Dragon Quest Heroes Review – Dragon Warriors (PS4 Import)
The most important part of any Warriors-style game is the combat. And yes, this is a Warriors game. Square Enix calls it an action RPG because the company is afraid people will roll their eyes at the thought of “another Musou game,” which is an understandable fear. I don’t like many Dynasty Warriors games, but I love Dragon Quest Heroes. If I’d gone by the genre alone, I may have missed out on what turned out to be my favorite game in recent memory. To call the game an action RPG isn’t inaccurate, either.
Take an action RPGs three-or-four-hit combo foundation, add occasional use of tower defense systems, plus massive swarms of enemies and you’ve got Dragon Quest Heroes. Slimes, wizards, stone men, trolls, and all kinds of classics from the nearly 30-year-old series show up by the truckload for your smashing pleasure. And yes, most importantly, regardless of all these silly genre definitions, Dragon Quest Heroes is indeed a pleasure.
Combat never felt like a bore, in my 40-hour initial playthrough or any of the messing around with New Game Plus. I looked forward to it when away, and could hardly put it down when in game. It combines the best of Warriors games and Dragon Quest-ish growth systems. Characters gain levels and skills at just the right speed, preventing the game from getting too dull. While stages will almost always involve wiping out hordes of bad guys, different objectives spice it up.
Naturally, the group must at times wipe a map clear of monsters. Other times, they might have to fight their way from Point A to Point B. Others still, they’ll protect a specific place or person. Since this will also involve smashing monster portals located all over the map, these requires strategic planning and fast movement.
Some monsters will drop coins, allowing the team to collect them and use some as special attacks, others as NPC allies. Deciding where to plant them is another fun part of the strategy in Dragon Quest Heroes.
But hold the fuck on, this shit gets better. There’s more fun to be had in rapidly switching characters and tossing out specials left and right. Boom! Now I’m Terry doing lightning shit; boom! Then I’m Jessica dropping a huge explosion; boom! Then I’m Yangus and I’ve gotta axe you some questions; then I’m back to my main hero and about to close this bitch out with a bang. I hope you understand that it is taking all of my willpower to not throw my laptop out the window and go back to playing right now.
Rewards back at base make the battles feel all the more worthwhile. Each character earns skill points with levels, and each has his/her own skill table table on which to spend the points. These have new skills, upgrades to existing skills, and stat boosts. While late-game characters will probably look very similar across everyone’s playthroughs due to having bought nearly everything, the table allows good agency.
Want to spend your points on stat boosts right now? Do that. Skills? Okay, do that instead. Spend on a bunch of little upgrades, or save up for the big expensive thing? Your choice. The ability to re-spec any time eliminates potential regret. On each skill table, a few spaces are reserved for certain levels or based upon already having checked a previous square, but for the most part, DQH‘s Skill Point upgrades allow non-linear, decision-based upgrades.
You go. I Got Your Six
The three allies not being controlled directly will operate under great A.I. In the early going, I noticed some party members standing idly, right in front of an enemy, while I did the work. They may appear to be dead weight, but keep in mind that if they’re out there cutting loose, it might not let the player feel as satisfied. In developing a game like this, you have to let your players feel empowered. If they don’t, the game is boring and they don’t come back.
When the number of enemies goes up, so does the aggression of allies. Don’t worry, they don’t just sit around dragging their feet the whole time. When you’re surrounded, they’ll get right in there and start slashing, and against bosses, they’ll be right in the thick of the fight. The only thing they won’t do is use their unique Tension moves, which is understandable. Those take so much time to build up that it’s more efficient and effective to let the human player use those.
Adjustable difficulty levels with some modifiable A.I. might have been nice. Perhaps if those swarms of enemies were just a little tougher, the idle moments wouldn’t come up? I’m probably asking questions the dev team already asked, however. This seems like the kind of thing they’d mess with. Still, the important point is that as it is, Dragon Quest Heroes has some good A.I. companions. Several times during my play, I quickly switched to Jessica to use her healing spell Hustle Dance, and found that the dance was already underway. Nice, eh?
I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That, Dave
Time goes by, genre lines blur, but Dragon Quest has certain things built into its DNA. For better or worse, its interfaces tend toward inefficiency and the series as a whole maintains a reputation for requiring a level grind. Thankfully, in Dragon Quest Heroes, I didn’t have to grind at all. There were plenty of times, however, when I would joyfully indulge in side content. I did it because it was fun, not because I had to, and therefore, no grind.
The interface problem, meanwhile, resurfaces. It feels like different people programmed different menus, and they hardly ever talked to each other. In some shop menus, you’ll have to sell items one at a time, even if you have 10 of them. In others, you can sell the whole lot. When buying items with medals, there’s no option to buy more than one at a time.
You need three blue flowers to make those shoes at the alchemy pot? Get ready to select Buy, then scroll all the way down through dozens (hundreds?) of items, select the flower, hit O, hit up, hit O again to confirm, then start over.
Then you head over to the church to recharge your healing stones. Well, fuck, time to recharge them one at a time. Why is there no option to select them all, then select a charge level, then confirm? After a boss battle in which I used all of my healing stones, I got the five (at the time) recharged, which took 49 seconds. Basically 10 seconds per stone, and yet you have to do them individually. It doesn’t sound like much until you sit through it.
In 2015, recharging the whole pack should take no more than five seconds in total. But no, you need to select the stone, select the charge level, then watch the first stone begin to glow, then listen to fanfare, then continue to individually recharge each stone with the same process, thankfully minus the cinema. Why not include the ability for individual recharges, but also a blanket “Recharge X amount to ____ level” option? Weird menu hangups like this boggle the mind.
Warning: Graphic Content
This is the best a Dragon Quest game has ever looked. While generally not named among a given system’s “best” graphics, Dragon Quest has always had bright, colorful, impressive artwork. I always felt like every game looked as good as it could have, all things considered. This new PS4 game, however, easily becomes the franchise’s best-looking entry to date. Characters, enemies, and environments are gorgeous, and the frame rate stays steady even during the most furious combat. Only the most minor hiccups occurred, and only in town or during a few select CG cinemas. That was it.
Dragon Quest‘s outstanding artwork is really brought to life by the visuals in Heroes, and its classic characters become so much more likeable with their comical interactions and voice acting. Seeing characters from all across the DQ universe make snappy conversations with each other as they fight through this new and strange situation actually excites me to go back and finish some of the Dragon Quest RPGs I never quite finished; I feel like I know the characters better. The whole universe is given new life in this game. It feels amazing to be in it.
The only annoying visual bit was the stupid bubble on top that periodically tells me I’m not signed into the PSN. Yeah, I get it. I know I’m not signed into the PSN. That’s kind of intentional, game. Leave me alone.
Audio in DQH is serviceable enough for series newcomers, and will likely delight longtime fans. Little fanfares and remixed or rearranged songs appear throughout, which fans will recognize and surely smile. Familiar sound effects for things like getting treasures and leveling up pluck the old nostalgia strings. It would have been nice to have a few more battle tracks, but what’s there is good.
“No One Tops Me in Magic or Style!”
Music and monsters aren’t the only nostalgia blasts in Dragon Quest Heroes. The cast is made up of familiar faces from around the series and a handful of original characters. Dialogue can at times be hilarious, especially among the two new main heroes. It’s really a credit to the writers that they took this ensemble cast of characters from different games and made them work so well together.
The story is lighthearted, basic, and of course loaded with cliches, but they’re all done so well that it doesn’t matter. It helps that this isn’t a genre from which I expect a riveting tale, anyway. Cast members are as different on the battlefield as they are in conversation, making them interesting all around. Later on, it became hard to pick which characters to take with me; I loved them all and could hardly decide.
Some free DLC is already available, more is coming in the next few days. Players can add a character, quests, and costumes.
Speaking of online stuff, this game is just begging for multiplayer. It’s an outstanding game as is, but some multiplayer — preferably from the couch — might send it into the stratosphere. Deciding which friend would stay back and guard the gate from an onslaught while the other charged ahead to destroy the spawn point could make for awesome nights with friends and siblings, but it wasn’t to be. Shucks.
Dragon Quest‘s Level Increases!
Square Enix took the Dragon Quest series a little further from its roots than its ever been with this game, but the move was a good one. While this will undoubtedly bring on justified cries for a traditional Dragon Quest RPG on the PS4, Dragon Quest Heroes is an excellent game in its own right. It blends genres for incredible fun while making an old nostalgic series look and feel better than ever.
(Post-review notes for importers. Read the PSLS guide to importing here.)