Square Enix has been somewhat adamant in proving that Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below isn't just another Warriors game. Developed by Omega Force - the Japanese studio behind just about every musou title in existence - this hack and slasher definitely bares similarities to Koei Tecmo's franchises and there's simply no getting away from that, but there's also evidence of a much deeper experience; an experience that puts the 'action' into action role-playing game.
After some recent hands-on time with the release, we're reasonably excited to play the finished product, and that's precisely because it shows so much potential. The first thing to note is that Dragon Quest Heroes runs at a smooth 60 frames-per-second, and that the visuals have a real charm to them thanks to the traditional series art direction of Akira Toriyama. From the off, it's clear that the developer has managed to capture the franchise's colourful look, and when coupled with the rousing orchestral scores that the property is known for, you've got a title that never shies away from its prestigious heritage.
The monsters themselves come in all shapes and sizes, from regular little slimes that are cast aside with a single swipe, to hulking golems that require a bit more patience to bring down. Bigger enemies can shrug off the usual blows of a sword or spear, so there's also bit of Dark Souls-esque dodge rolling involved when you see your foes winding up for a heavy blow.
There's no question that this is a Dragon Quest game, then, but it's obviously distancing itself from the series' methodical turn-based battles. Jumping into the fray of our first demo - which tasked us with wiping out every monster on a lovely looking chunk of countryside - the combat system is satisfyingly fast and fluid, and is built of normal weapon combos topped off with powerful secondary and magical attacks.
Because of the monster variety, it's safe to say that there's more depth to battle than you'd usually find in titles like Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors. Sure, you can still cleave your way through hordes of lesser beasts, but individual groups of enemies will often be led by foes that require specific strategies. For example, a ghostly suit of armour will block any frontal assaults with its shield, so you'll have to open up its defences with a powerful blow, or flank it before you can do any decent damage.
Options are plentiful on the battlefield since you're never alone. Unlike other Warriors games, you don't have an army fighting by your side, but you do have three other party members, who you can switch between with a push of L2. The jump from one hero to another isn't quite instantaneous so we're unsure if you'll be able to keep combos alive by constantly flicking between characters, but the movesets all seem unique enough to ensure that lengthier bouts of combat remain engaging.
Meanwhile, our second demo required a little more strategy to conquer. This time, we faced off against a truly colossal creature - a gigantes. The one-eyed behemoth came equipped with an equally large health bar that we struggled to chip away, even with Dragon Quest VIII legend Yangus in our party. To effectively deal out some pain to the blue giant, we had to hop on some magical siege weapons and blast the bulky bugger whenever he was in range, with bonus damage being applied when we hit him square in his peeper. With enough shots, he'd then fall to his knees and normal blows would dish out a more efficient amount of hurt.
Granted, it was a relatively simple gameplay mechanic, but it did allow for the second demo to feel sufficiently different from the first. With that in mind, we're hoping that the full release will incorporate plenty of varied missions and objectives into its campaign to keep things feeling fresh.
With a combat system that's accessible but clearly hides tactical depth, and some very pretty presentation, Dragon Quest Heroes could well be one of this year's most enjoyable PlayStation 4 exclusives. From what we can gather, RPG fans and those who adore the series would do wrong to dismiss Heroes as 'just another Warriors title', and with any luck, next month's release will prove to fill a delightful middle ground between musou madness and reliable RPG mechanics.
Are you looking forward to Dragon Quest Heroes? Do you think that Omega Force will do the franchise justice with its action-orientated creation? Slay some slimes in the comments section below.