It's been years since a Dragon Quest game was released here. However, Square Enix decided to measure if western fans are still craving more of the series. Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below is now available for PlayStation 4 and PC, complete with a cast of many familiar characters as well as a few newcomers. So, grab your Zenithian Sword and let's start slashing monsters!
As soon as you start it up, you'll realise that this isn't a new installment in the traditional JRPG format. In fact, it plays closer to the style of a Dynasty Warriors game. To be honest, I was saddened when I first found this out, but then I realised one of the main things that I love about Dragon Quest is the monsters so this style should actually fit the universe quite well - and it sure does! The story is quite simply about a madman (Helmut) who has decided to change the once docile and friendly monsters that live among humans into savage beasts. There are two main characters that you can pick from to be the main protagonist at the start, though both play equal roles in the story. Once you get through the first few introduction rounds, you'll find yourself in a large floating ship that takes you to various locations that you've unlocked on your map. At each location, you fight hordes of classic Dragon Quest monsters in their beautiful HD form with more detail than you've ever seen before. Between visiting these locations, you have time to change your party of characters, check out optional side quests, buy and sell equipment and register achievements to earn bonuses.
After selecting your next destination on the map (either deciding to proceed with the story or spend some time leveling up, completing side-quests and collecting items), you're placed in the middle of a closed area where you hack and slash your way through hundreds or even thousands of enemies. The levels differ in their overall objectives as they vary from simply fighting enemies to clear an area, protecting an object or person, or defeating a large boss surrounded by its minions. This may not sound like a lot of variety but the gameplay manages to stay fresh due to how it slowly introduces new enemy types that present their own challenges.
The backdrops while you fight are just as attractive as the enemies with relaxing grasslands, daunting jungle growth, intricate castles and many more environments to enjoy. The layouts of the levels gradually get more complicated as you play, eventually bringing in such elements as portals that allow you to instantly move around, ledges that you can jump from to surprise enemies and lasers that damage you. Having said this, one thing that I would have liked to see is the ability to harm enemies using your surroundings. I think this could add a new way to help control the hordes thus allowing for more strategy when fighting. Some other elements that keep the action going are "Mawkeepers" that act as gatekeepers of the monsters' spawn points and must be defeated to stop the enemies from coming; and enemy tokens that are sometimes dropped which can be used to employ foes to fight on your side. Defeating the Mawkeepers, gathering strong enemy tokens and focusing on large enemies make up most of the strategy.
Eight playable Dragon Quest heroes from previous games make a triumphant return with each boasting a unique fighting style and special coup de grâce ability. Some come with unlockable costumes, too. The voice acting is fantastic as it really helps bring the characters to life. I particularly loved listening to Kiryl and Alena bicker in their Eastern European accents. Though these characters are present, they don't have starring roles. You can actually complete the game while choosing only newly introduced characters (of which there are four), but you'd be crazy to if you consider yourself a true Dragon Quest fan. Each character has a different weapon and specialty that will help you fight in many unique situations. For example, Jessica's whip is great for getting flying enemies and slimes that spread out into the field whereas King Doric's giant axe does immense focused damage to larger bosses.
Cast of characters in Dragon Quest Heroes
- King Doric
- Alena (Dragon Quest IV)
- Kiryl (Dragon Quest IV)
- Maya (Dragon Quest IV)
- Bianca (Dragon Quest V)
- Nera (Dragon Quest V)
- Terry (Dragon Quest VI)
- Jessica (Dragon Quest VIII)
- Yangus (Dragon Quest VIII)
- Psaro (Dragon Quest IV)
As with other Dragon Quest games, there are a ton of items and pieces of equipment to be unlocked. Equipment is mostly purchased through the store in the flying ship, but some can be found in the field. More interesting equipment can also be made by alchemy where you combine ingredients to form a new item. Gathering the necessary ingredients to create what I wanted (or to fulfill certain side-quests) proved to be very difficult at times. One quest took me hours of grinding Hacksauruses while waiting for them to drop just two of a specific item. Thankfully, I seemed to have slightly more luck over the weekend when certain bonuses take effect such as an increase in the item drop rate and experience boosts.
One other thing that bothered me was the menu system. In most modern games, you have the option to purchase or sell multiple copies of something at once. In Dragon Quest Heroes, this was only implemented when selling items. If you just unlocked a new orb (used as a means of defense) and you want to equip all of your party members with it, you must purchase and equip each one separately. The same goes for accepting quests and filling up your "Healstones" at the church so you can use them in battle. Slow, lengthy menu processes aren't new for Dragon Quest games (saving is like a story in itself), but I want to see them move away from this outdated model. They definitely shouldn't be introducing it to even more menus in the game.
I feel like I've only touched the surface of how much I enjoyed Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below. As a huge fan, it makes me happy to say that I'm not disappointed and I can foresee myself playing it for many more hours. The stunning visuals, interesting gameplay and nostalgia make for one amazing package even if it sometimes requires a little patience.
- + Familiar characters, monsters and scenery set in a wondrous new world
- + Seeing Dragon Quest in HD is awesome
- + Simple yet continually interesting gameplay
- - Environments could have played a more significant role in combat
- - Item drop rate can be brutal
- - Outdated menu system is way too slow