful artworks. The cards are varied enough to keep the ball rolling―the more time you spend on the map, the more powerful cards you get with challenging enemies. I would see, Mahokenshi might be a good stress inducer rather than a buster, as you’ll have to think carefully at every step. That said, prepare to die a lot!

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