Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below Slime Collector’s Edition (Sony PlayStation 4)

Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Omega Force
Genre: Beat-’em-up
Release Date: 10/13/2015

I’ve really taken the Dragon Quest (formerly Dragon Warrior) franchise for granted over the years. I’ve always liked it, but I was never in a hurry to pick up the latest release, assuming that they would always be there. It would seem that my complacency, along with that of many others finally led Square Enix to doubt its viability in places outside of Japan. Especially since the more recent entries (like DQVI and DQIX) ended up being published by Nintendo. Now, Square Enix has decided to give the series another shot by way of a Dynasty Warriors-esque spinoff game. While I would argue that this is hardly a barometer for sales of a text heavy RPG, I’m at least glad that we could get this game.

Dragon Quest Heroes takes place in Arba, a land in which humans and monsters frolic together in peace (no joke). One day, all the monsters seemingly go berserk all at once and begin attacking human establishments all over the kingdom. After fighting off the onslaught at the castle, the game’s protagonists decide to regroup and try to determine the cause of the monsters’ agitated state and bring peace back to the land.

When the story begins, you can choose between two main characters, Luceus and Aurora, though whichever one you pick matters little since both are in your party the majority of the game anyway. They also share a very similar moveset. As you progress, more party members will join your cause, including those whisked into your world from other games. The plot is very basic and mainly serves as a vehicle for stringing together various battles and creating an excuse for the diverse cast to get together. It mostly boils down to the heroes of light must battle the forces of darkness because light is good and dark is bad, which we’ve seen done in fantasy a million times before. At least the personalities of the entire cast are varied and interestingly executed. And speaking of the roster, I was just a tish disappointed to see that the spread of games in which the cast is drawn from is limited. Only four games are represented: Dragon Quest IV, V, VI and VIII, though fortunately the other titles get a nod by way of clothing, monsters and battle music.

If you’re not familiar with Dynasty Warriors style games (or Musou as they’re sometimes referred to), it goes a little something like this. You traditionally choose a character and get dropped into a battlefield where there are sometimes hundreds of enemies littering the screen at once, and it’s up to you to lay waste to them while completing whatever objective is placed before you. In Dragon Quest Heroes, you get to select a party of up to four and can be alternated on the fly. The basic controls are the same no matter who you have. You get a regular attack and a strong attack as well as the ability to jump, block or dodge attacks. Locking onto a specific enemy is possible, and a separate menu full of skills and magic is a available that varies from character to character. Because of this, success usually comes to those who put together a balanced party composition filled with not only competent fighters, but people who can buff or heal as needed. Landing hits builds up your tension, and maxing it out will put you in a state where you shrug off damage for a short period of time, concluding with a Coup De Grace ability.

The combat feels fluid and satisfying, which is a surprise from a series that doesn’t have its roots in action. Boss battles are quite imaginative as well, with strategy that amounts to more than just mashing on attack buttons. And having a full party adds a dynamic that you don’t usually see from this style of game. The A.I. controlled party members are hardly what I would call intelligent, but they are surprisingly adept at not getting killed. There are many instances where a character’s HP would be flashing red to the point where a single strike would spell their end, and yet they lived through it without getting struck down. Now if a character should fall, you have a limited assortment of Yggdrasil leaves that can be used to revive them, as well as a selection of healstones to keep from getting KO’d in the first place. The game is really lacking a co-op feature though, which is a shame, because it would be way more enjoyable were one present. That being said, the sequel (which should be out in Japan next year) includes support for four players, if it ever gets localized.

Felling enemies will result in monster coins that can be used to summon the very monster you defeated to obtain it. These summons come in two varieties: the use of a skill or attack featuring that monster that causes them to vacate the battlefield after using it, and a more defensible one that will stay put and attack any enemy that crosses its path. Many missions will cause you to rely heavily on the latter, setting it up almost like a tower defense title. The added layer of strategy really puts the game over the edge, especially since your party moves so slowly from place to place with no method of quick transportation save for a Zoom spell that can move you between a limited number of checkpoints.

Completing a mission will return you to a centralized hub area, where you can speak to other characters and purchase supplies. Your party can be outfitted with new weapons, armor and accessories that are unlocked based on story progression. Most monsters drop components that can be brought to an alchemist in order to craft new gear or merge existing ones. Monster medals are tradable for additional recipes as well as high level equipment, plus quests can be accepted for bonus rewards. Many quests only require that you gather components that you may already have and turn them in, though some may ask you to return to previous areas and slay a certain number of foes, or perform a specific task. These quests are the only way to expand how many items you can bank and healstones that you carry, so you’ll likely find yourself doing them anyway despite how grindy they can be. Some content was originally DLC in the Japan release, but is included on the disc here, which is nice.

Each party member has their own skill tree that is filled out using ability points earned in battle. The best part is, it’s pretty much wide open, so you are able to build your team the way you want without having to follow a linear path. Core abilities can be purchased and made more powerful, stat boosts to things like health and defense are possible, plus each character has a set of unique actions that only they can learn. Even though it is possible to max out everything on everyone, it would take an incredibly long time, so you do have to prioritize based on your team needs in the early game.

In trying to adhere closely to the source material, Dragon Quest Heroes comes with its own set of annoyances. The main one is the slow menus. Every time you accept a quest, you have to wait for a jingle to play. When you turn in a quest, you sit there as the quest giver claps for you. Even something so simple as replenishing healthstones or saving is an unnecessary series of yes or no questions. Accurate portrayal of DQ? Yes. A pain the ass? Very much so.

Another troublesome aspect of the game occurs during combat. In keeping with tradition and having status ailments be a core part of the experience, you’ll find yourself locked down with no way to act on a number of occasions. This isn’t a bad thing in of itself, but it takes a long time to recover from this and you may get nailed by a the same effect right after the initial recovery. This is alarmingly common, especially since enemies of the same type tend to stick together. The only only thing you can do at that point is switch characters and hope they’re not suffering the effects as well, or go into high tension mode, which may not always be an option. It feels extremely cheap to meet defeat this way. At least statuses that affect your health and accuracy are more forgiving, not to mention humorous when you find yourself clearly connecting with a foe’s body only for the game to exclaim “Miss!”

Visually, you may find yourself forgetting that you’re not actually playing a Dragon Ball Z title, especially considering Dragon Quest shares the artist, Akira Toriyama. So long as you enjoy that style, the graphics are very impressive, with some sharp looking cutscenes that make you forget that this was also built for the PlayStation 3. It’s doubly exciting if you grew up with this series, as the monster designs look as though they were ripped from the NES games and given an HD coat of paint. I was especially delighted doing battle with the green dragon in the game’s early moments, especially with the remixed DQ1 battle music.

Speaking of the soundtrack, much of the audio is taken from the main series, and it sounds great. Certainly it could have been given the additional treatment that the Final Fantasy series is used to, though the remixes are a step up all the same. The voice acting suffers more from the dialogue than it does the actual delivery, which is a surprise given that some of the cast doesn’t have a lot of other credits to their name. Alena, on the other hand, is a bit obnoxious with her forced Russian accent and high pitched shouting, but you can’t win them all.

The collector’s edition set itself, while adequate, is a little bit of a let down given the price (which you can check out its contents here). I mean, what’s here isn’t bad. I do enjoy the plushie as well as the treasure box it comes in. But I’d have loved a soundtrack for this game, and a steelbook case wouldn’t have hurt either. Especially since the latest Tales CE which also came out this month is so much better by comparison.

I really enjoyed Dragon Quest Heroes, but then, I enjoy both the main RPG series as well as the Dynasty Warriors franchise that it draws inspiration from. This will be a more difficult sell if you enjoy one but not the other, especially since it’s lacking co-op play. That being said, this is one of my favorite games of this style. I would even dare say that I enjoyed it a bit more than Hyrule Warriors. It perfectly captures the spirit of Dragon Quest while still being a good game within its own genre. A better written plot wouldn’t have hurt, but I’d still wholly recommend giving it a try. Especially since the survival of Dragon Quest in the West depends on it.

Short Attention Span Summary
The Dragon Quest series finally makes its way out of Japan once again, though likely not in the way that fans had hoped. Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is a spinoff title that combines Dynasty Warriors style gameplay with RPG and tower defense elements that makes for a unique title when compared to any of the games it draws inspiration from. It’s still very much a hack and slash where you lay waste to hundreds of monsters across sprawling battlefields, except now you assemble a party with complementary abilities as well as summon monsters to help fight and protect landmarks. It’s incredibly addicting, even if the writing isn’t up to snuff. It’s also sorely lacking any form of multiplayer. Still, it’s one of the most enjoyable titles to come out of Square Enix this year and the start of what I hope will be a triumphant return of Dragon Quest in the West.

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