Although I find myself playing the Dynasty Warriors series from time to time, I’ll admit that I enjoyed the Legend of Zelda spin-off Hyrule Warriors more than any of them. It was an easy sell as a fan of Zelda, and appealing to the fandom made its repetitious combat easier to swallow. The same could be said about the latest spin-off featuring the famed Dragon Quest series, Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below, however this feels more like a Dragon Quest game that just so happens to have Dynasty Warriors elements, rather than the other way around.
Omega Force, the division of Koei Tecmo that handles the development of the Dynasty Warriors series, is no stranger to spin-offs. Over the years they’ve worked on Dynasty Warriors: Gundam, One Piece: Pirate Warriors, and recently Hyrule Warriors on Wii U, proving that the series’ extreme hack-n-slash style can work well in different settings. I was impressed with the scale and character variety found in Hyrule Warriors, and put a healthy amount of time in to its campaign and Adventure Mode, but it still felt like Dynasty Warriors dressed in Legend of Zelda garb. I love the Dragon Quest series (currently playing through Dragon Quest V on DS) and knew I’d pick up Heroes as soon I possibly could, but I had no idea it was going to be this fun (and in-depth).
As the story goes, humans and monsters have been living together in harmony for quite some time. The opening cinematic shows our heroes at Arba’s town faire, browsing vendors while golems hand out balloons and blue slimes hop along the road. It doesn’t last long though. In true RPG fashion (of course) an evil wizard casts a spell that reminds monsters that they’re monsters and it’s time to do monster things, like kill people. Queue crying children and menacing dracky flapping about.
There’s significantly less playable characters than Hyrule Warriors, maybe a dozen or so, with a handful of them being original designs that play in to the campaign’s story. At the start you can choose between Luceus and Aurora, both new to the series. Luceus is the tactical one. He has a knack for spouting off walls of text, and his attempts to do so are frequently interrupted by the impatient Aurora. The banter between the two is genuinely funny, and I always appreciate when Aurora doesn’t make me sit through another of Luceus’ speeches.
The other characters, however, are returning favorites. Apparently Alena, Kiryl, and the sultry Maya from Dragon Quest 4 return, along with Bianca and Nera from 5, Terry from 6, and Jessica and Yangus from 8. So far I’ve only managed to recruit two of the new characters, King Doric and Isla, as I’ve only been at it for three hours. Doric is a beefy brawler who is actually the king of Arba, stepping down to join the fight when his countrymen are threatened by the monster invasion. Isla is like a horny engineer or something, immediately giving Luceus the sexy eyes when the two first meet. She’s a ranged attacker with a boomerang and has a heavy hand in introducing you to two of the game’s important additions: monster medals and magic launchers. More on that later.
Combat is a similar hack-n-slash affair, mashing one button for fast attacks and charging another for slower, heavier damage dealing abilities. Each character has their own attacks, spells, finishing moves, and lengthy talent trees that allow you to allocate points in to things like new and improved versions of spells, increased defense, higher weapon damage, and other expected improvements. Holding a shoulder button during combat brings up a spell wheel that works as a great way to clear out hordes of baddies, depleting your character’s mana pool in the process. There’s also magic launchers–giant cannons that hurl magical spells–scattered about certain maps that can be used at the right time and turn the tide of battle back in your favor. Dragon Quest Heroes is very much a Dragon Quest game though, since there’s plenty of enemies that can wipe you out in a mere few hits.
What I’ve noticed so far is that there’s a much steeper learning curve than I’ve seen in other Dynasty Warriors games. The emphasis on dodging and blocking attacks, along with tactical deployment of monster medals, is the only way to succeed here. Unfortunately Heroes suffers from the same camera issues as other Warriors games, making it difficult to block everything and lock on to the right enemy. A majority of the game is spent dealing with lesser creatures, like slimes, dracky, and skeletons, so it’s not always an issue, but lately it’s been difficult to keep my sights on a dragon in order to avoid its attacks. Sometimes it works as intended, which is clearly a good thing, but there have been times where my block faces wherever my camera is pointed rather than the direction my character is facing. This is a problem, but I’m still having a blast.
My favorite addition to Dragon Quest Heroes is collecting monster medals during combat. These draw back to the days of Dragon Quest IV, allowing you to use monsters as allies, and serve as the game’s tactical focus. Missions come in two varieties: kill or defend, sometimes both. Since monsters deal a great deal of damage, leaving your post undefended is akin to throwing in the towel. As defeated enemies drop their own monster medal though, you can use them in combat to summon the creature to help defend your objective, guard a choke point, and some (like the dracky) just show up and buff your character with helpful abilities before leaving the battlefield. You can only carry so many, so aside from hacking, slashing, staying alive, and swapping between your party members (yes, you control a party of 4 characters), you must also keep track of your new monster allies.
One of the earlier missions had me defend a generator being transported out of a kingdom. It reminded me of a MOBA, where my defend point was in the middle of three different lanes; all spewing out monsters from large portals. I could take my party and focus our attack on one of them, with the goal of closing the portal and moving on to the next, but the other two lanes would easily overwhelm my generator within minutes. While frantically switching my position, I had to use monster medals to summon slime knights and skeletons to defend against the other two lanes until I could make my way there. Once the lane was clear, I had to unsummon them in order to pick up additional monster medals to spawn at new portals in one of the other lanes. It’s hectric, stressful, and a shitload of fun. I love it. I’ve failed more missions than I’ve won so far, but I love it.
As a fan of the series, the iconic soundtrack (complete with the series’ level-up tune, the sounds of text moving through the chat bubbles, and the main theme playing in the opening start screen) and tactical depth have a deathgrip on me pretty hard. The RPG elements also dull the sting of repetition tremendously. I always enjoy customizing character growth, and swapping between 4 characters in mid-combat allows me to experience more variety than just controlling a lone hero.
Some of the voice acting makes me want to vomit, like the heal slime Healix, and I hated that all of the spoken dialogue plays through the Dual Shock 4’s internal speaker. There’s no option to turn that off in-game, so I had to mute its volume in the Playstation 4’s settings menu. The Day One edition’s slime weapon rewards are also pointless, as I managed to replace them all in under an hour. Also worth a mention, Dragon Quest Heroes doesn’t offer any form of co-op, whether local or online. This is odd, considering it’s been staple of the Dynasty Warriors series for a while now. Aside from that I mainly just have qualms with the camera, but if what I’ve played so far is any indication it’s going to be a purely enjoyable 25-30 hour experience.