The Dragon Quest series finally makes an appearance on next-gen consoles, bringing with it a new approach altogether. The original turn-based formula is nowhere to be seen, exchanged instead for a combat style which is more action-oriented. Hurdles have to be crossed when a game makes drastic changes to its roots, and while pre-rendered cutscenes tell most of the story, the pacing is much faster than what is customary to the franchise.
Luceus and Aurora are the respective hero and heroine of the story, one of which you must choose to be the “main character” at the game’s onset. In a world devoid of conflict, humans and monsters live in harmony, walking the streets of the capital together and interacting in everyday life. The opening sequence jumps from this tranquility into a spontaneous upheaval of monsters striking out against humans. After dealing with them, Luceus and Aurora meet up with King Doric, who opts to accompany them on a journey to discover what instigated the monster attacks, as it has something to do with the Yggdrasil Tree, the life blood of the world. This story is Saturday-morning-cartoon-esque, but the charm is that it’s easy to pick back up whenever, and it’s even great for kids to jump into. The art style has always been that way, and there were many times where I found myself enjoying the friendly banter and chinwagging along the way.
Dragon Quest Heroes is a definitive game for families to play together, since it involves light strategy and fun yet approachable plot points. Like any respectable RPG, Heroes includes many different playable characters, each one offering a different combat style. A team of four goes out, and the only way to make changes to the party make up is back at the base. On that note, all active party members can be swapped on the fly, so taking advantage of each character’s weapon type can make things easier in tight places, even though there aren’t many scenarios that call for any specific character.
Combo counts are tracked, building up tension in a Tension Bar for activating a Coup de Grace. In this state, magic abilities cost zero mana and pressing Circle executes a directional finisher. Overall though, combat is rather simplistic, featuring a small list of combos. What surprised me further in Heroes is that there is an even simpler combat scheme offered at the beginning of the game, which places these basic combos on few buttons, making combat feel quite automated and more repetitive than it is with regular attack buttons.
Though combo chains lack variety, the real charm to this combat is the use of monster coins. Defeated monsters will sometimes drop a coin that can be activated, which then puts that monster on your side. Be wary, though, because the monsters stay wherever their respective coin is used, their versatility is slim. The strategy to them is still low, since only certain monsters appear in certain areas, so there’s no need to overthink which monsters are best for which scenario.
Knowing this, Heroes becomes something of a simplistic Dungeon Defenders, with monsters replacing turrets and the like. Maps are laid out with clear paths in mind, and enemies spawn from points identified on the map, and those monsters are more often than not surging toward a location, let it be a door or a person, that must be defended. This type of feature ensures there’s quite a bit of running around, but Dragon Quest Heroes has included an ability called Zoom, which jumps the player to key points that must be activated each match, making getting around much quicker while reducing the risk of going too far away from the protect point.
Farming is borderline inherent. Grinding levels is normal in RPGs, but what Heroes does is almost too obvious. Instead of repeating missions or returning to open areas, parts of the map are delegated with specific missions designed to have an endless stream of enemies, each mission of relative difficulty in order to accommodate whatever level the characters may be at that time. Leveling doesn’t take long either, since a good 20-minute stint in one of these missions yields enough levels to move on with the narrative. This makes it a bit easier to gather materials and such, but it doesn’t do much to favor the sense of progression. After maybe three or four story missions, I had to jump into one of these farming missions in order to continue on, so I think there could have been some balancing to accommodate an even flow rather than padding the play time with minor road bumps. Considering there is a healthy amount of side quests, having to do this along the way causes some unjustified dragging in the flow of the game.
The only means of crafting is making accessories. Parts obtained in the field are then brought to the alchemy pot, and accessories are created from said parts. Combining accessories is the process of placing two of the same accessory in the alchemy pot, which will then churn out a better version of said accessory with another statistic to boot.
There’s not much challenge in Dragon Quest Heroes that a few extra levels can’t fix, but like I said before, this is the perfect game for families to play together. Heroes offers enough variety to keep things interesting in the genre’s natural repetitiveness, but this approach removes any depth found in previous Dragon Quest titles. Grinding levels is a frequent part of the game, and Heroes doesn’t try to hide it, making flow and natural progression uneven at times. The quirky narrative will keep things moving, but much like the game on the whole, nothing gets too complicated or intricate. Simple isn’t for everyone, but there’s enough here for multiple fan bases to dig into.