Dragon Quest has had a bit of a tricky situation internationally – with several prominent titles missing in action outside of Japan.
The series really speaks to what some may point out as differences between the east and the west: that of traditional turn-based RPG’s versus fast-paced action titles, and more significantly, that of a region of the gaming world increasingly moving towards handheld machines and mobile devices versus one that still celebrates larger, blockbuster console releases. In fact, it has not been since 2004’s Dragon Quest VIII (a personal favorite of mine) that the series has had a significant console release.
It makes sense, then, that Square Enix hopes to address the challenge of jump-starting Dragon Quest in the west with Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below – an action RPG created in collaboration with Tecmo Koei, creators of the button-mashy ‘Warriors’ (or Musou) titles. Set to release on the PlayStation 4 later this year, it’s already done well enough in Japan to warrant a sequel – but it remains to be seen if Heroes can replicate this success in the West.
My reservations going into my hands-on with Dragon Quest Heroes were two-fold. The top of that pile is the reputation of the Dynasty Warriors series as a slightly mindless button-masher – a series Heroes draws heavy inspiration and development talent from. The other was more personal – if the action-based battle system would leave Heroes feeling like an imposter wearing the Dragon Quest name.
The demo provided two options – either a boss battle against the iconic Dragon Quest cyclops enemy or being dropped in a field reminiscent of a world map from previous games and clearing waves of enemies. Wanting to get familiar with the game, I opted for the latter.
Immediately striking is how beautiful the game looks; the gorgeous cel-shaded graphics echoed back to the style of Dragon Quest VIII. The fields, enemies, and characters all popped with color and evoked the feel of watching an Akira Toriyama cartoon (think Dragon Ball Z). Zany monsters, including momon cats, drackys and of course the iconic slimes, dot the field in the dozens. The map felt alive with activity.
The demo dropped me in a field with four characters – a male and female character unique to Heroes alongside Dragon Quest IV’s melee fighter Alena and spear-wielding priest Kiryl. I was allowed to freely switch between each of the four characters instantaneously as the AI took over the other three members of the party.
Players have a regular attack, which can be chained, alongside a charge attack mapped to a secondary button. A jump button allowed for each of these moves also behave differently when midair. Pressing the R1 button opened up a menu to use character-specific abilities, many of which I recognized as abilities from previous Dragon Quest titles, mapped to the four action buttons. These moves hit hard, and were particularly useful when surrounded by large hoards of regular enemies, but also depleted MP.
In addition to MP, all of the Dragon Quest staples were present despite the action driven nature of the battles, from HP to the signature series pop up bubbles representing damage given and taken, and even surprisingly enough, experience. There were several instances where I noticed my character leveling up. How this will play out in the full game is unclear, but my interest is definitely peaked if standard RPG leveling and upgrade elements will be present.
There was also some variety between each of the character’s unique skill sets and stats. The characters from previous Dragon Quest titles in particular felt alive and natural – just how I would have imagined them to play in an action RPG. All of these elements came into play at the end of the demo during the fight against a very tough golem; it hit quite hard and required the clever usage of abilities. All of these combinations of moves made for a frantic and varied battle system, with some basic elements of strategy due to the necessity to dodge and time attacks accordingly.
Even still, the demo felt shamefully easy. Once I acquainted myself with the controls, there was very little in the way that truly posed a threat. While some of my characters did end up being KO’d, I never truly felt in danger. Despite only playing for about half an hour, this ease in difficulty tragically lends itself to button mashing more often than it should. Hopefully this is only the case in the demo, with the full game layering difficulty and strategy on over time.
Despite these concerns, I came walking away from this build excited for Dragon Quest Heroes and I’m convinced that despite its firm roots in a different genre, it is a worthy entry in the franchise. Square Enix has promised some exciting DLC releasing alongside the final release, including bouts against classic villains from throughout the Dragon Quest series. And with a host of characters to play as, including Dragon Quest VIII’s Yangus and Jessica, two I can’t wait to try out, Heroes looks to pay homage to the series in all the right ways.
Dragon Quest Heroes launches on October 13th in North America and October 16th in Europe.