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For me, Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes was a rare impulse buy - after hearing good things about the original game from friends, the images on the back and the 4 ratings on the front cover (Official Xbox Magazine rated ELITE, 9.0/10 "A must have title", E3's Editors Choice for best in show 2005, dubbed "One of the Xbox's best offerings". Only available on Microsoft's Xbox console, Online Enabled (for a now defunct Xbox Live service), KUFH was developed by Phantagram and Blue Side Studios, both creators of the predecessor KUF 'The Crusade', a game which it doesn't differ much from. This time, you get more different characters with brand new story-lines, new troops, maps and a generally better battle system. While there are 7 characters to choose from in the beginning, each ones story is fairly short and consist of around 10 main plot battles and 5 optional ones for further experience and gold. Regardless of its short single player experiences, KUFH became one of my favorite Xbox titles due to its addictive customisation and accumulation of troops as well as its strenuous learning curve. Rated 12+ by PEGI due to a fair amount of fantasy violence and the odd curse.
The game is a prequel to KUFTC, 5 years before the Encablossa war (an everyone for themselves type continental peril) accurately dubbed 'The Beginning of Chaos. Dependant on which character you choose, the story can be broken down into 2 sections, practically of good and evil. The human alliance involves pushing back the hordes of orcs and sneaky dark elves, and take the castle stronghold of Arein, where the vampire lord dwells. The dark legion is more about the defence of the castle, acquiring new allies and keeping them on a leash while you try to usurp them and their land. It spans across several areas of the continent Bersia known as Hexter, Vellond, Hironeiden, Ecclesia and Azilla, occupied specifically by each set of races, tribes and armies. One constant in the story however is the plan of Valdemar called 'The appeasement of Vellond' which sees his armies strike deals with neutral forces and crush enemy resistance. Another reoccurring noteworthy plot item is the 'Ancient Heart', an artifact of unknown origin and religious importance. Once thing is certain however, everyone fights, everyone dies, civil war is rife throughout.
The Human Alliance
Rupert (Hard) - Wielding a two handed war hammer, this savage man fights for his human homeland of Hironeiden, with slow but strong attacks and a high defence. A companion of the 'good' characters from past games. Only made available when one of the human storylines are complete.
Ellen - a half elf character, using a swift sword was an Ecclesian army captain, later turncoat, who focuses on multiple blows, fast attacking and mana regeneration. Wife of the Crusaders main character Gerald, who she befriends and follows under his command.
Walter - Found on the PAL front cover of the game is a holy warrior with a mighty mace and shield. A man of faith, almost cult like belief, utilizing spells for healing and improvements. His God Encablosa whispers to him on occasion, forcing his hand to commit terrible deeds to prove loyalty, making this campaign a tough journey about religion.
The Dark Legion
Cirith - A beautiful dark elf whose story is mostly based on family ties and military orders, which end up with the task of stealing the 'ancient heart'. Her attacks are rather weak but incredibly fast, using a katar as her main weapon.
Morene (Nightmare) - A half vampire whose raw beauty is only matched by her brutal mindset. Dressed in the most revealing outfit ever seen, she sees to the needs of the King of Vellond, Valdemar, Leinheart's father, and is sent to dispatch various troops with her bone blade, as well as keep a close eye on the dark prince. Like Walter, one of 2 story-lines must be finished before being unlocked.
Urukubarr (Hell) - The mightiest ogre of the tribal chieftains. A defender of the ogre land Hexter, Urukubarr faces the toughest campaign in the game, making peace with the vampire lord, only to discover their intentions are far worse than first thought. He uses his bare hands to tear into enemy troops and is only available to play when Morene's story has been completed.
Leinhart - Son of the vampire lord, and prince of Vellond, Leinhart is a half-blood sporting a deadly longsword. His task is to unite the orc tribes of Hexter in an attempt to gain a powerful ally, but soon enough he takes up a supportive role to the mighty Regnier. Fairly quick attacks with good rhythm and hilariously devious conversations make this my personal favourite character.
Each character has they're own specific move set, with steady controls of A as a strong attack, X for quick hits, B special moves and Y special attacks. Most of which can be combined for devastating moves that can plough through droves of enemies at once or just be visually gruesome. They all have fairly different storys that don't always necessarily tie into the past games, nor do they always come across each other in battle. Your beloved heroes are not alone on their journeys either, accompanied by captains and generals beneath and above you. Devald, my particular favorite wingman, is an undead lich, that always refers to Leinheart as 'Milord' and tries to suggest the best course of action when battle ensues or is considered unnecessary. He is often brushed off as an annoyance and gets told off a few times for his insistance with memorable lines of dialogue in and out of battle. Devald: "War-chief Kulu's force is critical." Leinhart: "I'm asking you politely, Devald. Shut up." all in gloriously well done voice acting.
Start off by selecting your additional troops of up to 4 and when allowed, 2 extra support units. The objectives aren't always the same, but the majority of the time, the task is to decimate everything in sight. You take control of all your units and guide them across the map in search of others or objectives. You can give orders for troops to change their formation (tighter or spaced apart) for strategic advantages, send out lone soldiers to scout out the unknown battlefield (up to 3), send units to specific locations and position them to get every advantage out of your surroundings (which consist mostly of thick forests, barron deserts, mountain side hellholes and medieval camps and castles). The landscape also ties into battle very well, for example, placing units underneath trees makes them less vulnerable to arrow attacks, having the upper ground and making surprise attacks from the rear catch your enemies off guard etc. When units commence in battle, you take control of your character and dish out the damage personally, searching for high ranking officers to damage their morale and leave them hopeless, saving time and your troops lives. In time, the battle cries of your men and main general can be a bit annoying, with phrases like "We'll get another chance later" when retreating and character introductions. Each troop has their own health and SP bar (stamina or special points) along with their own unique abilities for use when SP is high enough. These mostly include healing & destruction spells, with elemental benefits like freezing, burning, paralysis, poisoning etc. Generals can also be summoned to aid you when pressing the white or black buttons.
Range through the different races of elves, humans & orcs - each with separate paths to becoming stronger, more advanced fighters. The unit types consist of various infantry, sappers, archers, spearman, axeman, cavalry, mortars or combinations of two. Special unit types also offer some fantastic options: elemental incarnations, massive scorpions, dirigibles, swamp mammoths, wyverns, catapults, balistas etc. With this vast arsenal of strategic options, you can make sure no battle is ever the same and plan your next one immensely to be in your favour. These troops get better stats and defence by being levelled up after gaining EXP from battles (which is spread out as you wish) to increase specific stats like attack power, elemental strength, teamwork, riding ability, frontal assault and several other perquisites to achieve the next rank. Every troop is led by a superior officer which can be changed and upgraded singularly. With victory, comes gold to spend on new recruits, weapons and armour. Purchase new leaders with new battle options in pubs, offering them a deal and haggling for a better price. Kit your troops out in new gear to make them more resilient in battle, acquire unique weaponry with elemental damage, more gold & EXP gain, better health & SP regen.
The soundtrack is built up of non stop heavy metal-core instrumental rock. Lots of chugging, grungey guitars with finger blister melodies, double bass pedal & over the top symbol use for intense battles and well chosen tracks to match themes such as retreating and gaining the upper hand. Outside of battle, the music is the same as the menu song - a downplayed, epic orchestral piece with sinister undertones. The credits upon completing the game bizarrely have timid piano pieces which may seem fitting to the end of fighting, but when you know the story, its only the beginning. The games introduction video that showcases the battles has some lyrics, along the lines of "I am alive, I am war" with the insane heavy metal musicianship going on. Even the when plotting out the battle beforehand you get bombarded with an intense metal-core soundtrack.
This feature was fairly good, meeting fellow opponents on Xbox Live to do battle with in similar fashion to the games campaign. Unfortunately there is no cooperative option which would have made this function so much more enjoyable and it was quite difficult to find anyone to compete with anyway and as of May 11, 2010, the old service was disconnected completely, making this mode obsolete.
Sometimes in battle, you'd get caught between fights and escaping which seemed like a glitch as you couldn't really do anything to stop it. Some troops just don't bare strong enough capabilities to warrant an inclusion to your battle or the game itself for that matter and the inclusion of the 'bone dragon' is even more of a slap in the face now as it sounds so awesome and appears a possible troop upgrade in the progression tree - but it was only possible in multiplayer. These are the only faults I could find for the game, that and loading times between battles and loading of saves, but since this is fairly old now and on the original Xbox platform, I can let that slide.
The difficulty will put a lot of gamers of as some levels are just ridiculously hard and only perfect timing and strategy will prevail - this is something I applaud because games don't challenge gamers as much anymore.. at least not legitimately. So I'd rate this a very high 4/5 stars, missing out because of the lack of coop, missing multiplayer, and somewhat short stories. Even so, I still go back to play this game every so often - because it defines the word challenging, whilst being rewarding, without being boring.