Game Info:

Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below
Developed By: Omega Force;
Published By: Square Enix;
Released/Available On: PlayStation 3/PlayStation 4: February 26, 2015 (Japan)
Microsoft Windows: February 26, 2015 (Japan), October 13, 2015 (North America), October 16, 2015 (Europe), December 3, 2015 (World Wide)
Nintendo Switch: March 3, 2017;
Genre: Action role-playing/hack and slash;
ESRB Rating: Teen (Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Suggestive Themes);
Number of Players: Single-player;
Price: $39.99
(Humble Store Link)

As a longtime fan of Dragon Quest games, not to mention a longtime fan of Koei Temco hack n' slash games, it was inevitable the two would be combined. The result is Dragon Quest Heroes, a game that has gameplay, story, graphics, and music from Dragon Quest, while having the intense action paced gameplay of ''Dynasty Warriors''.

The story is that humans and monsters were living side by side in peace. And, since a game has to happen, the monsters go feral one day and attack the lands that once knew harmony. You then play as either Aurora (female) or Lucean (male) as your main protagonist, with the other the secondary protagonist (this also affects a few story scenes later on). You are initially supported only by your liege King Doric of Arba (in whose forces you serve as captains of his army). Later, you are eventually joined by both original and legacy characters from the Dragon Quest series in an action based adventure to save the realm and restore peace to the world.

The story follows the classic tropes set forth by Dragon Quest, with "chosen ones", a force of good and evil in conflict, and a few other twists and turns anyone a veteran of the Japanese RPG world should be long familiar. A criticism that can be levied is that the core hinge of the story is initially restoring the monsters back to their peaceful ways, and while never forgotten, your characters become curiously desensitized to slaughtering large numbers of them. Another is that the story itself is somewhat weak in parts, only redeemed by excellent voice acting and good pacing during the important parts, but it serves the role of providing exciting action for the player, though a lot of levels boil down to some form of siege level, boss battle, or "kill everything on the map", which can grow quite tedious in its monotony.

For those familiar with the hack and slash combat of Dynasty Warriors or other Warriors-style titles by Koei Temco, the gameplay should feel very similar, and the Dragon Quest specific additions include a "monster medal" system, where ally monsters can be summoned as additional support, either for one time use, or as additional allies until they fall in battle. This latter mechanic is valuable to master for later levels, and fortunately, early levels provide ample practice, with the RPG elements providing a world map you can revisit old locations with to do just this. Bonus locations are also unlockable via collectible maps and in-game events. Other mechanics include item crafting, a quest system that can be accessed in-between story missions, and a leveling system for helping your characters learn new abilities, all of which are adequately explained and easily mastered.

Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below

Strong Points: Good mix of Dragon Quest and Koei Temco hack and slash gameplay; fun for fans of both of those properties
Weak Points: Bit repetitive; slow paced at times
Moral Warnings: Mild potentially offensive moral themes; some light crude humor; and suggestive dialogue

The only notable criticism is the slow pace the player moves across maps that can be quite spacious. While the game does provide some means of moving around the map faster, it can make combat feel very slow paced at times, though this applies equally to enemies as well as allies and playable characters. It does have some challenging parts, but the only seriously challenging parts of severe difficulty are post-game bonus dungeons; all story content can be beaten by players of average skill with a bit of perseverance.

Using the colorful, cel-shaded style Dragon Quest has adopted since Dragon Quest VIII, the graphics are eye-pleasing, distinct, and have a very anime aesthetic (as they were drawn by Akira Toriyama, creator of the Dragon Ball franchise). Both NPCs and enemies are well rendered and animated, and there are no obvious graphical issues, save possibly some aliasing at times even on max settings.

Like the American version of Dragon Quest VIII, the game has a stunning orchestral soundtrack with both original music and updated remixes of classic tunes from the previous games, married to the 8-bit style blips and bleeps used in menus for the retro feel. Characters are well voiced acted, with many character formerly voiced in previous titles (like Yangus from DQVIII) retaining their original voice actors, while the rest are either new yet competent, or worthy substitutes for the originals (Jessica from DQVIII could not be done by her original VA, though her replacement does a fine job). Battle sounds and other sounds are serviceable but nothing special, doing nothing particularly grating on the ears in my experience.

While playable with keyboard and mouse, I recommend a controller; any standard XInput controller will do nicely, particularly one modeled after a PlayStation controller. There are some minor issues with crashing on Windows 8.1/10 with some Nvidia cards, but this is mitigated by an option in the game configurations menu you can run prior to the game with a compatibility fix, and so long as your computer is above minimum requirements, ideally between minimum and recommended requirements, there should be no issues with gameplay or performance.

Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 75%
Violence - 4.5/10
Language - 6.5/10
Sexual Content - 4/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10 (+6 bonus points for showing consequences of evil and delivering good moral lessons)

As stated, the game is much more easily played on a controller than a keyboard and mouse, and the in-game tutorials are generally sufficient to explain the rudiments of movement and combat. Menus are easy to navigate and the camera does not hinder movement in any noticeable way.

While generally no worse than any average Dragon Quest game, some moral issues should be addressed.

While largely bloodless and generally cartoony in style, there is quite a lot of fighting in this game, which is unavoidable. Monsters themselves are the only real opponents, with one or two token human opponents for story purposes, though this game is bereft of any explicit display of gore or blood.

Language is quite mild, with maybe some very mild expletives at worst (such as "damned", though used mostly in it's religious sense), and a few enemies mention "Hell" in their naming schemes, but that's about it. Sexual Content is much lower than most Dragon Quest titles, but there are some fanservicey outfits for some of the ladies (two bear their cleavage to a considerable extent, one is a rather skimpy belly dancer outfit), some suggestive dialogue, and some of the crude slapstick humor Dragon Quest games are known for, but nothing any reasonably mature teenager would find overly mature or inappropriate.

Magic is a known force in-game, but this generally is a fantastical neutral element, as both good and evil forces can use it for any purpose they wish. A more concerning element, especially for Christians, is a vaguely Gnostic belief in Light and Darkness (aka Good and Evil) needing to be kept in balance that is brought up at one point, which may come off as offensive. On the whole, though, the game consistently rewards and praises the Light side over the other, with constant themes of camaraderie, selflessness, and willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of others prominent story elements, and the side of evil is given a consistently negative portrayal, largely invalidating any possible advocacy of Gnostic belief.

The in-game religion references to the "Good" figure as the Goddess/Great Shepherdess, but the in-universe religion is otherwise a generic analogue to most generic Christian themes and practices, albeit churches and clergy bear a notably Catholic appearance. The "Dark" is represented by typical themes of evil such as darkness and corruption. The monsters, however, are shown just as capable of morality and free will when not being under the forcible will of another power despite their appearances being quite sinister in some cases, heavily reinforcing the value that goodness is an inherent state when not corrupted by evil influences. Good moral character and acts associated with positive values are consistently praised and encouraged throughout the story. There is some reference to the consumption of alcohol, gambling and a few crude jokes here and there (some lightly suggestive flirting at worst one or two times in the dialogue), but this is otherwise pushed into the background and does not figure heavily into the gameplay or story.

If the moral issues noted can be looked past, then this would be an excellent game for anyone who is fan of Dragon Quest and hack and slash gamers to play and which they will certainly enjoy with some decent replay value.

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Daniel Cullen

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