Despite being a cultural phenomenon in Japan, the Dragon Quest series has never reached the same popularity in North America. The games have a dedicated group of fans, but Square Enix has never treated the role-playing franchise as a high priority in the West. Now, after the last couple of handheld installments underperformed, the series’ fate is in the hands of a spinoff action game with a mouthful of a title.
With Dynasty Warriors developer Omega Force at the helm, Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is the latest well known series to get the musou treatment. Similar to last year’s Hyrule Warriors, the world of Dragon Quest has been transformed into a hack-and-slash power fantasy full of fan service. There is one major difference, however, and that’s the addition of more role-playing elements.
While the core game is really nothing more than your average Dynasty Warriors game, Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below has added in-depth skill trees, item customization, and other systems that are in the core Dragon Quest games. These are all equipped in between missions at the game’s hub world, which in JRPG fashion is a flying airship. Giving players something worthwhile to do while not on the battlefield, such as using skill points to unlock new abilities, is one of the title’s biggest strengths. It also helps break up the monotony that can sometimes set in when slashing thousands of baddies.
Despite the new focus on character customization, the core gameplay is still about mashing combos out. While it can get repetitive, especially when the easier enemies just stand around waiting to be decimated, there are over 10 different characters to help spice up the combat. Each of them has their own weapons, skills, and fighting styles. Players can also take 4 characters out to battle at once, so you’ll never get bored from this power fantasy.
Although combat feels largely familiar, there are a few new wrinkles. Namely, there’s a new focus on magic attacks. You’ll have a familiar looking magic gauge on-screen at all times, and can cast three separate magic attacks with a simple button combination. Each character has different magic spells, and even have a powerful ultimate attack that’s triggered by filling out a special meter. Since all of these magic attacks use up a portion of your gauge, gamers will have to be careful not to use up all of their abilities before they really need them in battle.
While most enemies are pushovers that will only require a few hits to destroy, each mission will feature several larger enemies that are more powerful. These serve as the game’s real enemies, and actually require some strategy to destroy. A careless player can get wiped out pretty easily if they don’t respect their enemies, so this won’t be a complete pushover of an experience like some other musou games.
One area that the Dragon Quest series has always excelled at is in offering up memorable boss fights, and Dragon Quest Heroes is no different. Every core area in the story is capped off with a fun boss fight. There are even some foes that are so powerful, that players will have to outwit them rather than overpower. The spinoff has certainly stayed true to what makes Dragon Quest such a special series.
Dragon Quest fans will be glad to find out that Dragon Quest Heroes features a cast of memorable characters from throughout the series’ history. Fan favorites such as Terry from Dragon Quest VI have returned, and it’s nice to see familiar faces in a game that has plenty of new ones in the core story. While long-time fans will be ecstatic to see these characters again, the story doesn’t require players to have played past Dragon Quest games, so newcomers will still feel completely welcomed.
It’s amazing how well Omega Force has nailed the look and feel of Square Enix’s beloved series, as Dragon Quest Heroes is gorgeous to look at. The game is not only pretty from an art style standpoint, as it features the work of Dragon Ball artist Akira Toriyama, but the levels are beautiful as well. All of the fantasy locations that one would expect to see in a classic JRPG are represented in full 3D. From forests that are full of classic Dragon Quest enemies to huge castles that are under attack, players will get to see a wide array of landscapes.
Compared to other Omega Force titles, Dragon Quest Heroes offers up very little in terms of game modes. That shouldn’t be confused with the amount of content in the game, as fans will certainly get their money’s worth from it. Players will work their way through a linear story mode, unlocking new characters as they progress from different locales, and learn why the once peaceful monsters have suddenly gone violent. The story isn’t particularly thrilling, and is pretty generic even for JRPG standards, but gorgeous cutscenes will keep your attention on the screen.
When you aren’t pursuing the main campaign, there’s a wide variety of other options at your disposal. For example, players can take on RPG-like quests where they will have to collect certain items or kill a specific amount of enemies. Most quests are far from thrilling, but thankfully you can have several activated at once. This means these quests can be achieved while playing through the main story, or doing other missions.
Omega Force and Square Enix should both be applauded in breathing new life into a legendary series. While it may not be the title that hardcore fans were hoping for, Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is an amazing action game that should bolster the popularity of the series in North America. Whether you’re a diehard Dragon Quest fan or not, Omega Force has developed the first musou title that is truly a must play for all gamers.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which we were provided with for review.
Dragon Quest Heroes might not be the Dragon Quest games that fans wanted, but it has ended up being one of the best surprises of 2015.