The Dragon Quest series is one of the long storied franchises in the video game industry. The first game was released for the NES nearly 30 years ago. Since then the game has seen many sequels and spinoffs that have kept its fans craving for more. Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is a bit of a side step from the main series and could easily turn some series purists off. Its addition of engaging action combat blended with a fun Dragon Quest story may however keep their attention and may end up surprising them with just how much fun it is.
In Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below players are introduced to a world in which monsters and humans live in peace and harmony. Players follow the story of Luceus and Aurora, two members of the Kings Guard, who quickly become tasked with saving the world as a destructive event causes the once tranquil monsters to suddenly turn aggressive and attack every human in sight. The story is honestly a let down compared to other mainline entries in the franchise. Its seemingly simple plot is charming at first but quickly becomes a bit forgettable and silly. With this game laying most of its focus on gameplay it can sadly pretty much be dismissed.
Progression through the game plays out through a series of missions each of which has its own cutscenes to push the narrative forward. Players have the option to choose missions from an over world map which features both story missions and side quests. Side quests allow players to repeatedly tackle battles and ultimately grind for gold, items, and XP. I found these to be useful if the next story mission became too difficult and I need to level up or buy some new gear.
Players are have a total of four characters in their party at one time for each mission. The game allows players to swap between any of the four party members at the push of the button and change up the gameplay and tactics accordingly if needed for a given situation. Aurora and Luceus are both fairly competent overall and I found myself utilizing them pretty much exclusively during missions. There were a few instances however that I did switch to some of the other party members. One stand out character is King Doric who enters the party early on and essentially becomes the tank of the group. He may be a bit slower at attacking and dodging but his ability to deal more damage makes him a necessary tool at times. Players will gain a few more party members throughout the game and will need to decide who to deploy for each mission.
The missions themselves play out similarly nearly every time with waves of enemies attacking a given point or area which then forces Luceus and his team to fight them off and defend. This is where the Koei Tecmo development team has put their touch on the Dragon Quest series. The combat of each mission feels a lot like their previous Dynasty Warrior games where players must manage the onslaught of massive enemy waves coming from multiple directions. Players must not only deal with the immediate threat in front of their character but also strategize about the best groups of enemies to encounter first. With enemies often attacking from multiple directions it is easy to become overwhelmed in the is large scale battles.
The immediate combat of swinging the sword and casting spells feels great. Koei Tecmo did a great job at making the player feel empowered as Luceus and his team. With the sometimes enormous amount of enemies on screen at once you can’t help but feel powerful as one swipe of your sword may topple 10-15 enemies. Spell casting is extremely useful too and is managed by a magic meter that slowly fills over time. Support items can also be used to heal your character or fill up your magic meter. These can be found around the current battlefield or brought in by the player in the mission preparation phase.
Character progression moves forward with players being given a certain amount of skill points every time a new level is achieved. This skill points can be spent on either new or stronger skills or even health, magic and defense upgrades. Each character has their own skill tree and players must manage each party member’s as well as they level up. For the more casual player who really only wants to play as the main character this may be a bit cumbersome with just a simple “auto-level” feature being the simple fix. The great thing with the skill trees is that players can save skill points and spend higher amounts on stronger more effective abilities. This creates a great risk vs. reward dynamic where players can risk not being as strong now to be much stronger later.
One very interesting mechanic that has been added to the mix is the idea of Monster Minions. This mechanic allows players to pick up tokens from defeated enemies that then release the enemy and have them fight on their side. Think of it like pokemon but without the character progression for each one. These tokens only drop during the current mission and when the Monster Minion is defeated they are dismissed from the battlefield and lost. Strategy plays a part here as players now have another tactical option at their disposal. Players are able to set up defenses using them with the more mid-range boss level characters really helping to turn the tide of battle buying some time as players deal with enemies on the other side of the battlefield.
The majority of missions have a very ‘tower defense’ feel to them with the Monster Minion mechanic adding even more to it. Since the tokens drop randomly throughout each battle players will often have to manage which ones to keep deployed and which ones to dismiss. Each Monster Minion costs a certain amount of points and with players only allotted so many you must gauge what will work best for the given scenario. What’s fun is that these choices need to often be made on the fly in the heat of combat. The enemy waves will not stop coming while you make your choice. There is a way to stop the coming waves by destroying something called the Maw that guards the portal, but I found it easier at times to just manage the waves and eventually they will stop coming.
Between missions the game features a central hub where players can craft items, buy new weapons and armor, and even chat with the other members in their party to get a little more of their backstory and current feelings. This is where players save their progress too. This is a bit of a burden because it would be nice to have the ability to save mid mission. The game forces you to talk to a woman in the hub to save and for lore reasons it may make sense, but for practicality it just seems a bit outdated by todays standards.
One thing that must be mentioned is how gorgeous this game looks. The art style for all the Dragon Quest is designed and overseen by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. It has never looked better than it has in Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below. The 3D models of his iconic stylized characters nearly pop off the screen in full HD. The colors pop and the world is at times awe inspiring. It is quite literally a cartoon come to life.
All of these systems combined creates a fun engaging game to play however with the gaming clocking in at 30 to 45 hours depending on the type of completionist you are, it can at times get a bit repetitive. With the structure being virtually the same for each mission I found myself getting a bit bored with the gameplay. The game did not lend itself well for extend play sessions. It was better to play a mission or two and then come back to it later. Switching up my party and swapping to different party members helped alleviate some of this but it still didn’t fix the repetition. With the story not being interesting enough for me, the draw wasn’t there for me to keep pushing forward to see how it would play out. I honestly feel this may be one of the make or break elements of this game for players.
Overall Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is a fun and interesting outing for fans of the Dragon Quest series. I’m not quite sure it will draw in any new fans or players to the series but it will at least try with by blending the two genres together. The gameplay is initially a lot of fun but overtime it does seem to overextend its welcome. Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below may not be the game for everyone, but for those willing to give it a shot some good moments may lie ahead.
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