Following the successful pairing of their patented Musou gameplay and Nintendo’s famed Zelda franchise in Hyrule Warriors, the team at ω-Force have obviously looked at expanding the marriage of their gameplay with other well-known franchises in order to successfully enterthe west.
ω-Force have partnered with previous franchise before, such as One Piece, alongside their signature Dynasty warriors titles, but the penetration of Hyrule Warriors in the west has given them an avenue to expand the appeal of the musou games to an expanded audience.
So it is that we come to have Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Dark Below, a hybrid amalgamation of the traditional JRPG tropes often featured in Square Enix’s famous series, and the synonymous gameplay combat that ω-Force, love it or hate it, use in their many Warriors series of games.
As with every Dragon Quest game, enemy types and some of the chief protagonists remain similar across multiple releases while not occurring in the same time/space/world, much like Square Enix’s other series, Final Fantasy. The story focuses on the two captains of the Kings Guard, Luceus and Aurora. The kingdom of Arba has been established where both humans and monsters exist harmoniously, until a nefarious villain, replete with pencil moustache, black robes and a dark countenance, somehow manages to drive the monsters to go on a berserk rampage throughout the capital. After rescuing the King and securing the town you must venture out to find the source of the discord, and hopefully restore the monsters to their previously peaceful beginnings.
Heroes has all the trappings of its predecessors. The swelling, triumphant, orchestral music is instantly recognisable as the work of Sugiyama, the primary composer responsible for the majority of the Dragon Quest series soundtrack.
Graphically, the animations of the characters and laboriously crafted cut scenes are rendered extremely well in the typically cartoony style for which Dragon Quest is well known, while the world at large is a beautifully and lavishly crafted canvas in which to set this title.
Combat itself, as mentioned previously, is a variation on the tried and tested Musou combat for which ω-Force are well known. Enemies appear en masse in your dedicated stage area and you can must utilise your characters combo attacks in order to defeat waves of foe’s to complete your objective. These enemies are predominantly made up of staple monsters from the Dragon Quest series; skeleton knights, slimes, slime-knights, stone golems, gigantes and dragons all make an appearance throughout the game in varying forms.
Attack combo’s are formed using sequences of the Square and Triangle buttons, and it is in this part that the musou games, (unfairly in my opinion), receives its label as a “button masher”. Yes, the game can be played this way, which is one of its key appeals since this makes the barrier for entry extremely low, but learning how to activate the utility functions of certain combos, such as knocking enemies into the air, clearing an area of space around you, or stunning foes, adds a level of strategy to all musuo games that may elude you at first glance.
Alongside the standard attacks, there is also the RPG staple of magical attacks. This magic allows you to summon fireballs, whirlwinds and ice spikes at will to do devastating damage to groups of enemies or high burst damage on the bigger boss and sub boss foes. Starting with just one attack, as many as four unique attacks can be placed in a quick slot action bar, once purchased through the skill trees.
Each stage is quite small, reminiscent of the psp/psvita musou games in scale and after each battle you are returned to your home camp, to spend experience and skill points as well as purchase weapons/armour and craft accessories using materials that are dropped randomly from enemies throughout.
Levelling up is kind of a diluted, RPG affair. New abilities and advanced version of existing skills can be purchased, stat increases can be purchased which can increase your health, mana and damage output, and as mentioned before, additional magic attacks with their own utility functions can be purchased on these screens.
In the beginning, you will be solely levelling up one of the two characters you selected at the outset, but in true Dragon Quest style, you will soon find yourself surrounded by an array of allies, most of which have starred in previous Dragon Quest games in their own right, and all of which can be slotted into your four man squad, alongside your main protagonist, to take into missions.
As you progress through the game, you will also gain access to other gameplay mechanics that shape this title to resemble its dual heritage more and more. Fighting enemies, or even just holding the circle button, will charge your “Tension” meter. Once filled, it can be activated for powerful attacks, increased manoeuvrability and a devastating super move that can easily wipe out whole squads of foes. Those familiar with the Warriors games, will recognise the tell-tale fingerprints of ω-Force’s “Musou attacks” in this ability.
Alongside this plethora of attacks, one of the first allies you encounter also furnishes you with a device which allows you to collect and summon specific monsters to fight alongside you for a short period of time. These appear in two forms; attack and support. Self-evidently, the attack coins summon the represented monster into play, to aid you in fighting the overwhelming waves of enemies, and are specifically useful when you are required to defend a key position or destructible item, from enemies appearing from multiple directions.
Support monsters have a more indirect role, and once summoned will most likely confer buffs or regeneration on your party, such as refilling their mana pools, or even increasing your Tension meter.
Amalgamating all of the abilities, combo attacks, magic, tension, monster coins, along with the ability to swap between your compatriots, gives you the ability to string together the tension of all of your party to create a symphony of destruction that will be indispensable when facing some of the games later bosses.
As you progress through the stages, a complex and atypical Dragon Quest story emerges, that incorporates apocalyptic prophecies, inter-dimensional travel, good vs evil, and of course the obligatory steampunk-esque machinery that allows for fast travel throughout the world.
Heroes is an extremely well-polished and solid combination of arcade combat with traditional JRPG leanings, and serves, not only, as a good introduction to those that may be interested in what the Musou games in general have to offer, but also offers a window into the diverse world that is the Dragon Quest series. The fusion of the two franchises has, in my opinion, breathed new and diverse life into both, and the announcement of a sequel is something that I will happily keep a critical eye on in the future. With a steady learning curve, spread across multiple hours of gameplay, this game is as much for the hardcore musou/DQ fans as it is the newcomers to both series, and allows anyone to see why both franchises are much beloved in both the East and the West.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 9/10 Format: PlayStation 4 / PC Release Date: Out Now / December 3rd on PC
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided with a copy of Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Dark Below for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.