Slimes. Cameos from members of past main series Dragon Quest games. Akira Toriyama art and Koichi Sugiyama musical accompaniment. It seems to me that this might be a Dragon Quest game. Well, me, you’re wrong. Despite the name, look, and sound, Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is NOT your typical Dragon Quest game.
Developed by Omega Force (creators of the Dynasty Warriors franchise), this is a single-player hack-and-slash action game that tries to successfully incorporate some of the typical Dragon Quest RPG elements. It is the second time in recent years that Omega Force has produced a spin-off game for a popular franchise- the former being the Zelda-themed Hyrule Warriors, which was met with mostly positive reviews.
As a huge fan of the previous Dragon Quest games (particularly DQ8: Journey of the Cursed King), I approached this game with excitement and some skepticism. However, judging this game on its merits as a typical Dragon Quest experience will only leave you disappointed.
Dragon Quest Heroes is set in the kingdom of Arba at a time when monsters and humans live together peacefully. In the very first scene of the game, the monsters suddenly begin to attack their human friends, and it is up to Royal Bodyguards Luceus and Aurora to determine why, how many monsters have been affected (it’s a global threat, who would have guessed?), and how to stop them. They are joined by King Doric, and as the game progresses, a number of familiar faces from previous Dragon Quest games.
One aspect of the Dragon Quest games I have always appreciated is the sense of connection to the hero’s journey- achieved through a strong narrative, realistic characterization, and an immersive world. Unfortunately, the present game delivers none of these elements.
The typical good vs. evil dichotomy drives the narrative of this game- overused albeit acceptable. However, what is unacceptable and unrealistic are the character reactions to the complication in their lives. If your pets suddenly became vicious, would you cut them down and move on? Luceus and Aurora seem happy to do so, even when one of their closest companions is a monster (Healix). Meanwhile, King Doric seems perfectly happy to forego his immediate duties and set off on an adventure. I understand Omega Force were aiming to create quirky personalities, but the decisions the characters make are irrational. Alena, for example, is on a quest so important that she doesn’t bat an eyelid when she discovers that she has followed her target to a new dimension. However, when she learns of Luceus and Aurora’s quest, she happily tags along with no second thought to the previous quest she was on!
We have moved to an era of gaming where the characterization in and narrative of RPG and/or journey-themed games needs to be strong. Many big name games even use their narrative to encourage gamers to reflect on the human condition- for example, the Last of Us, Mass Effect, and to an extent Pokemon- and there is no excuse for delivering such a basic plot with childish, idealistic characters.
Furthermore, even though the framerate is smooth and the graphics really bring the iconic Dragon Ball inspired cast of monsters to life, it is not enough to make you feel a sense of connection to the Kingdom of Arba. Unlike previous Dragon Quest games, there is no open world feel and players are not encouraged to explore- all managerial actions occur from a homebase, and players enter the wild to progress the story and start a new mission then return to the homebase afterwards. This gives Dragon Quest Heroes a very “level by level” feel, only emphasised by the ridiculous and repetitive cut scenes at the end of each horde of enemies in which the protagonists spout self-aggrandising statements.
The environmental interaction is also poor- smashing a vase here and there, and talking to the few NPCs who inhabit the world (who are all business-like with no real flavour) seems to be the extent of it.
So, if you’re a dragon quest fan, now is the time to put your currency away and wait for Dragon Quest XI (intended to be released in conjunction with the series’ 30th anniversary in 2016).
But what if you’re a Dynasty Warriors fan?
As it is marketed as a hack-and-slash action game, it is pertinent, in any critique, to consider the combat elements of Dragon Quest Heroes. Ultimately, the combat element plays out like a real-time strategy tower defense where party members and recruited monsters act to defend an object or person against waves of enemy monsters, with the occasional boss battle thrown in.
There is a good explanation of controls and the character movement is fluid, making it easy to execute a myriad of attack combinations as well as dodge and defend.
However, the actual combat is very easy and you will hardly ever need to use anything other than your standard square attack. Aiming is completely unnecessary (and difficult to do when you want to), and button mashing square will usually be sufficient to mow down the swarms of enemies (one swipe of the blade can usually knock out every enemy in the immediate vicinity). Most enemies just stand around waiting to be struck down and are not even vaguely threatening, which serves to undermine the attack skill trees and other managerial RPG elements that exist, as you do not really need to utilize them.
When a player’s tension bar is full (after a certain number of enemies are defeated), the player can enter a super-saiyan- like state of full tension and unleash their special attack (Luceus’ coup de grace is clearly Kamehameha inspired)- a nice nod to both Dragon Ball and the states of tension of the Dragon Quest games. Further, each character does have a different fighting style (which again harks back nicely to the main title DQ games) but once again you’re really just figuring out whom you’re most comfortable pressing square with and who has the flashiest special attack.
There are also some missed opportunities with game design. For example, there is a lack of local or online multiplayer or any real interaction with other party members when fighting (they seem to be as idle as the foes they’re fighting). The menus could also have an improved layout.
Ultimately, it took me a long time to figure out how to turn “it’s a bad RPG and an easy hack-and-slash all rolled into one pretty package” into a 1000+ word article, but there you have it. To paraphrase the wise words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, if you’re a DQ fan, this is not the game you are looking for. However, if you’re a Dynasty Warriors disciple with a lot of spare time and a desire to play on autopilot, you might enjoy this title.