Of the two things that Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and Blight Below draws from, those being Dragon Quest games and Musou games, I have only played one of each (those being Dragon Quest VIII and One Piece Pirate Warriors 3, the former I never even finished). As such, I am not well acquainted with the mechanics of a Musou or the lore of Dragon Quest. So, bearing those factors in mind, did Dragon Quest Heroes still manage to hook me? The answer is a resounding… kind of.
The story, admittedly little of it there is, is that the kingdom of Arba, where monsters and humans have peacefully coexisted for ages, has come under attack by a mysterious evil force. This entity has tainted the monsters, causing them to turn on the humans and run wild. You control either Luceus or Aurora (or whatever you feel like naming them), the co-captains of Arba’s royal guard, as they set off on a quest across the nation alongside the rough-yet-jovial King Doric and alluring inventor Isla to discover the cause of monsters’ behavior. Along the way, they are also joined by characters from the other Dragon Quest games, such as Alena and Kiryl from Dragon Quest IV, and Yangus and Jessica from Dragon Quest VIII, who have been suddenly displaced from their own worlds (and I hope you’re not expecting more of an explanation than that, because that’s pretty much all you’re getting).
Being a Dragon Quest game, the art of Akira Toriyama, who I’m sure you know if you ever watched Dragonball Z when you were a kid, is here in full force, and I do quite like it. The character motions are fluid and solid for the most part, and watching the monsters romp about the field is both delightful and intimidating in that strange Toriyama way. However, one shortcoming of the animation also ties into a shortcoming in the audio: the dialogue. In cutscenes, the characters flap their lips nonstop, and while I do appreciate the inclusion of an English dub, it’s a bit on the shoddy side, with characters spouting lines rapidly to try and keep up with the lip movement. About the only characters I don’t mind listening to are Alena, because her Russian accent is adorable, and King Doric, because he shouts most of his lines, and every time he exclaims “GIRD YOUR LOINS!”, I chuckle like an idiot.
But enough about aesthetic, let’s talk gameplay. Again, since I’ve only played one in the past, I don’t know how a Musou game is supposed to feel, but DQH’s combat is a bit on the stiff side. The game has two control types, Quick and Slick, which are designed for beginners and experienced folks respectively. Quick controls allow you to perform combos by tapping one button, though the trade-off is that it limits you in the number of moves you can actually perform. Inversely, Slick controls make you build your own combos with two attack buttons, which offers a bit more variety in attacks. Problem is, that variety isn’t as much as I’d like. Even after picking up some extra attacks and spells from leveling up, I only ever seemed to have around three or four possible combos per character, and it gets old after a while. You can switch between characters on the fly to mix it up, but much like putting a stale loaf of bread in the fridge, you’re only forestalling the inevitable. Additional reinforcements can be called in the form of Monster Medals, tokens that drop from defeated monsters that allow you to summon either sentries to guard vital positions or saviors to attack or provide buffs, which is a feature I appreciated, considering how many missions involve puppy-guarding a random object or NPC, and sentries can be invaluable. Characters can also achieve a power-up state through Tension, which increases when dealing or taking damage. When in High Tension, you take no damage, abilities cost no MP to use, and you gain access to powerful Coup De Grâce attacks. Tension, however, builds incredibly slowly on its own, and only seemed to come into play in a couple of major conflicts, rendering it a somewhat useless mechanic. Boss fights can be fun, since they usually involve the larger monsters, though frustrating at the same time, since the giant monsters aren’t very much deterred by a sword to the shins.
When not in combat, you’re aboard the Stonecloud, a flying fortress serving as your home base. Here, you can allocate skill points to improve abilities and stats, buy new equipment, change up your party, and take on side quests (which are usually either gathering a bunch of materials dropped by monsters, or a brief conflict in a location you’ve already visited) which can net you rewards and upgrades.
So, all in all, is Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below worth playing? Honestly, it’s a tough call. Despite its shortcomings, and there are quite a few, something about this game keeps me from dumping it into my library’s deadpool. Maybe it’s the aesthetic touches like Toriyama’s art and the retro sound effects that play when you cast spells (again, not a Dragon Quest follower, but I always appreciate a good retro nod), or maybe, in some strange way, I find the repetitive combat comforting. In fairness, thanks to some shrewd shopping on my part, I actually managed to get this game when it came out at about $43, $17 off its usual price. At a full price tag of $59.99, I don’t think I can recommend Dragon Quest Heroes, but if you can spot it on a good sale, and you like Dragon Quest and/or Musou games, it just might be worth checking out.
(Incidentally, I played the Steam version. The PS4 version has been out since October.)