Is there any franchise that won’t get given the musou treatment? Not that I’m complaining – the whole musou concept of ‘one against an army’, originating with Dynasty Warriors, has been popular with video game fans for years. Whilst we’ve seen popular-culture take advantage of the formula, with titles like Gundam Warriors proving to be highly successful, game companies are now experimenting with introducing the musou formula to their beloved franchises. Zelda fans had a treat last year with Hyrule Warriors and now Square-Enix are giving one of their most popular franchises the musou treatment too – introducing, Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe And The Blight Below.
Dragon Quest Heroes sees you controlling an assortment of fighters on expansive battlefields, taking on countless foes in huge battles that could determine the fate of the world. Whilst the musou genre typically consists of simple button mashing gameplay, the introduction of Dragon Quest’s RPG elements gives the formula a lot more depth.
The game opens with a simple premise – the world is at peace, with humans and monsters living in harmony. During a celebratory festival, disaster strikes when a mysterious foe unleashes an evil that causes the monsters to turn on the humans. The monsters start attacking all the cities of the world, causing the human army to rise and attempt to take them down. Thus begins the quest to defeat the mysterious foe that caused this havoc and bring peace to the world once more.
There are plenty of twists and turns as you progress through the story, but I found the narrative as a whole took a bit of a back seat to the character interactions. There’s a colourful cast of twelve characters, each with their own unique personalities that really lend to some of the most enjoyable scenes in the game.
You have Luceus – the hero who thinks the best way to tackle every situation is with a well formulated plan. His best friend and fellow Royal Guard is Aurora, who seems to take enjoyment out of putting down each and every plan Luceus has. Their conflicts bring about some funny interactions – at times I almost felt a little bad for him!
You then have characters like King Doric, a leader who seems more interested in fighting than ruling a Kingdom, and Isla, a feisty female who makes some suggestive comments to other characters. Dragon Quest fans will also see a few familiar faces during their journey too. Each character is full of personality and their interactions are always a pleasure to witness – be it story developments or just exploring their relationships with each other.
Of course, musou titles’ main focus is on gameplay and Dragon Quest Heroes is no different. The bulk of your time will be spent on battlefields, taking down countless enemies that at times completely take over the screen. Seriously, the amount of foes you’ll take on at one time is impressive.
You have basic attack combos that are efficient at taking down standard foes, but also some magic focused attacks. The magic attacks pack a bit more punch, but come at the expense of MP. As you defeat foes you’ll also build up an energy bar known as ‘tension’ – when you activate it you become much more powerful and invincible to enemy attacks for a limited time. It also offers you the chance to land a ‘coup de grace’ – a powerful finishing move that can wipe out most enemies in one hit. ‘Tension’ makes you feel a lot more powerful and there’s a satisfying feeling when using it against a large group of foes – it can also help you get out of a few sticky situations with boss fights. Each attack dynamic works well together and combat is really enjoyable as a whole. It’s easy to pick up and get straight into – it won’t take you long to get good at the game.
At times Dragon Quest Heroes can be guilty of making you feel like you’re just button mashing, though some enemies take a bit more thought to take down. Boss fights are particularly tricky; each large beast follows a dangerous attack pattern and requires specific tactics to defeat. You’ll also find that some enemies are more vulnerable to different types of magic; elements play a big role in Dragon Quest Heroes. Whilst your main character doesn’t have access to each element of magic, thankfully you can switch party members on the fly offering you a wider range of skills.
You’ll take a party of four with you into each battle, each accessible with a simple button press. Each character feels different to control with every character equipped with unique weapons and skill sets. Some may have an increased focus on ranged attacks whilst others may primarily focus on agile, up-close combos; there will always be a character that suits your style of play. Success comes from mixing them up though, with some characters holding certain advantages over some enemies. It’ll certainly take some experimenting before you’re able to get the best out of each character.
Admittedly though, most missions don’t require you to switch around all that much – once you find a favourite character you like to use, you may find yourself primarily sticking with them. Dragon Quest Heroes isn’t a difficult game, with the most challenging battles typically being boss fights. Whilst there is a huge variety of enemies to take down, they mostly go down with ease. Sure, some may require different tactics to defeat, but they won’t offer much threat to you on the offensive. Whilst you’ll feel powerful and that you can conquer all, some gamers may be put off by the ease that you’ll breeze through most missions.
Thankfully, Dragon Quest Heroes introduces a new gameplay aspect to the musou genre – ‘monster medals’. These ‘monster medals’ are collected from defeated foes and allows you to summon monsters to help you out in the heat of battle. These monsters each have their own battling styles, with some better at defending from range and others getting up close and personal. It’s neat being able to see these monsters battle alongside you – especially after defeating so many on the battlefield.
The ‘monster medals’ primary use is during protection missions. These missions see you making sure no harm may come to specific objects, such as power generators, a sacred Yggdrasil root or even another character. Whilst you’re able to take down most foes that may attack, the design of the maps means that enemies will be coming from all directions. In these cases the use of ‘monster medals’ is essential, with the summoned monsters able to cover areas of the map that you’re away from.
It’s an interesting element to add to the game, offering a musou/tower defence hybrid. Their use is fundamental to success in protection missions – correct use can be the difference between a successful mission and a failed one. On the other hand, I didn’t find myself using ‘monster medals’ much outside of protection missions. The game is generally easy enough that you won’t find yourself needing that much assistance along the way – besides, the more enemies you can take out yourself the better.
Outside of battle, most of your time will be spent aboard the ‘Stonecloud’ – a flying ship that is your base of operations. You’ll spend a lot of time here, be it shopping for new armour and weapons, creating new items through the use of alchemy or taking part in side quests.
There are plenty of side quests in the game ranging from simple tasks such as collecting a certain amount of items to defeating a particular foe. They never take too much time and they offer bonuses that you may not be able to find elsewhere. Some have you exploring battles you’ve already taken part in during the story, but with benefits such as gaining extra experience points and items they’re well worth completing.
As you level up in the game you’ll gain skill points – these can be used to earn new stats boosts and skills for your character. You’re given complete freedom to spend these skill points as you please, though each character does have unique skill tree that is specialised for their play style; you can still primarily focus on particular stats if that suited you though.
Graphically, Dragon Quest Heroes is stunning. Akira Toriyama’s legendary designs are perfectly portrayed on the battlefield, with bright colours and fluid animations bringing each character to life. Characters look unique and monsters all have the charming Dragon Quest vibe to them.
You’ll venture through fields, across deserts and inside cities among other locations throughout the game, each area full of detail and different passage ways to explore. Maps never feel one-dimensional, but instead feel like the perfect ground in which to take part in gripping battles.
One glaring omission, and possibly Dragon Quest Heroes’ biggest flaw, is the lack of multiplayer. The musou genre lends itself perfectly to multiplayer, and considering you always have a party of more than one character there’s doesn’t seem to be a reason not to include it. Your AI companions are competent, but the lack of multiplayer is hugely disappointing.
It’s a bit of a surprise that we got to see Dragon Quest Heroes on these shores; it’s a series that’s often suffered a severe lack of localisation. Here it is though, and it’s a real treat for western fans. The musou genre lends itself well to the Dragon Quest universe and it’s great to be taking down all those familiar monsters that we’ve learned to love over the years.
It can be a little easy at times and the lack of multiplayer is frustrating, but Dragon Quest Heroes still stands tall as a great game. It’s surprisingly deep, absolutely stunning and has got a ton of content that’ll keep you busy for a long time. Most importantly though – it’s a blast to play. Square-Enix have already confirmed development on a sequel; lets hope we’ll get to see it over here too!
– Enjoyable combat that offers a surprising amount of depth
– Absolutely stunning visuals throughout
– Plenty of side quests and missions to play through
– Entertaining narrative and character interactions
– Lack of multiplayer
– Can be a little easy at times
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4