Available on PS3 and PS4 (tested)
The so called “musou” (warriors) genre has been around for quite a while, beginning their story with the Dinasty Warriors series and nowadays remaining alive thanks to anime licensed games, such as One Piece and First of the North Star. When I found out that Square Enix together with Koei Tecmo would release a musou game themed around Dragon Quest, I couldn’t help but to feel curious for it.
It turns out that Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and The Blight Below is actually a very good game. The usual issues with this type of games are there, such as being too repetitive from time to time and having an odd pacing, but still, what it lacks on those fronts is highly compensated with gorgeous graphics and fan service.
For starters, the story is your average one: everyone lives in peace, people and monsters alike, and there is no sign of trouble or whatsoever. Then, unexpectedly, the situation changes and monsters start attacking people everywhere around the world. Our heroes, represented by a male (Luceus) and a female (Aurora) leads, will travel around the world trying to unveil the mystery behind the monsters sudden change of mood. Shortly after beginning our quest, we will find out that not only the monsters were changed, but also that portals seem to have been opened, connecting the games world with other worlds, the perfect set up to introduce heroes from past Dragon Quest games.
That’s where the game starts to shine, as you can form a party of 4 characters mixing up every one of the party members you have already unlocked, and, what is more important, every character feels very different one from another (except for Luceus or Aurora, which have identical moves with the only difference being the element each of them use). I won’t spoil much on which characters join the party, but let me say that seeing Kiryl and Alena again, with this gen graphics, was pretty cool.
As for how the game plays, is what you would expect from a classic musou game: you enter a designated battlefield, taking control over one of the 4 characters (being able to switch between any of them at any time), and start unleashing hell on the hordes of enemies thrown at you. Normal musou button layout: two attack buttons – one light, the other heavy -, a jumping button, a blocking button and the classic musou (called Tension in this game) button, that triggers a time limited special mode where your character moves faster, spells don’t consume MP when casted and pressing again the Tension button results in a Coupe de Grâce movement, inflicting large amounts of damage to nearby enemies.
There’s the addition of the “Switch” button, which lets you rotate between the 4 characters that comprise the party. But the real novel regarding gameplay is the Minion system: as you progress through the game, slayed monsters will start dropping medals. Once collected, the medal turns into a minion (of the same class as the previously slayed one) which can be casted to battle anytime for the remaining of your current battle. Some minions work as NPCs, with their own health bar and abilities and will prove to be a formidable asset to thwart some of the challenges the game throws at you (mostly in stages that require to protect something from large waves of enemies). Other minions work as one use only card, be it for causing large amounts of damage in a single hit (like the Troll) or to perform support actions, such as healing your party from status ailments or ramping up your tension almost to the max.
The only major flaw I have found while playing the game is, as every other single musou game, its repetitiveness. You have basically 3 types of stages: the ones where you kill wave after wave of enemies, the ones where you kill wave after wave of enemies but protecting something (usually placed in the center of the stage with different reaching routes) and the ones were you fight a boss. The lack of variety in type of stages was expected from a musou game, but one always hopes for a twist. The other flaw, while minor, never stopped to bug me, and it is the fact that every single time you end a stage, instead of going forward to the next one or at least asking you if you want to keep going, the games takes you to a sort of hallowed ground/base of operations, making you lose the momentum built, rendering the story dull, with no sensation of continuity whatsoever (literally, there’s a level where you are inside cave-like maze and after each stage you get to go to the base of operations and it’s like “weren’t we in a cave-like maze just a second ago?”).
However, for every flaw the game has, luckily there are positive aspects that after all, end up outnumbering the negative ones. For instance, the RPG aspect gives that little extra to the game, bringing development trees, leveling up, loads of equipment to buy, the classic Alchemy feature from Dragon Quest games to create items from ingredients and quests, although they usually end up being killing a quantity of X monster type or gathering a stash of Y ingredient.
All in all, the game is fun, and also visually gorgeous, in part thanks to Akira Toriyama’s classic but instantly lovable character design. The characters are so different one from each other (both in gameplay and visual terms) that watching the combined color palette on screen, altogether with their unique abilities FX results in a feast for the eye.
The same goes for the monsters; the variety between enemies is welcomed, as musou games typically have the same type of enemy and make abuse of palette swapping. This couldn’t be more far from it, featuring the classic monsters repertory from past Dragon Quest games. Yes, you can punch a million smiling slimes in the face and it will never get old. The musical score suits well, although some tunes can get dull because of the looping factor (stages sometimes take time to complete and usually they feature one song, so looping was inevitable).
As for the voice acting, you have the option to choose between English and Japanese voices. I chose Japanese and the voice acting is, albeit reserved mostly for cutscenes, practically flawless.
Should you play it? Musou type games are not for everyone, mostly because a wide part of the gaming audience will find them repetitive. But if you enjoyed a Dynasty or Samurai Warriors game in the past, you will definitely love Dragon Quest Heroes, as it melds the mentioned games playability with a superb art style and enjoyable (and diverse) characters.