Received wisdom has it that when a game has turn based battles, it should stay with turn based battles. As Final Fantasy has shown, going from turn based to real time often leaves a game floundering - which is why we're a bit concerned for the upcoming Final Fantasy XV. Received wisdom also has it that spin-offs of games are never as good as the originals - at least, the vast majority of the time. So, with Dragon Quest Heroes being a button mashing, hack-and-slash take on a role playing game whose battles always used to be gentle, take-your-time turn-based affairs, it's fair to say we weren't quite sure what to expect from Heroes - but we're pleased to say our nervousness was misplaced.
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Dragon Quest Heroes is a hack-and-slash inspired action game, from the studio behind the Dynasty Warriors series. Seemingly now operating on a work for hire arrangement, the team at Omega Force were the brains behind the similar Zelda spin-off, Hyrule Warriors - and now, they've turned their talents to the world of Dragon Quest. Taking a familiar tack to their previous titles, Dragon Quest Heroes flings you into the midst of the action, as you set out onto a battlefield armed with only your sword, a few magic spells, and some computer controlled team mates in tow, as you take on hundreds of the Dragon Quest series' most iconic enemies in a huge button mashing battle.
The story here is a little bit of a weird one. in the land of Elsaize, humans and monsters once lived together in blissful harmony, as the game's intro shows, with huge stone colossuses handing out balloons at a fair, and the series trademark smiley slimes happily squidging along. Unfortunately, the harmony doesn't last too long, as one day a bad guy with a killer moustache casts a spell that takes control of every monster in the land, making them turn on their human foes. Playing as your choice of a male or female protagonist, it's up to you to first reach the gigantic hulk of a king, and "defend" him from attack, before setting out on an adventure to figure out what's caused the monsters to go crazy, and put a stop to it.
While previous Dragon Quest games have been fairly open ended affairs, with a huge world map to explore, and towns to travel between, Dragon Quest Heroes offers a little bit more structure, with more of a mission based approach. Your main hub for the game is aboard an airship, which you use to choose locations to visit (whether they be towns or battlefields), and missions to attempt. Handily, important story missions are marked on your map with a book icon, as are important characters you need to talk to in the game's hubs, so there's no wandering around lost for ages because you haven't spoken to the right person.
The missions themselves offer a variety of objectives and goals, but most revolve around a theme of whacking as many monsters as you possibly can. Many give you something to defend, with hordes of monsters approaching from all sides, while others simply ask you to clear all the monsters off the battlefield. Depending on the control method you've chosen, you can make the game as easy as you want, or give yourself a little bit more control. On Quick Controls, you only really have two buttons to worry about - Square for normal attacks, and Triangle to perform attacks in combos that usually end in a magic spell. If you prefer a more hands-on approach, Slick Controls lets you string together different button combos to perform certain moves or spells. Neither is really better than the other - it just depends on your preference.
Of course, there's a little bit more to it than just hammering buttons until everything's dead. Enemies known as Mawkeepers will spawn at certain locations on the map, bringing with them a magical portal that creates an endless stream of enemies. To stop the enemies coming, you'll have to take out the Mawkeeper - but sometimes, that means leaving whatever it is you're supposed to be guarding, and heading over to the other side of the map. With hundreds of enemies constantly heading towards the thing you're defending, leaving it undefended can be a bit of a risky business.
That's where the incredibly handy minion medals come in. As you beat up enemies on the field, certain foes will sometimes drop one of these minion medals - and picking it up gives you the ability to summon a friendly monster to fight alongside you. Whether you're summoning a Skeleton and a Slime to defend things, or using a Teeny Sanguini to boost your tension meter.
Your tension meter is another useful thing - and something that comes in incredibly handy during boss fights. As you defeat enemies, your meter will fill, and when you've filled it to the brim, pressing circle will let you go into a kind of rage mode that makes you invulnerable, and lets you deal more damage. Not only that, but when the gauge expires, you'll automatically fire off an impressive Coup de Grace - a single use move that deals dozens of times more damage than a standard attack, and can turn the course of a battle if used at the right time.
Of course, you aren't on the field on your own, either - instead, you'll have up to three computer controlled friends fighting alongside you, and you can switch to take control of them directly at any time. This is another really handy tip to keep in mind, as your allies will let their tension meters fill up, but won't actually unleash their special moves unless you go and do it manually. It's well worth switching between your friends anyway, as each has a different fighting style, so you can find one that matches your preference. Isla, the magic/tech user fights with a boomerang/magical hawk from a distance, while King Doric uses a gigantic double ended club, letting him deal huge amounts of damage, but at a lower speed than the other characters, making him a good pick for beginners.
And everything comes together in Dragon Quest Heroes to make a game that never feels like it's less than a traditional Dragon Quest game. A spin-off it may be, but this is a game that's every bit as fun as a normal adventure, despite the different gameplay. In fact, there are some things Heroes does that other Dragon Quest games simply haven't been able to do - like the gorgeous renditions of the worlds you'll be fighting across. Heroes brings the Dragon Quest worlds to life like never before, in a way the PS2 and 3DS could never manage, with grass swaying in the breeze, huge castles looming in the distance, and more colour than in any other game on the PS4. It's hard to understate quite how easy this is on the eyes - and it's great seeing Dragon Quest brought to life like this.
So, while we may have had our reservations to begin with, all it took was a few seconds with Dragon Quest Heroes to totally win us over. While it may not be on quite the same scale as the usual Dragon Quest adventures, Heroes is a button mashing spin-off you won't want to miss out on. Whether you're an ardent Dragon Quest fan, or you just fancy smacking some slimes around with a sword (although if you don't feel bad for bashing their little smiley blue faces, you have no heart!), Dragon Quest Heroes is well worth a look.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4