The power of friendship prevails.
If you’re a Dragon Quest fan like I, then you were probably pretty excited when Square Enix announced Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below. Abandoning the patented turn based RPG combat for a hack-and-slash action RPG, Square Enix delivered a financial risk. Fans of established series can be harsh, and Dragon Quest is nothing if not established.
But fear not. When examined on the whole, Dragon Quest Heroes delivers an experience that most Dragon Quest (formerly known as Dragon Warrior) fans will appreciate.
Dragon Quest Heroes puts the player in the shoes of one of two main characters, Luceus and Aurora. Humans and monsters live in peace and harmony. Amidst a celebration, a terrible and mysterious darkness spreads throughout the world, corrupting the minds of the monsters and causing them to attack their human brethren. In response, Luceus, Aurora, and their king, Doric must clear the town’s castle and city of evil. They learn that the corruption has spread throughout the entire world and set forth on a grand adventure to save the day.
Obvious to fans of Dragon Quest is the extreme change in combat. It shifted from classic turn based battles to a hack-and-slash experience similar to Dynasty Warriors with a twist. This iteration will definitely not be for everyone, but it is enjoyable to those who are willing to look at Dragon Quest in a new light. Keep in mind that this is not a fundamental change in the Dragon Quest franchise; it is just for this new addition.
That being said, combat in Heroes was very enjoyable. You control a party of three from an expanding cast of characters. In battle, you can easily rotate between characters to fight as any of the three. This comes in handy when strategizing for an upcoming mission or switching between a healer, magic user, or brute to battle the current boss. Each character has his or her own set of skills, magic, and abilities to learn while sharing similar universal traits with all characters (each has to learn them separately).
Combat functions with the combinations of the square and triangle buttons mostly. A simple hold of the R1 button will pull up the magic attack display, and you can then chose any of the square, circle, x, or triangle buttons to wield the assigned spell. Each character only has four unique abilities, and the hero only has three (x is designated to zap around the maps). One refreshing addition to the combat was monster coins. When the player defeats a monster, it may drop a coin of itself. These coins can be utilized in combat to send monsters to battle on your behalf. On the whole, the combat is fluid and, while some battles are frustrating, very sound.
Any hack-and-slash game can become tedious and repetitive. Heroes does not manage to escape that trend. It does, however, try. Each segment of the game is set apart by a series of missions and a boss battle. The missions vary between eliminating a variable amount of enemies to defending a designated location or NPC. Boss fights proceeded the sets of missions, each with a fairly unique aspect to its respective battle.
On top of the story missions, Dragon Quest Heroes offers some variety in the form of quests and maps. A plethora of quests can be accepted and completed via the quest counter with various rewards. Luckily, quests were not restricted to killing a certain number of foes (though there were plenty of those). As the story mode progressed, more interesting quests and rewards began to filter through. Inversely, maps, once deciphered, allowed players to take on challenges in different regions outside of the story mode. Often times, the maps set up boss fight challenges or horde mode challenges, but they offered fairly decent rewards to make some worth the time.
Movement is done by moving a cursor (your ship for most of the game) over a designated city on a map and selecting the mission, map, or quest that you want to conquer.
Outside of the combat and missions, Heroes is voiced by an excellent cast of actors. Characters speak as they should, meaning it’s not a slew of Americanized voices. To top that, the dialogue, while campy and cheesy at points, does an excellent job of characterizing the cast. Remember, characterization is more than just personalities. In fact, it is done so well that it really brings the characters to life in a way that some games fall completely flat.
Another interesting aspect Heroes added to the game is a small crafting system. Weapons become gradually available through the blacksmith, but accessories need to be crafted. Recipes can be found via monsters, missions, quest, or, after acquiring mini-medals, procured from the medal collector. The various accessories require materials dropped from the myriad enemies you will battle, or the maps, quests, and even the medal collector, too.
Play time turns out to be a 30 plus hour endeavor. I beat the game in around 35 hours without completing all the missions or maps and without taking a stab at new game plus. I can easily see the platinum taking up to or over 100 hours, meaning there is ample replay value. With this said, however, I must remind the reader that there is little variety with what content is available to the player.
If you’re a Dragon Quest fan and completely dislike the hack-and-slash style of gameplay, I will have you know that Square Enix did not abandon the art style beloved of the series. Is it enough to save the experience for the hardcore Questers? Probably not. But the cute monsters, colorful art style, and bright scenery is a nod in the right direction. Oh, and let’s not forget, this is a chance to adventure with all of your favorite characters from the slew of Dragon Quest/Warrior games of the past. Add in the classic Dragon Quest soundtrack, and you can almost imagine it as canon.
My biggest personal complaint with Dragon Quest Heroes is the paltry, cookie cutter save the world story. As I’ve noted time and again, save the world stories do not have to be so cliché they hurt. In Heroes, however, the story is so incredibly corny that I could only shake my head in dry amusement. It’s not a bad story in the least, but it’s overdone. What saves it from being completely bland is the twist or two added to the narrative.
In conclusion, Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below mashes a mediocre and clichéd story into solid hack-and-slash/action RPG gameplay with a few unique additions to an otherwise redundant system. Fans of Dragon Quest or Dynasty Warriors can find things to love and hate about Heroes, but you should know whether you will enjoy the experience before you purchase the final product.