My Hero Academia has been a juggernaut in the US anime and manga scene for years now, and it’s spun off into darn near every media avenue available; spin-off novels and manga, feature films, console video games, and now at long last a mobile game is reaching across the seas with the global release of My Hero Academia: The Strongest Hero. The game has just recently been released for English-speaking audiences this week, and I was lucky enough to sit down with Paul Joffe, VP of Games at Sony Pictures Television Games for a short demo with the pre-release version of the game, alongside some time playing on my own. So here’s a quick run-down of the basics of the game for all the newly arriving players, or those curious about picking it up.
My Hero Academia: The Strongest Hero is an action MMORPG with two major gameplay modes. First is the
Solo story mode – set chronologically between the USJ Invasion arc of the anime’s season 1 and the Stain arc of Season 2 – where you can play through a series of missions, each culminating with a boss battle. Like many other mobile action games, we’re dealing with a horizontal view and touch-screen controls, here utilizing combos and timed special moves in
3D beat-em-up battles. Each character has their own loadout of attacks, skills, and specials, and while there’s definitely some overlap a remarkable amount of variety is present between characters. Ranged fighters like Kaminari handle differently from melee specialists like Deku and Kirishima, and there’s a surprising amount of depth for positioning and timing during more difficult fights. After a lucky pull to get Uraraka, she quickly became my favorite with special moves that let her float above enemies and crash attacks down from the sky.
The game promises a large roster of playable characters, with 12 available to obtain at launch. Deku is your starter character, but that doesn’t mean the series’ main hero is relegated to a starter unit – each character comes with ability to train and upgrade using a number of resources gained by completing missions and gaining in-game achievements, and from the short look I got at one of the team’s late-game builds that allows for a similar ceiling for every Hero on the roster. On top of each character’s unique moves, there’s also a system of support cards – also earned by completing missions – that offer passive skills and active assists in combat. The entire setup isn’t terrible complicated, and was designed to accommodate as large a range of player skill-level as possible, but it does take a bit of getting used to and experimenting to get down pat.
The hub world is surprisingly large and spacious, though the test server was understandably pretty empty of other players. As a consequence this is perhaps the most tedious part of the game I’ve experienced so far – each new mission is doled out by an NPC character scattered around this city, often quite a ways apart. There’s thankfully a mini-map to help guide you, as well as an auto-travel option if you just want to be taken to the next mission node, but moving faster than a sprint in this mode requires gauging a stamina meter as your character rushes along the determined path. It’s not terrible, and will likely be more entertaining with other players to socialize with in between missions, but it mostly felt like a way to extend the early game. Movement outside of battle is also a bit of a hassle, just as a consequence of touch-screen controls for both moving your character and the camera.
Alongside all this are two multiplayer options: VS and Co-Op. VS is the main PVP element, pitting players against each other in 1v1 matchups. Each player selects 3 characters from their available roster, then pits their team against each other fighting-game style until one player’s heroes are KO’d or time runs out. While each player’s selection of heroes will be limited by their relative playtime, character levels are equalized during this mode to balance the playing field for newbies. Your heroes’ loadouts and your own ability to build combos and judicially deliver specials is the deciding factor. There’s also a 3v3 auto battle arena, which doles out rewards based on your team’s overall performance. Players familiar with the Arena in Princess Connect! Re:Dive will find a similar experience with this.
There’s a co-op function as well that allows you to either team up with friends or pair with fellow players through matchmaking, to take on wave-based missions and boss battles, with rewards based on each player’s performance in battle. These battles can actually prove difficult if you don’t have a sufficiently leveled team, which may make matchmaking a bit of a crapshoot once there’s a wider playerbase of differing levels. But at least for now it makes for a fun avenue for earning rewards, and potentially seeing characters you don’t have yet in action. I really want Tokoyami now.
That brings us to the gacha elements. While Deku, Kaminari, and Kirishima are all available upon completing the tutorial, the rest of the current roster – and presumably future characters to be added further into this release’s timeline – are available through summonings. I can’t attest to the exact likelihood or rate of any given character, but with any Free-To-Play game it makes expanding your roster of character – or getting your particular favorite hero – a question of luck or tedium. There’s a system in place that can allow you to obtain a hero if you collect a high amount of respective character “shards” but, as you’d guess, this takes a lot of work and resource farming. Personally I’ve never been a fan of this model, but it at least means that folks with enough patience and dedication can get their favs from MHA’s extensive cast without being tied to the whims of Gacha Hell.
Sights and Sounds
While the gameplay loop is key to making cite>My Hero Academia: The Strongest Hero engaging, perhaps its biggest hook over similar mobile action games is the property it’s attached to, and the development team have done an impressive job capturing the manga and anime’s charm here. The full-scale character models are fairly simple to accommodate the platform, but are still able to replicate the personality and energy of each hero pretty well. There’s also chibi forms for each character when upgrading and leveling them up, that are just adorable.
Though not quite as adorable as the tiny hopping Tsuyu that comprises the game’s loading bars, which is so gosh darn cute it almost makes up for having to wait for levels to load. Story mode also features a sprinkling of cutscenes, some created in-engine and others editing together scenes from the anime. The in-engine sequences are the most memorable,
recreating key moments of MHA’s story with a dash of quick-time events to keep things interesting, and they’re overall quite solid. They’re obviously no substitution for the anime, but as a neat bit of fanservice they do the job well. The battle animation is no slouch either, with each character having their own set of attacks and skills, peppered with visual effects. Ultimate moves also get unique cutscenes, and unlock Dramatic Finish-style bonus ones when you defeat a boss. In general, this is about as good looking a 3D game as I could ask for on a mobile platform.
Fans of the English dub will be happy to know that the Global release also features the dub cast – though the JP cast is also an option if that’s your preference. There’s not a ton of spoken dialogue in the game so far, but it’s still a worthwhile addition that suggests there’s a big push being made for cite>My Hero Academia: The Strongest Hero.
My experience with The Strongest Hero’s opening hours is a tale of two very different gameplay systems. The combat is actually remarkably fun, and I say that as somebody who usually prefers to play action games on console rather than mobile. The fights are fairly short, which keeps the simple controls from getting stale, and in my limited time with the 5 characters I had there was a noticeable enough difference in style and skills that playing as different heroes felt worthwhile. It does still require some finesse – learning to time my dodges was vital, alongside proper positioning in some boss fights – so unless you’re willing to farm training resources you’ll need to be at least a little more proficient than button mashing. On the whole though, this feels good to play right, which is more than I can say for a lot of mobile action games I’ve tried.
Though speaking of resources, that’s where things get a lot muddier. Like many mobile games, The Strongest Hero is absolutely awash in resources, various currencies, and a plethora of separate game modes that were just overwhelming to start. The guided tutorial is continually instructing you to upgrade heroes, upgrade skills, upgrade supports, upgrade talents, upgrade gear, on top of various mini games like Hero Theater, the dorm, and a handful of other features I wasn’t able to unlock before press time. It’s just too much to throw on all at once, and with multiple daily quests and timers for nearly all of them, it starts to feel more like a time sink than anything else. Players with sharper attention spans may handle it just fine, but after a while my eyes started glazing over. After a few hours it started to make sense, but it’s still far too much navigating menus and tapping level up buttons for my taste.
How these two systems interact is likely going to make or break the game for a lot of players. While skill can carry you for a while, eventually it becomes necessary to properly upgrade your heroes, gear, talents, etc. If managing all that is too much of a hassle, and the non-story game modes aren’t enough of a draw, I could easily see myself falling off the whole
thing because I don’t feel like managing resources in order to beat a particular boss. But he combat is fun, the overall polish is admirable, and that may just be enough to keep me playing long enough to get into the proper loop for it. Mobile games are almost always a balance between the enjoyable elements and the manufactured discontent of free-to-play design, and while it doesn’t feel like this one’s quite there yet, I do have hope. If nothing else, MHA superfans should give The Strongest Hero a shot just for the fun of it.