Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below Review – No Woe for the Hero (PS4)
To say that North American fans had their fingers crossed for this would be a massive understatement. Unlike Final Fantasy, Square Enix’s other long-running RPG franchise, Dragon Quest has been a bit neglected on this side of the ocean — 2012’s Dragon Quest X has still yet to make it to these shores, for example, and two games in the series (V and VI) took over 15 years to get a retail release here. Because of this, news of Dragon Quest Heroes’ localization sent many gamers into a euphoric daze, even if they had to swallow a rather ungainly subtitle (The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below, which falls in line with Square’s oft-ridiculed naming conventions). These folks will be even happier when they find out that the game is a triumph on multiple fronts: it not only delivers action-RPG gameplay worthy of the legendary franchise, but also serves as the best Warriors experience in quite some time.
Comfort in Predictability
As Japanese Editor Heath Hindman reminded us in his import review, “Yes, this is a Warriors game.” Square Enix was smart to avoid that branding in our market, because it’s beginning to carry a bit of a negative connotation. Not that the Warriors titles are bad per se, but there’s definitely a sense of repetition among them that turns a lot of players off. Thankfully, that doesn’t apply here; sure, Heroes is as straightforward and button-mashy as Koei Tecmo’s usual stuff, but the crossover aspects help this simplicity feel more like an asset than a hindrance.
For one thing, there’s not going to be any confusion over what you’re tasked with doing here: taking a party of beloved Dragon Quest characters and running them through one hack-and-slash arena after another. And yeah, that’s as awesome and fun as it sounds. The game follows a fairly predictable rhythm: enter a new area, take on a few stages, meet a new party member, take on a few more stages, fight a menacing boss, then rinse and repeat. This formula is predictable, but reliable: you may have done things like this before, but you never get tired of it because it’s always a cracking good time.
Familiar Friends & Ample Activities
Seeing the cast (featuring favorites like Alena from IV and Terry from VI) and enemy monsters (adorable Slimes and Imps!) represented in high definition is a delight. They can be customized, too; level up and you’ll earn skill points, which can be distributed to learn new moves and improve your stats. This makes combat a bit more dynamic than your average Warriors game, too. Since each character has strengths and weaknesses, you can form a party based on the requirements of the mission and switch between them with a simple press of a button.
Hacking and slashing can get kind of dull if it’s not framed properly, but Dragon Quest Heroes avoids this pitfall by giving you plenty of reason to keep going. Not story-wise, necessarily — the narrative is about as simple and lighthearted it gets — but by offering a ton of things to collect and do. Beyond the main story missions, there’s quite a bit to keep you busy: quests to complete, accessories to forge, special trials that can help you learn new spells, and trophies to earn. In many ways, the game feels in line with even some of the earliest games in the series; it’s got an old-school feeling that just won’t quit, and that largely works to its advantage.
Music Woe & the Menus Blow
There are times when this sense of tradition doesn’t work, unfortunately. This mostly comes into play when you’re navigating the menus, which are slow and clunky in ways that could have been easily avoided. When I’m taking on quests or imbuing my Healstones with powers in the main hub area, for example, why do I have to go through and painstakingly choose each one? Even worse, why do I have to scroll through a bunch of obligatory dialogue and listen to a little jingle every time, further slowing down the process? Some people might decry elements of modern game design as streamlining things a bit too much, but working around mostly text-based menus is not exactly most players’ idea of fun. There’s no reason why these couldn’t have allowed you to select multiple options at once, or at least reduce the amount of time it takes to make each selection.
The music’s also a bit underwhelming when you consider Square Enix’s long history of providing amazing tunes. The compositions themselves are fine and should bring back a lot of memories for Dragon Quest fans, but the way they’re actually presented isn’t as epic as you might expect. Many of them have a sort of tinny, MIDI-esque quality to them that undermines the strength of the actual arrangements. Then again, that probably won’t keep them from getting stuck in your head.
On the graphical side of the presentation, those aware of the Warriors series’ reputation might feel a bit uneasy — those titles aren’t exactly known for their visual splendor. Even though Heroes won’t wow anyone from a technical perspective, though, it’s quite a treat for the eyes thanks to an appealingly cartoony aesthetic. Akira Toriyama’s stylized character design is great as usual, and the landscapes provide a sea of colorful images to take in as you complete your objectives. Perhaps the best designs are those of the series’ adorable monsters, who are arguably more memorable and iconic than the main characters themselves.
A(nother) JRPG Triumph
One might call October the “Month of the JRPG” on PlayStation 4. Hot on the heels of Disgaea 5, Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is the next must-have title for fans of the genre on Sony’s newest console. Unlike other crossover incarnations in the Warriors series, Heroes incorporates enough of the legendary RPG franchise’s traditional elements to create a giddy nostalgia trip. Even if you aren’t a longtime fan, though, you’ll have a chance to get caught up in a whirlwind of solid action-RPG goodness.
Review code for Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.