Take one part Dynasty Warriors and add in Dragon Quest and what do you get? The Dragon Quest Heroes series. The hack and slash RPG combo from Omega Force and publisher Square Enix is now on its second title. While the Dragon Quest series is nearly 31 years old (27+ here in NA), it’s been quite a while since I’ve been a part of it. The last Dragon Quest title I recall playing was the very first one (titled Dragon Warrior in NA). After such a long break for me in the series, I am happy to get back into the swing of things. It’s actually doubly rare for me as AAA games seldom pique my interest, so this should be a fun treat.
While the gameplay may be of the hack and slash variety, it is still an RPG, and what RPG would be complete without a story? The short version is that in a land that has seen peace for 1,000 years, war begins to break out following an ancient prophecy. The heroes must bring peace to the 7 kingdoms in hopes of avoiding the terrible destruction the prophecy foretold, and players control the main heroes through their quest. Along the way, the main duo will meet many characters who will aid them in this quest, including many that have come from seemingly other dimensions, but fans of the series most likely will recognize them.
While the story itself is quite heavy in subject matter, it is still a lot lighter in tone. It’s an adventure, and people play adventures to have fun. It’s nice to see that people do remember that. There was a time where RPGs took up the bulk of my game time. That time, however, dwindled as many RPGs started taking themselves far too seriously. It was refreshing to play an RPG that didn’t take itself so seriously to the point that it couldn’t at least attempt to have fun. Dragon Quest Heroes II is fun, and it doesn’t mind that you have a little fun with it either. The story twists do tend to get a bit repetitive after a while, but some fun gameplay and a tone that is not deadly serious all the time make up for it, mostly.
Normally, I wouldn’t be talking about music this early in a review, but in this case the music really does everything to keep that “it’s supposed to be fun” feel. The Dragon Quest games and composer Koichi Sugiyama have set the template musically for RPGs, and that sort of experience is heard here. The upbeat music helps keep things light and positive, regardless of what task you are undertaking at the time. It doesn’t just say “grand adventure”, it’s more like it says “fun grand adventure”. If the music had been anything different, then you probably would have gotten annoyed with it in some sections, but instead it keeps things positive in your mind. It’s the kind of music that makes you like the cast of characters, even though some might not be the most positive folks around.
So, who are the characters? Well, there are a lot, no really, it’s far more than I could have imagined. The player has a choice of starting as either a male or female character. These can be renamed, but the default names are Lazarel and Teresa. Lazarel is a slightly annoying hothead who is all too eager to work things out with his swords. Teresa is also slightly annoying but in a “voice of reason” kind of way. They are cousins, and while a little irritating at times, they are mostly bearable. Next up in the original cast of characters is Desdemona. She serves the high king and also serves as the character who keeps our main heroes on track. Lastly is Cesar, who *slight spoiler* goes from foe to friend. The prince can be rather arrogant but is also extremely loyal to family and friends.
Now for the fan service. All these characters have found themselves in this dimension through some unknown means, but anyone who is familiar with Dragon Quest will recognize them. I was actually rather surprised, as even though I haven’t played a game in the series almost since it first began, I somehow recognized nearly all of the characters. From Dragon Quest IV we have Torneko, Alena, Kiryl, Meena and Maya. From Dragon Quest VI we have Terry and Carver. Then we have Maribel and Ruff from Dragon Quest VII. Lastly, from Dragon Quest VIII we have Jessica and Angelo. Phew, did I forget anyone? Oh right, there’s also Healix, the heal slime that will follow you around as well.
All of those characters are playable, except Healix, so there are ample options when it comes to choosing your party. Really though, it’s all a bit too much. With the RPG elements included, this means all characters also need to have their proper gear. Trying to keep up with the gear on 15 different characters is a pricey proposition, so somewhat early on I decided to just stick with the 4 main characters: Lazarel, Teresa, Cesar and Desdemona. While each character has their own class, both Lazarel and Teresa can switch classes. Both start as Warriors but later on have the option to switch between other classes, such as Mage, Priest, Thief and Martial Artist. I tested a few out but settled on Warrior for Lazarel and Priest for Teresa. This gave me a pretty well rounded party so I could just focus on those 4 characters.
So, now may be the time to talk about how all this meshes together. The combat is of the hack and slash Dynasty Warriors-style, but there are also the RPG elements focused on skills, attributes, gear and so on. True to the Dragon Quest style, it is done in a way that allows both casual and hardcore gamers alike to really enjoy it. Take the combat system. For those who want total control over their attacks, there is a more traditional button mashing, create your own combos approach. But if you want to just pick up and play, there is a simplified version. That’s the option I went for, as besides being a filthy casual, I did want to see how it worked out for the duration of the game. I didn’t try out every class option with my characters, but between Martial Artist, Warrior and Priest, the Warrior class seemed to work best with this simple button style. However, bigger combo moves seemed to initiate sooner with the Martial Artist and Priest than with the Warrior, especially when the basic hit was all I wanted.
It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the game is, indeed, rather story-heavy. And by story-heavy, I mean cutscene-heavy. In the first 50 minutes of gameplay, no less than 25 minutes of that was a cutscene. That might be a low estimate, as it felt more like 35-40 minutes of it was a cutscene. Other than the slow start though, there is very little to actually complain about with the scenes, as the game is about as pretty as they come. It’s really the saving grace, and there is also some top notch voice acting. Each character also seems to sport their own regional English accent. No North American English accents that I can recall, but it was still a really nice touch that brings some extra life and individuality to the characters.
The story sections are broken up by some general exploring of open world areas. So, it certainly feels very much like an RPG, with the only difference being the actual combat. The non-story sections are also good places to collect resources, as accessories that are collected can be enhanced, plus there are some extra tough monsters floating about to add to the fun. These can be useful when changing the class of either Lazarel or Teresa, as each vocation needs to be trained up from level 1. Don’t worry though, switching back will keep the progress made in each class.
There is also an option for co-op in the story sections and for dungeons. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to try this out. I tried for some time over several days to find someone who’d answer my call, or find a dungeon to run through, or even barge into some other group, but there were never any available. So, I can’t comment on how well it works or doesn’t work. All I can say that may be of importance is that there is no normal typing between players, but there are some canned responses that can be used to communicate, or so the game told me.
I really enjoyed my time playing through the game. It was good fun, and the story was interesting enough to keep me wanting to go on, even if I knew that every single time I thought I was at my goal, I was told to go back somewhere else first. 2 steps forward, 1 step back, nearly every time. Truth be told, I didn’t finish the story, not just yet. How long I actually played is a bit of a debate, however, as Steam and my in-game save file don’t seem to agree. Steam says over 25 hours, whereas in-game it says somewhere near 27 hours. I believe I am 2-3 missions from the end of the main story though with that time, and I did do a fair amount of sidetracking. It’s a bit inevitable to get a little sidetracked, but if you are only concerned with the main story missions and nothing else, 25-30 hours would be a safe estimation on the amount of time needed to play through them all. If you aren’t in a hurry and want to do all that is available to you, then you’re in the 70 hour neighborhood. Of course, that’s just a rough estimate.
Now, I’ve talked a lot about having fun and enjoying the game a good deal. This much is true. There are a few things though that aren’t quite as good. Remember how I mentioned that the opening was 50 minutes long? I only know that because that’s the first opportunity I had to save the game, from what I can recall. Being able to save the game is also doubly important, because as of right now the NPC that can save your game is also the only one who can allow you to exit the game. Even alt-f4 won’t close the game for you. It has been said already, however, that an option for a “quick exit” will be added in with a patch on May 25th, so at least it’s being addressed.
The other issue is that with 15 different characters at your disposal, that’s a heck of a lot of items, skills, attributes, etc., to deal with. Sure, compared to a lot of other RPGs, the number of items each character wears is very minimal. There are slots for weapons, shields, orbs that act as armor, and 3 accessory slots. After 27 hours of gameplay, I have so many accessories and ingredients that it’s hard to compare items. The enhancements also don’t seem to be the same across the board, so 2 identical items can wind up being very different in the end. I stayed with it for a while but eventually just gave up and ignored that aspect of the game. In fact, as mentioned previously, after some time I no longer even considered swapping out party members, I just ran the same 4 characters through all the missions, except in sidequests that required a certain person to participate. This is not bad, in and of itself, it just seems wasteful. I feel like I should be utilizing everyone more, and I certainly could, but there doesn’t seem to be much need. The silver lining, however, is that the game truly is good at allowing the casual player to pick up and play it without having to worry about all that management, but it’s still there if you want to work your way through it.
So, how was my experience after such a long time away from the series? Overall, it was very good. I was rather surprised by how much of it was familiar to me, especially considering the time gap and Dragon Quest not being nearly as popular here as it is in Japan. The combat was fun and engaging enough to keep me busy. The story was intriguing enough to keep me wanting to see it through to the end, even if I did have to cut it a little short to get a review out. The RPG elements, for the most part, mix really well. It has certainly put Dragon Quest back on my radar, whether it’s part of the main series or a spin-off like this one. I really enjoyed playing Dragon Quest Heroes II, and I think most players will as well.
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Switch, PC
Release Date: 28th April 2017