Waiting is the hardest part and, in the case of Dawn of Heroes, that wait has been pretty significant. DoH made its big debut almost a full three years before it was released at the 2007 Tokyo Games Show. Since then, DoH has reared its head every couple months to let the Strategy Role-Playing Game faithful know that it was still coming. To be honest, I have been following the progress of this title pretty closely, seeing as quality SRPGs are few and far between and Western developed SRPGs are downright scarce. Did Montreal-based developer Wicked Studios live up to the promise and potential Dawn of Heroes has shown in previews?
Dawn of Heroes is unabashedly an old school, turn-based, top-down view SRPG. The bottom screen of the DS is a simple grid with colored icons representing the combatants. All of DoH action is controlled from here, via the stylus. Characters can be dragged around the field, quite satisfyingly since the movement and attack ranges are nicely demarcated. Some maps have terrain that complicates the fighting, but the majority of maps are flat and unremarkable.
The top screen is much more attractive, with nicely rendered 3-D graphics. These animations are smooth, if not gorgeous, and give life to the proceedings. The art style is chunky and super deformed, reminiscent of the Final Fantasy remakes for the DS. The style is consistent between the menus and the in-game rendering, which is nice. Most moves are nice enough, but they do get repetitive. One noteworthy annoyance with animations is the way that spells and effects that hit multiple characters take up a chunk of time. It would have really helped to have shortened versions of attack and spell routines for multiple iterations.
The plot of Dawn of Heroes is definitely a throwback to the 8 and 16-bit era. The main party members are simple sketches of characters, with little more than a quirk to establish them. Luckily, the story can be skipped with a click of the stylus. There is a story thread involving a magic talking belt and an evil curse and stuff. Honestly, my mind turned off because it was pretty dull and uninteresting.
The gameplay of Dawn of Heroes is pretty basic. There are three kinds of damage: Affliction, Magical, and Physical. In Rock, Paper, Scissors mode, most characters are strong against one of the three types of damage. Against common foes, this is little more than an annoyance, but against the Champions and Bosses, this can make some party builds worthless. Many battles can be fought through, brute force style. There is a puzzle aspect to some of the fights, which is pretty off-putting for those who play these sort of games for strategy instead of guessing at puzzles. If you end up in a terrible situation, the Escape button always works. Even if the party dies, the game does not end.
The difficulty curve is very forgiving. Fights can be refought after they are defeated, something DoH heartily encourages. Returning to old fights gives the party more experience, equipment, and gold. Almost every stage has a secondary objective. Sometimes these secondary objectives are spelled out, otherwise they are a mystery. Accomplishing these secondary goals earns the party more treasure and, usually, an item to accomplish another secret goal. Armor, weapons, and accessories come in multiple levels of power and the rarest items can make even a mediocre character rock, just like the equipment drops in most MMOs. These treasures can be traded online, as part of the robust multiplayer.
There is one balance altering strategy that I am loathe to even mention, but it is already all over the internet and is pretty close to common knowledge now. By loading up on Banish Scrolls, each character becomes a ballistic missile. For all non-boss battles, a party equipped with gear that grants expanded movement range and one Banish Scroll each will end battles turn one. Need some cash? Go to a town and do the mercenary battles with this load out. Need some treasure? Blow through battles with a time limit in one turn. Need experience? Take on fights over your weight class and Banish your troubles away. Truth is, this strategy is devastating by the middle of the second region and makes the game super easy. Whether or not you use it is your business, but you should be aware that it is out there and easy enough to do. Thank me later.
The soundtrack is pretty generic fantasy game fare, with little to point out one way or the other. In real world situations, I cannot imagine a reason to listen to the music and sound effects of Dawn of Heroes. Nothing is offensively bad, mind you, but nothing you hear in DoH will make you rush out to buy a soundtrack disc or anything.
The real question of Dawn of Heroes lies in whether or not you want to play a simple style SRPG on your DS or not. It is a gentle, easy game, one that will no doubt benefit from a detailed walkthrough. Dawn of Heroes is a very portable game, easy to get in and out of in a pinch. While nowhere near as difficult or entrancing as a Fire Emblem title, there is much to enjoy. Just be warned that the level limit is relatively low, 25, and it can be reached quickly.
Replayability: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Poor
Final Score: Decent Game
Short Attention Span Summary
Dawn of Heroes has some admirable features: it is easy to get into, attractive to look at, and is fairly solid. What Dawn of Heroes does not have is much reason to continue playing. The same ease with which it can be picked up applies to putting it down as well. Enjoyable in small doses, DoH has too many interchangeable characters, too few memorable moments. Lacking the polish of the games that most obviously influenced it, Dawn of Heroes tries for the gold, but comes up bronze.