Since its launch in late 2006, the Nintendo Wii has been a North American phenomenon. Combining the pick up and play quality of the Wii remote with unique game design has led the big N to resume its console dominance in this current console generation war. What has made the Wii so popular are games like Wii Sports—a title that perfectly utilizes the Wii remote and allows for the casual gamer to become a sports fanatic. Even though the “waggle” has become popular and opened the door to interesting titles in numerous genres, Square Enix’s Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors showcases what not to do when creating an RPG for the Wii.
Dragon Quest Swords opens in the land of Avalonia, where the people have lived in peace for five years after Xiphos (the Deathbringer) was defeated. However, and seemingly without notice, creatures have begun to reappear and at an alarming rate. The hero, who has just celebrated a monumental sixteenth birthday, is ready to take his place as a great fighter like his father Claymore. When the hero attempts to meet with the Queen (a tradition for a young man on his sixteenth birthday), she will not meet with him. This leads to an investigation on why the Queen has taken to suddenly covering her face in a dramatic mask. The Queen’s son, Anlace; Fleurette, a daughter of a great warrior; and the hero’s father himself, become the party that seeks the answer to the mask as well as who is behind the recent change in the Queen’s behavior.
Even though this narrative is boilerplate, the game exhibits gameplay that is anything but status quo. Dragon Quest Swords is an action RPG that utilizes a first person interface similar to what you might find in the Elder Scrolls series. However, Square Enix decided to severely strip down some depth in the interface in order to integrate Wii controls in the game. The game consists of you using the Wii remote to navigate Avalonia (the only town in the game) and the ten locations in the world using the D-pad at the top of the controller. When navigating the areas, you can use the pointer built into the controller to do things such as examining a pot or opening a treasure chest. It seems to be a beautiful fit: replace the mouse with the pointer of the remote. Let me assure you, it was better in principle than practice.
When not in town, you are limited in your ability to examine the various map locations you visit. For example, when in a cave, you cannot do anything but move straight with an occasional choice to move right or left, as if you are reading a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. This becomes repetitive and monotonous as the adventurer has no adventuring to do; instead, the hero remains walking straight paths into battle in an attempt to complete what becomes a type of modified platformer.
During the game, it is clear that the development team put most of its time into battle and the way in which the Wii remote should be used. Basically, when you encounter an enemy, your controller turns into both your sword and shield and allows you to attack in a variety of ways. You can move the remote horizontally, vertically, or diagonally and perform slashes that mimic those movements, or use a thrusting type motion forward that is occasionally effective. In addition, you can press the “B” button on the back of the pad to turn your remote into a shield that can block fireballs, dirt, and other slime the monsters can throw at you.
While this battle system seems amazing and every RPG fan’s dream, it takes any strategy out of the game and makes the game into a strange type of button masher. Nothing is more frustrating to an RPG fan that a control system gone wrong and that is exactly what happens in the game. For example, you may be running low on HP and need one special vertical thrust to save you and so you waggle, and guess what happens? You perform a horizontal slash that completely misses the enemy and you die, only to smash your Wii remote into oblivion.
What developers need to realize is just what made Wii sports so fun to begin with: it was a way to pick up and play, but it didn’t end there. Wii Tennis actually felt like tennis and took a minute to learn, but a lifetime (or at least a few weeks) to master. As a kid, I wanted desperately to be Rudo shooting my gun in Phantasy Star II, or to be Frog slashing Magus to pieces. This game didn’t feel like that at all. The controls were a chore, and became frustration personified. After a few minutes, I felt I learned all I needed to learn, and all that remained was learning the patterns of the monsters. Unless you are a die hard Punch-Out!! fan, this type of game will bore you to tears.
To its credit, Square Enix included some nice gameplay features that at least kept the game tolerable and got me through the last battle. This included a Master Stroke system, which was a fancy version of a Final Fantasy limit, or break system, which substituted waggle motions for button combinations. In addition, there are mini games, a small weapon synthesis system, and even optional bosses when the story mode ends. I’ll be honest though, for all of its faults of being a stripped down game, Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest blows this game out of the water.
The audio and visual accompaniments to this game were the only things that screamed Dragon Quest. From Sugiyama’s opening title music to the familiar church save point, at least the game looked and smelled like some of the more successful titles. With that said, nothing here pushes the envelope in the slightest. Most of the monsters are complete rehashes and don’t look any better than Dragon Quest VIII (and in fact the village and other map areas look a lot worse), and there are no original tracks by Sugiyama. This failure to put forth that extra effort really shows to even the casual fan of the series.
Dragon Quest Swords was originally intended to be a launch game for the Nintendo Wii system and it definitely shows. From its rudimentary graphics and music to its poor control scheme, this game makes the hardcore RPG fan scratch his or her head in disbelief. What’s worse, however, is that this game does the opposite of what has made the Wii so beautiful: it makes the casual gamer pick up the game, put it in, and wonder–why does anyone care about Dragon Quest?