Dragon Quest Wars drops the story and gets straight to the heart of any good strategy game… combat. The game begins with a slime sitting in the middle of a menu screen. You can pick him up and drag him to the option menu, an in-game instruction manual or a ten stage training mode.
Picking up the slime is subtle practice too. In Dragon Quest Wars players pick up units during battle and drag them with the stylus. Most units can only move one space. That’s OK because the maps in Dragon Quest Wars are tiny squares so there isn’t room to hide.
Once your unit is set you drag a command like attack from the bottom left and drop it on an enemy. Commands are color coded, which could be easy for importers, but alas Dragon Quest Wars is only available for Japanese DSi owners at the moment. Green indicates recovery moves, red is used for physical attacks, blue borders mark defense, and yellow means magic.
Most attacks deal one point of damage which can be countered with the proper defense. Say, you think your opponent’s slime is going to bop you on the head. If you get hit you lose a heart and monsters don’t have many hearts. Monsters don’t die when they run out of life. They give up and walk off the battlefield, perhaps awaiting a real fight from Erdrick. Intelligent Systems, the developers of Fire Emblem, worked on Dragon Quest Wars so the system has a modified rocks-paper-scissors feel to it.
Crushing all of your opponents units is one way to win a battle in Dragon Quest Wars. Infiltrating an enemy’s base has the same effect. See the dotted blue area around the red units? That’s a goal line. If you get one opponent inside the goal, even if you’re in a four player game, you win.
Capturing bases opens the door for other strategies like an all Healslime party that heals and casts defensive shield magic all the way through enemy territory. Shielding friendly units and sneaking into bases with a Dracky worked for me once. However, when I play online I usually hammer my way to victory. Brownies, Golems, and Chimeras are the types of units I pick.
Dragon Quest Wars has only been out for one day, but I’ve seen some interesting strategies online already. One player turtled in the corner with three Brownies and a Healslime. The Healslime stood in the center of the Brownies and casted shield to boost their defense. All of the Brownies were set to counter and the player just stood there waiting for me to come at him or her. I imagine this plan would have worked if I just used Golems, but since I had a Chimera in my group it failed. As soon as I got in range I attacked with the Chimera’s two square fire spell which blazed pass the shield magic’s physical barrier to hit one of the Brownies.
Fights in Dragon Quest Wars are limited to a set number of turns, somewhere between five and ten. A timer forces players to set all of their moves within a 30 seconds or 40 seconds during a four player “survival” match. Battles end relatively fast, but during survival matches you spend more time waiting and watching than playing. I actually wrote this while playing a survival match. I glanced at my DSi to see when my turn was coming up, moved my slimes, and got back to writing.
When you play online the only thing that identifies a player is their team name, which you can sort of customize. You can’t type out your team name. Square Enix has pre-programmed phrases like new, dragon, golem, mega, and so forth. Your team name is created from a string of three words to make something like Super Star Team. There are 96 words to play with, all of which are in Japanese. Sorry, there isn’t some kind of super secret English language option. I think most people will be able to figure Dragon Quest Wars out though since it’s easy to understand even if you never played a strategy RPG. The tutorial system explains the system well too. After you beat it you’ll be ready to play online.
Dragon Quest Wars is the kind of game you only want to play online. The ten mission tutorial takes less than fifteen minutes to beat. After that it’s either playing free battles with against the computer or searching for opponents over Nintendo Wi-Fi. Out of the two options the latter is much more satisfying. I haven’t encountered any lag problems either, but I think one opponent may have disconnected since their units just stood around doing nothing.