Dragon Quest Heroes II PS4 Review
In retrospect, Square Enix’s Dragon Quest franchise shares a few things in common with Omega Force’s Dynasty Warriors series; both are long-running franchises that helped build the foundations of their respective genres (turn-based RPG combat for Dragon Quest, button-mashing action for Dynasty Warriors, the latter which coined the phrase “Musou” for its subsequent sequels and spin-offs), and both have persisted for decades without heavily diverging from their core mechanics; only when both series began pumping out spin-off titles did they begin to diverge from their repetitive-yet-refined formulas, and only during the most recent console generations did they both begin to change things up with their core releases.
With those similarities in mind, there’s a certain amount of irony that the folks behind the Musou games would create a Dragon Quest-themed spinoff that combines the classic characters and creatures of the series with the caffeine-fueled intensity of slaying a hundred onscreen enemies at a time. As the name implies, Dragon Quest Heroes II is the second collaboration between Square Enix and Omega Force, with the first game released two years ago on Sony’s platforms as well as PC (and is now being re-released alongside the newest sequel on the Nintendo Switch). Despite its billing as a sequel, Dragon Quest Heroes II features an all-new story starring both new and old characters.
The story takes place in a world governed by seven kingdoms, built on the foundations of a devastating war that took place one thousand years prior. If that part sounds like a typical JRPG story, then this next bit should come as no surprise: an ancient prophesy foretells of a new war that will befall the land, which our two main characters (Lazarel and Teressa, as they are called by default) are thrown into the thick of it as their old friend Prince Cesar launches a surprise attack on the peaceful kingdom of Harba. The two knights-in-training join forces with Desdemona, a beautiful-yet-powerful knight of Accordia to find out why Cesar is out for blood and what unseen force may be manipulating the kingdoms to kill each other. Along the way, the trio will quickly fill out their party with classic Dragon Quest heroes like the pudgy shopkeeper Torneko, the twin sisters Meena and Maya, the burly brawler Carter, curvaceous spell-caster Jessica and many others who suddenly found themselves out of their respective worlds and into trouble.
Though the Dragon Quest series has failed to move beyond its cult status in the West (compared to its Disney-caliber success in Japan, to the point that it’s even got an entry in their dictionary), it’s hard not to appreciate its timeless art direction and character designs, which should look immediately familiar to Dragon Ball fans as both series share the same artist. While Akira Toriyama has a penchant for drawing the same spikey-haired heroes ad nauseam, his creature designs are wildly imaginative and easily outshine everything else. From the iconic Slimes to the towering Golems, all of Dragon Quest‘s most popular monsters are present…which means it’s the players’ job to mow them down by the thousands.
Indeed, the familiar combos, special attacks, and super-duper special attacks are all present here, though this time the Musou part of this crossover has been diluted somewhat in favor of sticking closer to the source material. In addition to button-mashing monsters into oblivion, Dragon Quest Heroes II also contains a multitude of RPG mechanics, including visiting towns, completing quests, purchasing equipment, and good old fashioned leveling up with experience points. Though the screen is still filled with hundreds of enemy fodder, the outside areas have also opened significantly to allow more exploration: treasure chests, rare materials, and even rare monsters can be found throughout each zone, as well as waypoint crystals for instant fast travel between areas and Accordia (which serves as the main hub for buying equipment and upgrading characters). Much has been added in the way of objectives and content to keep the Musou aspect from growing too tedious too quickly, including the ability to instantly switch between four party members at a time; each character has their own specialty, from Carver’s heavy swings to Maribel’s long-distant attacks, and additional skills can be earned and slotted when unlocked. Even the two protagonists can switch between different play styles: fancy turning Teresa into a kung-fu queen, or having Lazarel offer an extra healing hand? Vocations can be switched in and out while at town, and the characters retain their levels and skill points no matter how often they swap around (there are even skill upgrades that carry across every Vocation, such as extra HP or MP).
As varied as the character customization and sidequests can be, the core combat is still Musou to the core, which means that if the first dozen titles in the genre did not impress, then Dragon Quest Heroes II isn’t going to change your mind; combat still primarily consists of hitting the same buttons over and over and unleashing the same special attacks over and over, though the ability to swap between playable party members makes things a bit more exciting. There are also monster medals that are dropped by enemies, which allow players to summon AI-controlled monsters to fight alongside you…some medals even allow players to transform into certain monsters temporarily, while others provide status buffs that are both useful and necessary (such as requiring a medal to protect against poisonous terrain). The combat’s repetition hits its sourest point, however, when dealing with bosses, which tend to be massive hit sponges with lots of health while also ramping up the difficulty, with the battles against other characters proving especially frustrating.
Fortunately, the visual fidelity and seizure-inducing effects go a long way in keeping things entertaining even when the combat has waned; Omega Force has perfectly captured the art style that defined Dragon Quest for over thirty years, with every human, monster and whatever the heck Hoods are in full 3D and 60 frames per second (though expect some minor chugging if you’re opting for the 4K option on the PS4 Pro). The audio portion also brings back the varied accents for each character, a charming alternative to the usual English dubs found in these games (and rarely present within the actual DQ games themselves, considering the majority of recent releases have been exclusively portable).
Overall, Dragon Quest Heroes II is easily the most lovingly-recreated celebration of fanservice since Hyrule Warriors. There is an undeniable charm in its presentation, dialog and audio cues, and the shift towards more gameplay variety than the average Musou title is greatly appreciated, even if it isn’t the biggest step forward. There is also an RPG worth’s amount of extra content, including periodic updates featuring additional characters to fight alongside and powerful new foes to fight against. Musou titles may more commonplace than sports games these days, but this is definitely one of the few worth seeking out, and an absolute must-have purchase for longtime Dragon Quest fans.