Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below

"The team members include a wide variety of body types, from hulking behemoth to fat guy to athletic girl to... busty tavern wench."

Putting two franchises together can result in something great like Kingdom Hearts, or something weird and bad like the X-Men/Star Trek: The Next Generation book (which sits on my bookshelf regardless). But the thing is, even the bad crossovers seemed like a great idea to enough people to actually get made, so when you approach a new joining of two franchises, you never know how it'll turn out. Thus, I went with some trepidation into Dragon Quest Heroes, the union of Dragon Quest and Dynasty Warriors. However, now that I've reached its end, I can happily say that it falls closer to Sora and Goofy than it does to Riker and Storm (credit where credit's due, though: Worf and Wolverine make a good team).

In Dragon Quest Heroes, you are Luceus or Aurora, sword-swinging captain of the Royal Guard. He tends to overthink things; she runs into battle without stopping to plan. Cliché, perhaps, but it makes for humorous interplay between the two characters who are with you the entire game. In their world, humans have always been friends with monsters. But one day, a dark force makes the monsters turn on them, and it's up to Luceus and Aurora to figure out how to stop the darkness and turn things back to normal. Fortunately, they're not alone; as the game progresses, they're joined by characters from previous Dragon Quest games, mysteriously brought to this world to help in the mission.

The only Dragon Quest I've played is 8, so I was impressed by the fact that when my team was fully assembled, there were more girls than guys. And the team members include a wide variety of body types, from hulking behemoth to fat guy to athletic girl to... busty tavern wench (Jessica, from 8). OK, that last may not seem like a good example, but she's the healer, a character people really liked in her original game, and hey, there are girls who look like that in real life, so it's fair enough that there be one in the game. You can take up to four characters into battle, and I played with an all girl team the whole time because they are awesome. Even the characters who aren't in the active party level up (albeit a bit more slowly than the active party), which means you're free to switch up your party more than I did, should you so desire.

Having not played the Dynasty Warriors series, I don't quite know how Dragon Quest Heroes' gameplay compares to it, so I will have to content myself with taking it on its own merits. There's a hub area that includes vendors, a save point, and a sidequest giver, as well as a map that enables travel to the areas for carrying out missions. I really liked the fact that whenever a vendor or the sidequest giver has something new for you, they get an icon over their head. Some of the sidequests ask you to fetch a number of items, and when you look at the list of available sidequests, you are informed right then and there if you've already met the requirements for one, which is great. The only bad thing is that you can't generally see what reward you'll receive for completing the quest. Some give crafting ingredients, but some just give money, and you can't tell which is which from their descriptions.

In battle, you run around killing hordes of enemies with basic attacks and character-exclusive special skills/magic spells, which consume MP. Mashing the square button strings several basic attacks together, followed by a crowd-sweeping combo finisher. Mashing triangle instead of square swaps the combo finisher for an AI-selected special skill/magic spell. Holding the R1 button at any time brings up a radial menu that allows you to use a specific special skill/magic spell whenever you want, and that's the route I prefer to go, since it gives me the amount of control I want. However, in doing so, I'm really just taking the middle ground, because Dragon Quest Heroes also offers a "slick" control scheme that allows you to take manual control of your combos and their finishers by pressing specific sequences of square and triangle. Button mashing really fits my playstyle better, so I never used the slick controls after the initial tutorial.

No matter the control method you use, as you hit enemies, you fill up a "tension" meter. Once it's full, pressing circle temporarily puts you into "high tension mode," during which your attacks do more damage and you can't be made to flinch. When your high tension time runs out, you execute an attack powerful enough to instantly kill any smaller enemies it hits and take a sizable chunk out of bigger enemies' health bars. All of your party members' tension meters fill up as they attack, but the AI never turns on high tension mode, so it's important to switch characters from time to time and use that lovely tension they've built up.

Every enemy has a chance to drop a "monster medal" when they die, and picking it up lets you summon them back to the field to fight by your side. Bigger monsters seem to have a better chance to drop medals, which feels very satisfying. Some monsters cast a spell and then leave the field, but most stay and fight to guard the general area where you summoned them. Summoning the right monsters in the proper places is crucial to your success, especially in missions where you are tasked with protecting a spot or NPC. Pick the right strategy, and most missions can be beaten on the first try, though there are a few missions that took me several attempts before I found the right strategy.

In terms of presentation, this game looks and sounds great. It's got the classic Dragon Quest cartoony visual style, and the characters are nicely detailed and animated. In some maps, you can zoom out and travel between waypoints, and when you do so, you can actually see the enemies all over the map. As befits a Dynasty Warriors-style game, there are often a large number of enemies on screen, and I never ran into any framerate issues.

The music is solid throughout (although as I so often do with PS4 games, I played a fair amount of it on my Vita, on mute), but what I really appreciated were the voices. The characters have a variety of accents that range all across the UK and beyond, and I thought they were all excellent performances. It really made me wonder what their accents are in Japanese, but since I don't speak it, I wouldn't have understood even if I had switched to those voices.

I had a lot of fun with Dragon Quest Heroes, from the first mission to the last. That said, I realize that some players may feel the missions grow repetitive. There's a lot of button mashing, and there are some points in every mission when you can tell that a new group of enemies is about to appear. Fans of hack & slash games shouldn't mind that, though, so if that's what you like, I think you'll have fun with it too.


© 2015 Square Enix, Omega Force. All rights reserved.

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