Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below PS4 Review
It has come to the point in Omega Force’s 18 year career where I always find it exciting to see what licence is going to be used for their next Warriors (or Musou as known in Japan) title. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy taking down the Yellow Turbans and getting my arse kicked by Lu Bu, and I still think Samurai Warriors 4 is the best Warriors game to date, but I do savour jumping into other worlds with the solid mechanics that have grown and matured over all these years.
Hyrule Warriors showed that Omega Force can capture the essence of a game series and recreate in a way that shows their love and understanding of the IP, while making a game for fans of Musou and for the people who love the intellectual property it crosses with, the ones who have emotional ties built up over the years and spot all the care and fanfare poured into each Musou spin-off. Dragon Quest Heroes is Omega Force at it again, and just like Hyrule Warriors, Omega Force knows what will get Dragon Quest fans excited for this nearly 30 year old classic Japanese RPG franchise that has been reborn into a slightly different type of Warriors game.
Set in the world of Elsaize, the game begins by setting up the game’s main two heroes in the kingdom of Arba. This is a land where monsters and people are happily existing together, where people can walk around without a worry in the world. This peace is disrupted when the local festival is suddenly thrown into chaos by an unknown explosion of purple gas that turns all the monsters into aggressive human hunters. This leads the new heroes, the strategist, Luceus, and the jump-into-action, Aurora, to go on an adventure to find out what has caused the monsters to turn evil.
The story isn’t complex, in fact, it’s rather predictable with a straightforward good vs evil plot, but it’s a fun and charming adventure with a group of brand new and likeable characters, especially the bolstering King Doric and his brilliant laugh. Of course, fan favourites also appear in the story, as these well-known Dragon Quest heroes (see what I did there…) are brought into this original world through dimensional travel. You have the proud and legendary skills of Terry the swordsman, the cockney bandit, Yangus and the martial arts master, Alena, all coming together for this Dragon Quest adventure. In total there are 12 playable characters, which might sound small, but each character comes with their own attack combos, skills and magic abilities to level up with, so while the size of the cast is not a huge party as seen in something like Dynasty Warriors or Pirate Warriors, it is not huge negative, thanks to their individuality. Most people are likely to stick with their favourite heroes, anyway.
Fans seeing these heroes of old sprung into new life on the PlayStation 4 will be a treat for them. Akira Toriyama’s classy and unforgeable style benefits tremendously from the 1080p high-definition presentation, with both character and enemy designs getting to fully shine. All the cast are voiced, which is new for characters pre-Dragon Quest VIII, but all fit into the game’s British voice cast that seems to be a thing for the series. Playing through Dragon Quest Heroes’ 20 hour campaign – with a new game+ mode to up the difficulty on replays – is an art gallery exhibition of gorgeous wonder, as seeing classic Dragon Quest monsters and other trademark features is sure to make any fan smile with glee. The simplistic style of Akira Toriyama also helps the game stay close to running 60fps for most of the game’s hectic action.
Dragon Quest Heroes shrinks down the core of a Warriors game into something that feels a bit more closely with arena-based survival. Most stages are much smaller than the large scale battles of Dynasty Warriors, and the objective here often revolves around protecting something, while hunting down portals that spawn enemies into the world. The end goal for every stage is either shut down the portals by killing their Mawkeeper, or if the stage features a boss, then take them down as well. Bosses are done well and do not always fall into the hack-until-defeated category. One example has an ogre smashing through a small town and the most efficient way to stop him is to hit his eye, but since he’s so tall, the help of arrow turrets situated on top of buildings are needed to do critical damage. Mostly, though, the game can be described as closing portals and eradicating the enemies without the objective taking too much damage. Simple description, but the map design causes this to be more complicated then it initially sounds. Imagine protecting a mayor who is stuck in the centre of the map, with three access paths towards him. Down these paths come hundreds of monsters all aimed to sample the succulent flesh of the mayor. Rushing around hacking them all down will get you so far, but to understand and run a smoother operation requires understanding and using the additional mechanics not seen before in a Warriors game.
I keep comparing it to all these previous Musou games, mainly because it’s from the same developer and the base gameplay has a lot in common with those games. But to be fair, while there is a lot of hacking and slashing monsters, this is the title in the company’s catalogue that pulls away mostly from the standard gameplay style Omega Force has become known for. This is due to the developers bringing in Dragon Quest‘s signature features and heritage This is a series known for being one of Japan’s biggest role-playing games, and elements of that genre have been morphed into an action game to have this hybrid action-lite-RPG that does well to uphold its source material’s elements.
Every character has the typical light and heavy attacks that are assigned to the square and triangle buttons. Mixing these up links into a tiny selection of combinations, but unlike mainline Musou games, Dragon Quest Heroes does not offer much in ways of extending the combos. There aren’t many to remember, so I found myself repeating the same basic attacks. A focus has been put on bringing other ways to deal damage, such as each character having three distinct magic spells that use MP as a resource to cast, a variety of enemies that need taking down through other ways that is not simply hacking at them, such as the knight with a shield, who has to be rolled past to be able to attack his weakened back. The roll is a very powerful tool in Dragon Quest Heroes that allows you to speedily dodge out of harms way, similar to the dash in Pirate Warriors 3, but much more effective here. Lastly, the musou special for this game is what is known in Dragon Quest as high-tension, where the character is given a purple hue and a huge buff in attack, mobility (can air dash) and defence, then can finish with an ultimate move either when the bar runs out or at any time during high-tension. These moves are incredibly powerful, wiping out a zone of enemies without a hitch.
A party system is in place that allows up to four characters to go to battle. The AI will control the party members around your active hero. Although, unlike the generals in Samurai Warriors 4, you cannot give your party members orders – they prefer hanging around and helping you take down bad guys. Party members can be switched between with the press of a button, feeling like an option to jump around your favourite characters and take advantage of their abilities, rather than adding any tactical positioning on the map. You can switch when one of the heroes dies, and a dead hero can be resurrected on the field using a yggdrasil leaf, but only four can be used in one battle.
Tactics come into play with monster medals, shiny gold objects that can randomly drop from defeated monsters. These medals are captured into a coin case, allowing them to be summoned as allies at will. Each monster has various properties, such as how much space they take up in the case, the amount of health, their strength and the type of assist. Some monsters might run around attacking enemies, some will act as sentries or some will be one time use and will buff or handicap anything hit by their summoned attack. Monster medals add a whole other layer to the action, as it brings in additional help to defend on the multiple pathways leading to what you must protect. Summoning a group of allies around the objective slows monsters down from harming it, giving you extra time to get back to defend, or you could release monsters close to a portal and let them handle the lingering enemies as you go off and do another job. Coins shower the battlefield, and with a coin limit in place, managing the medals is important, but players will no doubt favour a selected few, as some monsters are worthless holding onto. It’s a simple idea that adds to distinguish Dragon Quest Heroes from a Musou game, while bringing depth by using these monsters to their potential in the correct situations and inheriting a feeling of micromanagement from tower-defence games.
When not fighting the many monsters, players can take downtime in the hub, a flying airship called the Stonecloud. Here is where all the management happens, with shops selling new weapons and items, vendors with alchemy cauldrons to create new items, side-quests that can be collected, and the classic Dragon Quest church with the save system and music. Distributing skill points gained from levelling up is also done in this safe haven. It follows the traditional RPG route, where points can be put into improving magic spells, increasing strength and defence or enabling unique traits and moves. The heroes used gain more experience than the ones who sit at the base, but it’s good to see that at least some of the other heroes gain experience, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time getting them up to the same level as your main team when you fancy experimenting – just don’t forget to use their skill points before the next battle! I did that often…
While Dragon Quest Heroes showers itself with so much Dragon Quest, some areas do feel a bit of a step back. There is no multiplayer, an area of Warrior games that has been included for years. It’s strange not to be included, as the way this game is designed makes total sense to have an extra player for strategic reasons. I can only assume they wanted to keep with the RPG motif and have this be a single player game, but it’s a bummer I cannot play this with a friend. The size of maps is not really an issue, but I did feel the itch to sample what a huge battle would look like with these mechanics.
Dragon Quest Heroes does a honorific job with the source material, bringing a game that will make fans adore the love that has been injected into it. If you are a fan of Dragon Quest, then really, this game is for you. There are areas that could be improved, and the lack of multiplayer will upset Musou fans, but Dragon Quest Heroes resurrects the series through a different style of game and tickles those nostalgic memories. This is all thanks to seeing old characters, hearing the classic music and seeing Akira Toriyama’s designs coming to life in a beautiful looking game that happens to be a very solid action game crossed with RPG elements.