The original Dragon Quest—called Dragon Warrior for us unknowing Westerners at the time—was one of my first console RPGs, in part because it was one of the first console RPGs we had here in the States. Since then, while my fandom has fallen closer to the Final Fantasy side of the fence, I’ve played a variety of Dragon Quest games over time, and have a great respect for all the franchise has done in its almost 30 years of existence.
When I first heard about Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below, I wasn’t sure what to think. After numerous spin-offs of Omega Force’s Musou-style of slash-em-up action, it isn’t hard to wonder if the idea is being overplayed at this point—or if the collaborative options aren’t starting to run a bit thin.
Well, if I was looking for an example of a game that proves those thoughts right, Dragon Quest Heroes isn’t it. Instead, I found an adventure that hit plenty of high notes—especially when battles broke down into utter chaos. As iconic as those trademark Dragon Quest slimes are when you’re fighting two or three in a random battle under more standard RPG conditions, running into a field swarming with them and sending the entire group flying with a well-timed spell or sword slash just never stopped putting a smile on my face. In a weird way, those situations feel truer to what you’d imagine those kinds of encounters to be like, and it gives an entirely new outlook on the series’ monster encounters.
Helping to strengthen this new twist on the old Dragon Queststandards are the game’s graphics. Translating beloved anime and manga art to three-dimensional worlds has long been a tricky undertaking, but what Omega Force has done for Akira Toriyama’s distinctive style is utterly impressive. Classic characters and monsters come to life in such a splendid way here, with color and detail that just makes the game feel so fun and fantastical. Visuals have been an element that some Japanese developers have struggled with for some time in comparison to their Western rivals, but in Dragon Quest Heroes, the team really knocked it out of the park in so many ways.
Not everything in the game is a home run, though. Combat definitely offers some great, cathartic beating up of hordes of foes, but the overall lack in variety of objectives can make things drag at times. The game’s story breaks gameplay down into stage-based missions, with battles unfolding in more contained, simpler-in-design locations compared to some of the other Musou games that have seen release. In these missions, players will be tasked with a set list of objectives, such as protecting a location or VIP, or searching out all of the portals that are spewing forth corrupted monsters into the world. Dragon Quest Heroes’ structure keeps most missions interesting without dragging on too long, and—once you’ve reached an early part of the game—you can capture defeated monsters, unleashing them to fight on your side in order to protect key points of the map or lend a helping hand when the going gets too tough. I did find myself wishing there was more depth to everything that was going on, however. This is one of those games where you’ll sometimes just get into the flow of things and chop away at creatures for hours—but, other times, you’ll get to feeling like you’re just doing the same thing over and over, clouding what you’re doing with a sense of monotony.
Thankfully, there are other ways that Omega Force tried to insert some deeper complexity into Dragon Quest Heroes, some of which comes once you’re off the battlefield. The now-requisite guild house offers up a variety of optional sidequests, an alchemy system lets players develop and strengthen items and accessories, an in-game award system complements the standard PlayStation trophies by offering additional accolades (and rewards), and treasure maps found during outings will lead you to new battlefields and treasures. Harkening back again to those Dragon Quest RPG roots, your team also gains experience from fallen enemies, which can then be used to unlock new abilities or upgrades in order to customize characters to your personal tastes.
Characters, of course, are another way that Dragon Quest Heroes can be kept a bit fresher as you travel through its adventure. The game’s story is rather uninspired—chosen heroes who don’t know they’re chosen heroes need to bring a team together to defeat the looming evil—but it serves its main purpose: bringing a selection of popular Dragon Quest legends of the past together in a sweeping adventure. For longtime fans of the series, getting to jump into combat with some of your favorite faces will no doubt feed the nostalgia buried inside of you; for everyone else, the growing cast of potential partners can give you the chance to mix things up when your normal main character and squad choices start wearing out their welcome. It’s a shame, though, that Dragon Quest Heroes’ partner AI is so uneven. Sometimes, your teammates will be lean, mean, monster-killing machines. At other times, I cursed their stupidity as they just stood there, gleefully watching me get beat up while they did nothing.
What I initially thought seemed like a nonsensical gaming collaboration ended up a nice surprise, as Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below takes classic elements of Square Enix’s legendary RPG franchise and mixes them together with newer-era visuals and gameplay concepts. The adventure can be a little boring at times—especially for those who aren’t coming into the game as an already-existing fan—but there’s just something to be said for a simpler, purer action experience as a break from the other gaming outings I’ve been knee-deep in lately.
Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below mixes Omega Force’s now-famous style of overwhelming action combat with the storied world of Dragon Quest, and the result is an adventure that’s quite enjoyable outside of occasional bouts of feeling monotonous. Longtime fans will certainly love the fanservice and visuals, but even those new to Dragon Quest may find a lot to like here.
T - Teen
|Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is available on PlayStation 4. Primary version played was for PlayStation 4. Product was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.