The rise in popularity of 3D-based strategy card games is no secret. They’ve wormed their way into a variety of genres and storied franchises to the point that they’re almost expected. With competition fierce and ever-growing, I’ve been wondering if there’s any space for something more original and less reliant on established properties. Enter Mahokenshi by Game Source Studio, a deck-building card game that’s steeped in Japanese mythology while offering up an accessible and often challenging experience for newcomers and strategy veterans alike.
Getting your teeth into Mahokenshi means understanding several key elements. First, there’s a story and flavor text to go along with almost everything that really highlights the dedication to presentation. You take on the role of the titular Mahokenshi, or samurai mage, whose job is to take to the realm of the Celestial Islands to battle the uprising of dark forces and figure out just what has been going on with missing citizens. Along the way, you’ll encounter mythological elements that really sell the whole fantasy world. Nearly everything has a little descriptor to it so there’s quite a lot to take in here.
One of the main draws of Mahokenshi is its samurai house system. While you will start the game as a samurai mage of the House of Ruby which favors offensive actions, making your way through the main story will unlock the other three houses for your perusal. Each house represents a different play style and set of cards to go along with them and favor traits such as powerful spells, lethal traps, or heavy armor. Leveling up each type goes a long way – especially in some of the later, more challenging missions. Being able to equip these different play styles keeps the experience fresh, so you’re not just spamming the same deck over and over.
Mahokenshi eases you into its missions, for which there is a healthy number of. You have main story missions which will open up new areas upon sequential completion, along with side quests that you can take on to level up or just take on extra challenges that have different goals or quirks to them. The story missions come in a variety of flavors on their own, so if you want to zip through those you’ll still get a taste of different outcomes. For example, some missions have time-sensitive objectives. There might be a major enemy who is going to roam around and destroy villages. If it manages to destroy all of them, you end the game in defeat.
Another example of these trials involves closing portals where monsters can spawn from. Objectives such as these will be displayed at the start of each quest and left as a reminder on the side of the screen. Some of these conditions are quite simple, while others are quite challenging. You’ll have to really think about your deck and how you’re going to move around the map to obtain victory. Should you fail, that’s just fine; get up and come back with some flashy new stats and the foresight to take a different path. The only real downside is there’s not a lot in terms of normal enemy variety, but the mid-range monsters and bosses do pull their weight in terms of originality. Mahokenshi is the type of game that doesn’t necessarily hold your hand – rushing headfirst without preparing for battle usually doesn’t work and that’s something I learned out of the gate rather quickly.
The way strategy and the gameplay loop play out in Mahokenshi is fairly straightforward. You’ll enter each mission with a fresh deck and from there a number of turns. During each turn, you can decide to move about the hexagonal map, attack enemies, and visit villages that offer things like shops and upgrades. Each map offers a large area so there’s room to think about your actions, and specific terrain can even grant specific stat bonuses to your character. Once you do encounter an enemy, you can see how much health they have by a number displayed on the screen and play the card you need accordingly. The cards themselves can do more than just standard damage attacks too. There are some you can play to up your strength and defense for a number of turns, eliminate status effects, or prep a counterattack by throwing spikes at your opponent automatically after their turn.
Not all cards are beneficial, however, certain enemies can cast a curse on you and you’ll be saddled with cards that not only fill up your current hand but chip off your health in the process. You can get rid of these cursed cards pretty easily – simply discard them or give them up with another card that requires said action to be put in play. It can get really frustrating if you get bombarded with these curses on top of other status effects such as poison. You’ll really need to manage your resources and get in the clear as soon as possible otherwise defeat is a real possibility. As annoying as they are, this added sense of urgency keeps Mahokenshi from being an overly easy experience and I found myself wallowing in defeat more often than not.
In addition to the deck-building aspect, Mahokenshi allows you to upgrade your character with several paths known as Ways of the Mahoken. There are three paths to choose from including Way of the Sword, Way of Humility, and Way of Valor which give you stat and other bonuses based on strength, defense, or wealth by spending an allotted amount of crystal currency. Should you wish to go down a different route, simply reset your upgrades and try out something new. I found myself preferring the health path after a while because later missions really pack a punch and being able to recover in villages is a huge bonus.
Other upgrades include items known as talismans. These are important to equip because they net you things like health bonuses and other benefits that can come in handy during a pinch. Talismans can be purchased during missions at certain villages and you’ll be asked to equip the one you want to use before you set out on each mission.
While the gameplay is engaging enough to hold your attention, it would be remiss to ignore the other bits and pieces that pull everything together. Colorful 3D models make up the bulk of the gameplay whilst painted portraits cover cards, menus, and story scenes. There are some animated elements in there too, which makes it all very polished and lovely to look at.
Overall, Mahokenshi is a solid deck-building game with plenty surrounding it to make it worthwhile for fans of the genre. If you’re new to card games and just want to come for the Japanese aesthetic, that works too, as the samurai house system offers up a unique take on different warrior classes and the different skills they have at the ready. The turn-based mechanics are easy to get used to and the payoff for completing each mission upon finding successful strategies makes Mahokenshi challenging but not in a way that feels cheap or frustrating. While base enemies could stand to be more varied, the boss characters are unique and further flesh out the pieces of mythology scattered throughout. Combined with its colorful visuals, Mahokenshi is a bright spot and good place to jump into gaming for the start of this year.
TechRaptor reviewed Mahokenshi on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
- Fully Fleshes Out Japanese Mythology Themes
- Challenging Yet Accessible Gameplay
- A Wealth Of Card and Skill Variety
- Polished And Colorful Visuals
- Somewhat Limited Base Enemy Variety