Dawn of Heroes for the Nintendo DS is a fantasy strategy/tactical RPG being developed by Wicked Studios based in Montreal and published by Majesco. This preview is based on video and screenshots on the official site and developer interviews at Joystiq and RPGamer.
Dawn of Heroes packs a full featured SRPG experience into the DS, with an ambitious 50 mission branching campaign, online multiplayer, and combat and customization systems that distinguish it from other SRPGs.
There are 26 different heroes available with their own stats and abilities. Heroes come in different classes like Supporter, Attacker, Guardian, and Controller. There's a wide variety of special abilities which should add plenty of strategic depth to the game. I'm impressed by the sheer number of abilities on display in the preview videos. There are buffs, debuffs, all sorts of damage spells, spells that move targets around, etc. I'm pretty sure each hero has a limited number of ability slots and the player can choose which abilities they want to take into battle with them. Heroes can be decked out in a wide variety of weapons and gear that all have different effects, and items and scrolls can also be equipped and used. The combat system reminds me most of a turn based Guild Wars, with the ability slotting and small scale fights with about 4-6 heroes.
The campaign has around 50 missions and there are also optional, sometimes hidden objectives and optional bosses. Bosses can sometimes be 4 squares large and possibly larger, taking up a lot of space on the battlefield. On the world map you can enter towns where you can hire new heroes and buy gear and consumables. In the camp screen you can customize your heroes name, palette colors, and swap around their gear and abilities.
The "fair fight rule" prevents a unit from being attacked twice in one turn. I don't recall this ever being done in an SRPG before, so it will be interesting to see how they balance this mechanic, considering that focus fire is an integral part of strategy games of all kinds. In some of the gameplay videos I see multiple units attacking a boss so maybe the rule has been changed, or it doesn't apply to bosses.
The developers have placed a big emphasis on multiplayer being balanced and strategic, not just a side thought thrown in at the last minute. It will certainly be impressive if they can successfully balance the huge variety of abilities and equipment in the game. You must build up your heroes in the campaign before you can use them in multiplayer, from what I can tell in the videos.
One big UI distinction is that the game is played with the DS stylus only. From looking at the videos on the site there are no text menus to speak of, only a bar at the bottom with icons representing your heroes abilities. Having recently played a bunch of iPhone games that are also touch only, I think there's a lot of potential in a stylus only context sensitive UI that bypasses menus entirely.
Graphically the game looks great for a 3D DS game - it's up there with the upcoming Dragon Quest 9. I'm hoping there's an option to turn the animations off, even though they look good. The music is decent and sound effects fit with the cartoonish nature of the game.
I've been told the game has been delayed due to the approval for production process, but hopefully those issues are cleared up quickly and the game arrives on store shelves this year. Even so, it's likely the print run for this game will be relatively small, so it's best to pre-order your copy to be sure. Dawn of Heroes DS looks like it will be an innovative and well made SRPG, so don't hesitate if you're a fan of the genre.