Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below still seems like an odd match to me. You take one series, known for being rooted in traditional RPG mechanics and emphasis on exploration, and mix that with that with Warriors games, which are known for being relatively light on both. So how does Dragon Quest Heroes handle it?
Dragon Quest Heroes gets a lot right in blending the two series. Of course you have the basics: stats, level gaining, and assortments of weapons and armor to equip. There’s even a skill tree for each individual character that allows them to learn both active and passive abilities, for example my main character could learn how to summon fire tornadoes then get an upgrade that makes the tornadoes more effective. Your choices are pretty limited all things considered, but the game’s heart is in the right place.
On top of the basics, Dragon Quest Heroes has a surprisingly large story complete with its own lore and world-building. At its core, the plot is an excuse to bring together characters from all the different Dragon Quest games, but it’s actually fairly enjoyable as a stand-alone tale. The emphasis on cutscenes and dialogue makes the game feel like a genuine RPG tale.
One of my favorite RPG details in the game is how much more developed the playable characters feel compared to what one might expect in a Warriors game. Usually tons of different characters are always joining your group in these games. You’ll get to pick your favorites, of course, but it’s easy to lose track of everyone with you on your quest. Dragon Quest Heroes goes a long way in remedying that issue and making your party feel special.
Every newcomer gets introduced in a fun cinematic that shows off their personality and lets them play off the rest of the party. But after the introductions, it actually takes a while before they’re officially part of the team. Instead, you’ll often have to go through mini story arcs fighting alongside the characters as AI-controlled partners before they decide to join forces with you.
One situation that stands out to me is that Jessica and Yangus were introduced at the same time, but they quickly split paths. I ended up following Jessica (sorry Yangus) on her side, and spent the rest of the mission helping her stop a group of enemies from destroying buildings. During the mission you get a taste of the explosive arsenal of spells Jessica has at her command. By the time I unlocked Jessica as a playable character, I was genuinely excited to put her into my party.
Even after you’ve recruited new people, they don’t just fade into obscurity because they actually feel like party members during battle. When you pick four characters you like and start a mission, you’re free to switch between them at any time. Whoever you’re not playing as gets controlled by an AI, and as partners they’re actually genuinely helpful, often hurling status effects at enemies and healing you when needed. It’s a big difference from other Warriors games I’ve played, where it felt like my allies might as well not exist if I’m not playing as them.
Beyond what Dragon Quest Heroes excels in, it also has a host of other staple RPG elements including tons of side quests and a fairly in-depth item crafting system that aren’t as well thought out. While these are appreciated, I actually found them to be kind of annoying because navigating the menus attached to these features takes forever. Every time you want to say turn in materials for a sidequest, you need to go through the following: go the menu, wade through the quests, pick the quest, hear some dialogue, get a delayed pause after talking the quest, move to the menu to complete the quest, get another weird delay so that your quest can be marked as completed, then listen to a ridiculously long victory jingle, the finally receive your reward. It may not seem like a big deal once, but the time really adds up. Considering how many quests there are, it’s really quite astounding how inefficient the system feels. The crafting menu process is a little less offensive, but the dialogue before your item gets made is the same every time and gets really tedious to read.
At least at a glance, though, Dragon Quest Heroes definitely feels like it could pass for a full-fledged RPG. It even gives you designated grinding spots in case you need to level up a bit! Where the illusion starts to break is in how it handles its structure and the design of its maps.
Like most Warriors games, the game gets broken down to missions that you can select from a hub area. That’s to be expected, but it definitely kills a lot of the RPG-vibe Dragon Quest Heroes otherwise gives off. Dragon Quest Heroes has a fairly large world if the map the game shows you is to be believed, but overall the world feels rather small and disconnected in the way it gets presented.
The levels in Dragon Quest Heroes are also pretty small. Even compared to other Warriors games, they feel really tiny and focused. Usually you’re given two or three larger squares, then a bunch of narrow chokepoints that enemies can come from. Things are usually set up this way because the vast majority of your missions involve protecting something from enemies that come from every direction.
As a result of the map design, Dragon Quest Heroes really lacks a sense of exploration. You always have a map of the entire area when you start, you know that chances are very high that you’re going to be defending someone or something during the mission, and there isn’t much to discover on the maps themselves beyond an occasional treasure chest. There’s no real sense of adventure that a more traditional Dragon Quest might convey, and I think that’s one of the worst things you could leave out.
Dragon Quest Heroes isn’t a perfect mixture between Dynasty Warriors and Dragon Quest, but it does a lot right. After playing through the game, I’d really like to see what the game would be like if they took the RPG elements even further into the level design. I don’t think it’s necessary that Dragon Quest Heroes totally give up its identity as a Warriors game in terms of map design, but I can’t help but think about how cool a genuine dungeon or world map would be when made in this style of game.
Food for Thought:
The main characters feel like some kind of metaphor for the two different franchises. The male protagonist always goes on about tactics and the importance of strategy, while the female protagonist just wants to beat things up. I’m really not sure if that was intentional or if the writers just thought it was a funny juxtaposition, because the joke gets severely overused throughout the story as if they were just silly character gags.