Dragon Quest Heroes: The World’s Woe and the Blight Below is probably the most charming hack-and-slash you’ll ever play.
It’s also a bit of a conundrum. Dragon Quest Heroes will really make you want to try the traditional Dragon Quest RPGs. And if you’ve done that already, you may be wishing this were a new entry in the series or finally a localized version of Dragon Quest X. Instead, Dragon Quest Heroes is the latest of the long-running Musou games made popular by the Dynasty Warriors series and its crossover titles, including the recent Zelda crossover Hyrule Warriors. It’s also the slickest I’ve played. With such huge names as Zelda and Dragon Quest, I can’t imagine publishers Nintendo and Square Enix would settle for anything less than polished with their own crossovers.
The gameplay in Dragon Quest Heroes centers around a party of four characters hacking, slashing, and magicking through hundreds of enemies at a time. You start with Luceus and Aurora and collect a cool cast of others from various entries of the franchise. Each character has his or her own unique attacks, including combos, specials, and super-charged ultimates (called coup de grace). Most of these include strings of combos that are executed with the same simple button combinations (think square, square, triangle), and every character has his or her own special attacks mapped to the R1 button. Luceus and Aurora are almost identical gameplay-wise, but most of the cast are differentiated enough to require a little practice. Ranged and mage types provide the most variation. Your cast grows so large by the end and the characters are unique enough that you’ll struggle to decide on the ultimate party. You’ll also have a few favorites. Bianca’s shoot-em-up bow mechanics and seemingly overpowered area-of-effect attacks (plasma dome!) became a mainstay once I unlocked her.
Your party of four–or less if preferred–engage in a succession of missions advancing the narrative from one Dragon Quest locale to the next, each of which boasts huge numbers of enemies to eliminate. These are all from various Dragon Quest games, from skeletons and mini-imps to bag-of-laughs and King Slime. Groups of enemies form in waves from dark portals guarded by mawkeepers, which need to be slain in order to close them. Missions are typically won by eliminating all of the enemies, escorting someone or something through a level, or slaying a boss. Oftentimes, you’ll also be tasked with defending an objective while also having to close portals scattered about the map and sending enemy waves your way. A decent amount of strategy is necessary to decide when to defend and when to press on to attempt to close a portal. Almost always, you have to let some other route expand with enemies whilst you work elsewhere on the map to close a portal and take out an overwhelmingly large mob with flashy specials or a coup de grace. Despite everything going on in these levels, however, you’ll find yourself moving through at a fast rate, eager to push through the next few levels and unlock the next hero.
Along the way are tons of side-quests to help level your characters and gather items and gold for crafting and buying new equipment in the main hub area. After a few introductory levels, you’ll get an airship with weapon shop, an accessory craftsman, orbs (which take the place of standard armor), a shop for unique accessories and weapons purchased with rare mini-medals (obtained through side quests and hidden chests), a postman for reading quest-related letters, and an accolade vendor, wherein in-game achievements can be traded for mini-medals. In addition to equipping your characters and allocating skill points, you can chat with party members about the current main quest and access a huge array of information such as a bestiary and quest completion percentage.
Unfortunately, vendors are a little too chatty, and their options accompanied by too many recurring menus. You can’t accept or turn in quests, unlock accolades or charge healstones (replenishable potions), without going through the same dialogue and menu options over and over again for each individual command. I found myself accidentally exiting their interfaces after skipping through the introductory dialogue.This could have been streamlined, especially given the amount of times you’ll visit each of them.
The story tying all of the quests together is bare bones. Monsters attack the kingdom of Arba, you gather a party of heroes from around the world where–guess what–monsters have been attacking also. Gathering your party, you’ll go on a quest to stop a mysterious foe behind the attacks. It gets into grandiose good vs. evil mythological stuff that really just serves to justify the Musou spinoff gameplay. I didn’t expect much more in terms of story in this regard, but given the story-laden tradition of Dragon Quest and RPGs in general, it would be nice in the future if this style of game could have a more interesting story that motivates players beyond the recognizable franchise and sheer addictive nature of the combat.
As the story is, fatigue starts to set in about halfway through, especially as mob-annihilating side-quests become longer and levels take longer to grind through. Each character has a ton of skills and attributes to obtain, but it’ll be quite some time before unlocking all of them. I found myself taking some time off at this point, but the undeniable charm of the Dragon Quest series and fluid and addictive gameplay will bring you back to bring the quest to a close.
The beloved characters, diverse and colorful worlds, addictive combat, and overall polish make for a standout entry in the Musou series. A Final Fantasy Musou beckons in the future somewhere, I hope. Until then, I’m looking forward to jumping into Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, and I’ll hold out hope for a localized Dragon Quest X. In the meantime, Dragon Quest Heroes, while its story is forgettable, is a fine-tuned, fun, and charming entry in the series. Anyone who has enjoyed Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy will find enjoyment here, even if it’s not exactly what everyone’s been asking for.
Image: Square Enix