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CONSOLE: PlayStation 4 DEVELOPER: Omega Force PUBLISHER: Square Enix
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 13, 2015 GENRE: Hack'n'Slash; Action RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Hero sandwich.

I've been a long-standing fan of the Dragon Quest series for as long as I can remember. Ever since I acquired a cartridge of the original Dragon Quest game for NES (known back then as Dragon Warrior), I realized that there was something special going on with this series. It has generally kept to its roots, maintaining a classic menu-style system throughout its triple-decade history. I'm not saying I love every single entry in the series — Dragon Warrior VII was an absolute slog and about as dry of an adventure as one could have. (Luckily, Dragon Quest VIII picked up the slack and created what could arguably be the peak of the series.)

Being the major franchise that it is, albeit moreso in Japan than abroad, it's not surprising that the series has branched out into genre-bending territory. Dragon Quest Monsters on the Game Boy Color pushed the monster catching aspect of its series into the forefront; games such as Torneko: The Last Hope brought popular characters into a rogue-like dungeon crawler setting; Dragon Quest Wars on the DS brought strategy-RPG elements into the fray; Theatrhythm Dragon Quest made us dance to Dragon Quest tunes. And let's not forget Dragon Quest X, which ventured into the MMORPG genre.

For me, one of the more interesting branching of paths comes in the form of Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below, a game developed not by Square Enix themselves but by Omega Force, most notably responsible for the long-running Dynasty Warriors series. As such, Dragon Quest Heroes is a bit of a mish-mash between the style of game you'd expect from Dragon Quest and the strategic hack'n'slashery of Warriors games, though this title ends up veering more towards the latter. And, despite a few missteps, it's an overall enjoyable experience.

As expected, all is well in the kingdom (Arba, this time), until some dark goof comes and spoils everyone's fun. In this case, it's Velasco, King of the Children of the Night, coming to bring balance between light and darkness, the former being the dominant of the forces at the moment. Of course, he'd rather everything be consumed with darkness, as evil villains generally desire. Playing as the two captains of the Royal Guard (called Luceus and Aurora as the default names, but it's more fun inputting your own name, or something ridiculous like AwesumButt420 — not sure if that whole thing fits), it's your duty to fend him off and save the world from peril. Unfortunately, Velasco's influence already takes its toll, as most monsters formerly friendly with humanity all turn violent (save for one, which is fine because he's a healer, and we need those). So, you'll have to kill all of your former monster allies. Ah well.

Dragon Quest Heroes (not to be confused with the Heroes game on DS, which was something very different) is a quest-based hack-and-slash game where you are typically given a mission and a location to visit next. Most missions involve either protecting something precious, such as an NPC or a root from the coveted Yggdrasil tree, or simply slaying every annoying monster you can find. As you slay your way through various enemies culled from the dusty tomes of Dragon Quest games past, your characters will gain experience and eventually level up. Enemies also pay up when defeated, enabling you to buy better armor and weaponry as it becomes available. In general, the combat is rather satisfying, cutting through even the thickest of beasts, though characters sometimes opt to dodge and roll when I just wanted them to slice and dice. I suppose that has saved my hide on more than one occasion, however.

As the game rolls on, you can also engage in sidequests to gain valuable items or just some extra experience on the side. Once you've signed up for them at the counter, you can head out to the world map and deal with them at your leisure. As well, boss battles that you've previously undertaken also become available on the map to retry and earn rewards from completing. It is, admittedly, a bit of a thrill to go back and defeat an old boss after gaining 30 more experience levels...

Be the Hero you always wanted to be, except the sandwich.

Being a game with "Heroes" in the title, it stands to reason that the game's chock full of heroes. Indeed it's true, pulling protagonists from other popular Dragon Quest games, including Alena and Kiryl from Dragon Quest IV, Terry from Dragon Quest VI, and the always popular duo of Jessica and Yangus from Dragon Quest VIII. Each character is significantly fleshed out to ensure players who've never even heard of these people gets enough background to know their personalities and a bit of their backstory. They also all play differently with their own fighting styles, weapons, and special abilities.

In addition to fighting with your party of up to four characters (the rest just sort of wasting time in the tavern), you can also recruit monsters to help you brawl. They are often vital to success, as they can help guard NPCs or objects in need of protection during a specific quest or simply act as yet another ally against larger, more formidable creatures. You "tame" them by collecting a monster medal if they drop one, then release them as an ally, where they will fight to the end for your valor.

Dragon Quest Heroes also takes a page from Dragon Quest VIII by keeping the alchemy pot bubbling, allowing you to concoct special items using ingredients dropped by fallen foes. Recipes must be found, however, and it's not as though they're all just laying about in chests. Some recipes are just randomly discovered after defeating an enemy. I suppose luck has a role in this; luckily enough, some recipes can be purchased in exchange for mini medals.

As much as I enjoyed playing it, Dragon Quest Heroes has some flaws that simply couldn't be ignored. First and foremost, this game is just too verbose — characters say in a million mouthfuls what could easily be expressed in a sentence or two. Sometimes the yammering becomes a hindrance to enjoying the game. Even during some missions the gameplay takes an intrusive pause so characters can express their thoughts while you have to wait for them to stop talking and continue your quest. It's not so bad when individuals have conversations WHILE you're slashing away at enemies, however; I don't mind a little side entertainment.

There are also FAR too many guarding quests, which prove to be more of a chore than necessary. Every once in a while, a guard quest could be acceptable, but when they come one after another after another, fatigue sets in and you need a break. (Of course, certain NPCs have the AI of a raisin and run straight into the enemy to get their necks lopped off, which certainly doesn't help my plight either. Fools.)

Some sidequests also involve collecting a certain number of an item. They can either be easy by requiring collection of common items, or they can be downright taxing because they need more rare drops. Even with equipped accessories designed to improve the number of item drops, you could be spending hours hacking away at a single type of enemy just to get a single desired drop. That's just more unnecessary drudgery.

Even with these glaring flaws, I still rather enjoyed my time with Dragon Quest Heroes. There's certainly enough meat to the game to keep me going, with a significant amount of post-game content that could challenge even the most brazen of heroes. Fans of Dragon Quest and Dynasty Warriors alike will certainly find enjoyment here, and I am looking forward to busting more chops with Dragon Quest Heroes II in the future.

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