DRAGON QUEST HEROES II is yet another series spinoff that’s graced shores outside Japan, in what seems to been a plentiful last few years for the franchise’s faithful hoping to see more games on a home console. While the absence of a Dragon Quest X localization pangs, you won’t find yourself without a few good games that faithfully carry the series aesthetics down some interesting avenues, like the clever and lovely Dragon Quest Builders.
The second collaboration between Square Enix and Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force studio, Heroes II melds the hack-and-slash gameplay of the Dynasty Warriors franchise with the RPG chops of Dragon Quest.
The story by itself is a simple paint-by-numbers affair: two cousins are swept up into a war between seven nations that threatens a long-lasting peace, and in order to end it they must find the culprit bent on setting one country against another. Just like the first game, you’ll have a male and female protagonist to select from, though both tag along no matter who you choose. The plot unravels in a predictable yet inoffensive way, serviceable only for the battles that are about to come your way.
Aside from the cousins Teresa and Lazarel, you’ll be accompanied by Desdemona and Cesar, a warrior and a prince respectively — these make up the “original” additions to the cast, whereas the rest are filled in by heroes from the Dragon Quest series that inexplicably stumble into this world. While the story itself isn’t anything to write home about, the script and voice-work the game thankfully makes the characters enjoyable through the motions.
By and large, the game’s story progression and gameplay aren’t much different than the first Heroes, and I was a little underwhelmed that the game seemed to rest on the same tropes from the first. You’ll either be proceeding to your next story point, fighting in an arena with a boss, or engaging in the same large-scale battles from the first. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with these gameplay types, there aren’t any curve-balls coming here. There are a few attempts to mix things up with simple puzzles, but that’s about it.
There are some pretty nice additions to this outing: both Teresa and Lazarel can change their vocations (ex: Warrior, Priest, Thief, etc.) and I found myself quite quickly realizing that a healer other than the healslime Helix is definitely needed. Characters will also learn more than four moves, so you’ll have options to customize beyond the basic. Accessories have been revamped so that they can be upgraded with various materials in a skill tree-like system. Online multiplayer support has also been added, where you can delve into randomized dungeons by collecting maps. (Note: you’ll need active PlayStation Plus to participate fully this content.)
One difference from the original is that the world you’ll be exploring is all connected this time in various zones. While story progression remains largely the same as the first, this time you’ll be able to travel hither and thither through the game’s world instead of having to return to your hub. While you can fast travel with the Zoom spell back to Accordia (the game’s hub where you can shop and save,) the connected zones seem a bit redundant, yet you’re not going to wish them away. What makes adventuring out and about worthwhile are the addition of rare “wanted” targets and rarer bosses that will often drop bonus experience and treasure.
It’s my belief that difficult encounters can bring out the best and worst in a battle system, and it’s no different here. While Heroes II is earnestly enjoyable for the most part, things get messy during some of the large-scale battles. Generally, there are three classes of enemies here: attack-button fodder, “elite” monsters that sport their own health bars, and “mawkeepers” that must be downed quickly as they continuously spawn normal and elite monsters. Most of the time, your strategy will be to beeline for mawkeepers, which are often guarded by elite monsters.
It feels great to take these guys down, turning the tide of battle, but there are many instances where the elite monsters have entirely too much health and you feel you’re slowly slapping a wet noodle against an ever-increasing amount of enemies. Guarding and evading start to feel sluggish against the salvo of attacks that come your way, as well as the feckless lock-on feature that will still require you to awkwardly steer your character if you want attacks to land. If you have several large monster medals in play, good luck being able to see anything happening on your screen. Many large-scale battles progress in multiple stages, but should you fall during one, you’ll have to start the whole thing over again — which I found to be needlessly frustrating when it happened multiple times, despite being fully prepared and focused on the proper objectives. A checkpoint system would have been welcome.
There’s a lot that’s brought over from the first Heroes too. Not every series character returns, which is fine, but there were a handful of monsters that I feel I didn’t already see from the first game. The same goes for the soundtrack; despite the series hosting hundreds of excellent songs, you’ll still here most of the arrangements you’ve heard in the first game.
Overall, Heroes II adds some nice bells and whistles to the gameplay ecosystem, but still retains many of the same nitpicks that the first game dealt with. While the core combat is enjoyable enough to get you through the 30-35 hour scenario, there are definitely moments where it seems to buckle under the pressure of its encounter design. There’s plenty to do after of course: a plethora of quests, unlockable bosses, and ultimate weapons await. A “Flying Start” mode will allow you to carry over your experience and items for those who crave a new game plus feature.
Dragon Quest Heroes II ends up feeling more like a Dragon Quest Heroes 1.5, and it’s a bit clear this was a lower budget game Square Enix and Koei Tecmo are offering here. Performance and presentation-wise Heroes II isn’t going to push your console, but the lovely, colorful art direction with Akira Toriyama’s character designs at the center make that negligible. If you haven’t given the first game a shot, I’d recommend jumping in here, if not for some of the enjoyable new features.
- + Despite the vanilla story, the characters are enjoyable company thanks to the script and voice-work.
+ Enjoyable hack-and-slash combat that strikes a snug balance between Dragon Quest and Dynasty Warriors, it has longer legs than it may seem.
+ New gameplay features such as the ability to broaden your characters ability selection are quite welcome. The multi-player mode is also a nice new thing to play around with.
- – Large-scale battles can easily become a mess, highlighting the problems in the battle system. Having to start multiple stage battles over from the beginning several times was a bit frustrating.
– Not much new going on here. Many characters, monsters, and songs are reused from the first game.
Disclaimer: A PlayStation 4 (digital) version of Dragon Quest Heroes II was provided to Nova Crystallis by Square Enix for review.
Dragon Quest Heroes II is now available for PlayStation 4 and Steam. You can check out more of our coverage here.