Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is a bit of an anomaly. The Dragon Quest series is known for being a very traditional turn-based JRPG series, while the Musou, or Warriors, games are hack-and-slash strategy games. Both styles of gameplay don’t fall into line at all. Yet somehow, despite the unlikely success of the combination of genres, Tecmo Koei and Square Enix have managed to create one of the most unique and inventive AAA experiences this year.
So, what do we actually get when we combine turn-based RPG and Musou gameplay? Well, Tower defense. Rather than the usual, “Go to this square on the map, kill enough guys to get a boss to appear, kill boss,” that Musou games are known for, much of the game is spent defending certain areas or characters from monster spawners called “Nightmaws.” It seems odd to be praising a game for including literal monster closets, but this take on the genre is surprisingly refreshing from the normal esoteric combat we’ve seen in some of Omega Force’s other work. Combining the fast-paced action combat with the strategy necessary to protect a certain object works incredibly well. More importantly, it’s a ton of fun.
What’s more, is they’ve actually streamlined the process of defending to make it more enjoyable with the core gameplay. Early on, you gain the ability to collect monsters and place them in parts of the map to act as a sentry where they will stand and fight until their eventual demise. Some monsters can also perform various skills, like healing, spell casting, etc. All of this is activated at the press of a single button. While the simplicity may turn off hardcore tower defense fans, it’s welcomed when considering you’re also controlling four characters directly to do the brunt of the defending.
Interspersed between these tower defense quests are your more typical point-A to point-B action quests. There are also side quests you can take part in. Unfortunately, most of these side quests are little more than your typical “kill X number of Y enemy type” or even worse, loot collection. Fortunately, the rewards for these quests are often very useful, though you may find yourself skipping them regardless.
Much like previous Musou games, characters, for the most part, play completely different from one another, though there is a little bit of a twist in DQ Heroes. On their own, none of the individual characters feel particularly fleshed out, only learning a handful of abilities and combos. However, the real depth comes from how you use multiple characters at the same time. Unlike most Musou games, you control an entire party as opposed to one hero character. The party itself acts as a single entity, and taking advantage of each individual member’s strengths to make up for another’s weakness is necessary for some of the more difficult later stages.
In between each mission, you will be able to pick your four members, and customize each with their own set of equipment and skill trees. Perhaps you’d like a party with access to multiple spells, or a party focused on crowd control. Despite their individual weaknesses, you can create some particularly devastating teams if you work with the system.
The characters themselves hail from the various main entries in the Dragon Quest series. While the character choices aren’t entirely all-inclusive (DQ1-3 and 7 get no love from Dragon Quest Heroes), many of the choices work well with the style of the game. Unfortunately, the voice acting is kind of a mess, featuring a variety of odd and obviously fake accents.
Even more disappointing is how the game justifies the appearance of these characters. There’s no spoilers here. It just happens. The story in general manages to break absolutely zero bounds and acts simply as a dark vs. light (literally) tale that we’ve all heard thousands of times before. The most compelling points in the story are confined to single lines of dialogue, sometimes not even that, whereas every other line and beat consists of “We must stop the darkness!”
However, story has never been a particular strong point in the Dragon Quest series. The art design, on the other hand, is in its full magnificent glory here. Akira Toriyama’s prolific art style translates perfectly in the modern age of gaming. The characters are expressive, the environments unique, and the various effects coming off of abilities and spells are gorgeous. Despite its anime appearance, this is a game you can pull out to proudly show off your PS4 to your naysayer Xbox friends. Unfortunately, while everything looks great, the animations themselves are lackluster. Things that look like they should have physics don’t have any. The jumping animation in particular is stiff, featuring a practically static model. It’s unfortunate to see so much work go into making the characters look as good as they do, only to have them walk around and swing swords like they’re a robot.
Dragon Quest Heroes is not perfect. However, it is one of the best modern JRPG experiences I have had in years. With its unique take on tower defense gameplay, simple yet deep RPG mechanics, and absolutely stunning looks, any fan of Dragon Quest or Musou games alike should check this game out. For everyone else, it’s definitely worth keeping this game on your radar for the future.
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