Dragon Quest Heroes II Review – Life and Soul (PS4)
Dragon Quest Heroes II makes one hell of a first impression. Within minutes of booting up the sequel, I was greeted with an open plain to explore. One that was filled with groups of slime and other familiar foes from Enix’s legendary role-playing franchise. This sense of open space and grandeur is an impressive departure from the original, which didn’t have any sort of connected world, but rather had the player using an airship to go to specific locales. This felt more like the Dragon Quest that I knew, and the seeds of an interesting continent to explore was quickly implanted into my brain.
This shakeup felt as if Dynasty Warriors developer Omega Force had responded to the criticism of the original in a major way. After a few additional minutes of exploring, I had stumbled across a nearby town. Called Accordia, the town was filled with kids running about and shops looking to sell me all sorts of weaponry. Since it was located smack dab in the middle of the world, there were also a series of branching paths that led to each of the seven areas that make it up. I was instantly giddy with excitement, and it felt as if this was the key ingredient that the original lacked.
Beyond the new focus on exploration, a lot of Dragon Quest Heroes II will be familiar to anyone who has played a musou title in the past. There’s a lot of mashing on the square and triangle buttons to deliver epic combos (don’t be shocked to see the hit counter go into the multiple hundreds). It’s a satisfying formula that Omega Force has used for over a decade, although this iteration has the extra bonus of using some ideas from Dragon Quest. This comes in the form of summonable monster allies, spells that can be cast by pressing the right shoulder button, and the ability to jump around to any character within the party you’re in by tapping the left trigger. Just like the original, the combat has just enough depth to not get boring but is incredibly easy to learn. It’s also worth noting that the action is extremely smooth, as long as players don’t turn on the PS4 Pro exclusive Enhanced Mode. It’s far from “enhanced,” as it ends up offering a slightly better picture at an awful frame rate.
While the combat largely remains the same from the past game, Omega Force has added some additional tweaks that will be appreciated by players. One of the biggest comes in the form of Party Powers, which are team-wide skills that can be equipped. These range from simple buffs such as increasing maximum HP by four for everyone to more specific ones such as doing more damage against flying enemies. Effectively using these powers can help players get out of a tough spot. Other smaller upgrades include the ability to use ingredients to upgrade accessories (I ended up using this in order to get an additional heal boost), and being able to turn off animations for the character’s ultra powerful coup de grâce attacks.
Kind of Open
My excitement about the connected world was quickly stifled once I got into my first major story mission. It was here that I realized that the game’s missions all take place on isolated maps away from the vast environments. That isn’t a huge issue in of itself, but it really kills the feeling that you’re exploring a connected world. Instead, it’s more like the player has to go through one long hub area to get where they’re supposed to be.
What further broke the illusion of freedom was when I realized how scripted the environments were. Seeing a sand golem come to life in front of a rocky overpass was cool the first time, but it began to elicit a groan after the 20th. I also helped rescue the same exact villager from getting attacked by a group of slimes about a dozen times. When he continued to thank me for doing so, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes because there was no chance he’d learn from his mistakes. Omega Force didn’t create a world, they created a series of set pieces that start to feel increasingly empty after the first 10 hours.
The major attempt at adding some variety into the world comes in the form of side-quests that can be accepted within Accordia. These are basic, throwaway missions that have the player grinding out different items or killing a certain number of enemies. It’s a decent way to add some additional replay value, but sadly the presentation of the quests is pretty bad. There’s no on-screen indicator of how far along the player is on the quests they have active, and I had to dig through three different menus if I wanted to check my progress. If implemented correctly these quests could’ve made the open spaces feel less like a chore to get through, but they add practically nothing with how they are currently implemented. That said, there is a little tweak that gave you a notification once you’ve completed a side quest, which is an improvement to how it was handled in the first one.
The new connected world format may ultimately fall flat for Dragon Quest Heroes II, but the story missions are an improvement upon the original. Well, for the most part. One of the things I disliked about the original was how many missions revolved around protecting an object from waves of enemies. That’s gone for a good chunk of the game (although it obnoxiously rears its head in the back third of the game), and instead, the player can focus more on dishing out rad combos against all kinds of bosses. The action shines here, and the story is surprisingly well told for the most part, although some serious parts don’t come across great. There are some fun, and kind of obvious, twists during the 30-hour campaign, but it was fun seeing characters from my favorite characters from my favorite Dragon Quest games interact with each other.
Unfortunately, as touched on previously, the game ends up dropping the ball in terms of mission design about two-thirds into the game. The last 10 hours are filled with facing the same enemies that the player had fought for the prior 20, but colored slightly different. That’s not a huge deal for the minor baddies that die after a few hits, but I got sick of taking on the same mini-boss fight multiple times. There weren’t any new attack patterns that I had to dodge, it was just the same old. Variety isn’t typically a musou title’s strongest point, but Heroes II ends up going about 10 hours too long and doesn’t justify it.
These later missions are also where the game’s rather limited partner artificial intelligence starts to show. My three partners always followed my character around, so it meant that I couldn’t count on them to help defend specific areas. This makes later missions more difficult than they should be, and it’s shocking that there isn’t any way to influence the computer’s actions as its been a feature in past count on them to help defend specific areas. This makes later missions more difficult than they should be, and it’s shocking that there isn’t any way to influence the computer’s actions as its been a feature in past Warriors titles. What makes it even more frustrating is that the protection missions don’t even make sense in the Dragon Quest world, as why can’t I just heal the people I’m protecting? Instead, I’m forced to watch their health bar constantly trickle down because the developer couldn’t come up with an interesting task for the player.
This frustration with computer teammates bleeds into regular combat as well. I often found myself annoyed by how irregular the healing was, with a key point being the final boss fight of the game. During an almost 30-minute battle, my partners often ended up getting hit by the villain’s attacks to the point where I had to use up all of my revival medicine on them. I never got the computer to fully cooperate with me, and I ended up having to constantly switch characters manually in order to heal. Another hilarious moment occurred when the boss’ weak point was exposed, My best warrior chose to attack the monster’s foot instead of the critical damage point. I eventually finished the foe off myself, but it was a sadly fitting end to a game that long overstayed its welcome.
One thing that could’ve helped solve my teammate issue was human partners. That’s theoretically possible in Dragon Quest Heroes II, but the feature has been completely broken since I’ve had the game. Before entering a story mission the player is given to request help from others (you can get a specific user by using an incredibly archaic system that has the player typing in a four-digit code). Sadly, this hasn’t worked, and I haven’t been able to do any of the four-player cooperative play that is possible. This sounds awesome in theory, as the final boss could be defeated quite easily if characters were playing their proper roles, but it’s a non-factor when it’s broken at the moment.
The other way players can get into Dragon Quest Heroes action with friends is by participating in dungeons. These can be done either solo or cooperatively (assuming it is working), and are essentially a series of generic rooms filled with a bunch of enemies. It’s not something I enjoyed doing solo, and I really doubt friends would make the grind seem fun. The biggest bummer is not that the online doesn’t work, but that it’s been so poorly implemented in the first place. I could see it being a lot of fun if players could simply invite others into their world and do the campaign in co-op, but sadly that isn’t even an option here.
Dragon Quest Heroes II attempts to build upon the original in some smart ways, but the execution ends up being rather messy. The connected world doesn’t provide the player with a living, breathing world to explore, but rather it’s reminiscent of a diorama. One that attempts to fool the player into not seeing how shallow and lifeless things are outside of its walls. It’s a fun, but flawed, follow-up. One that ultimately feels like a tease, as it adds a few much-needed improvements, but not enough to push it over the edge.
Review code for Dragon Quest Heroes II provided by the publisher. Reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.