Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below is a name that we don't want to write more than once in this review. It's also the name of a very fun action role-playing game that sees the massively popular Japanese franchise step away from traditional turn-based battles and adopt a gameplay approach that's more akin to Dynasty Warriors. It's no surprise either, seeing as how prolific musou developer Omega Force is behind this latest hack and slasher.
No matter how Square Enix has tried to paint it, there's no denying that Dragon Quest Heroes has a lot in common with Warriors titles. Predominantly, you'll be fighting off hordes of enemies with accessible moves and combos while stomping across somewhat open battlefields – but to categorise this as a re-skinned Omega Force release would be folly, for what's on offer here shouldn't be missed, regardless of whether you're a Dragon Quest fan or a musou enthusiast.
What sets Heroes apart is its many RPG elements. The title comes very, very close to being the perfect blend of RPG and action, mixing statistics, equipment, magic spells, and special abilities with non-stop walloping of monsters in real-time combat. The developer's managed to take the look and feel of Square Enix's colourful series and apply it almost effortlessly to the gameplay formula that it specialises in, and the result is a spin-off that's well realised and brilliantly executed from the moment that you start a new save.
Alongside Akira Toriyama's consistently superb art direction, music and traditional sound effects from the Dragon Quest games have been plopped into place here, which immediately cements a sense of familiarity for anyone who's dabbled in the franchise before. When it comes to presentation, Omega Force has expertly captured the tone of the property – you certainly won't need to worry about the authenticity of the product, even if it comes from a studio that's under the umbrella of Koei Tecmo. From the subtle sound that accompanies dialogue text to the immensely satisfying beeps and clicks that come from navigating the menus, this is Dragon Quest through and through.
Even the story is very Dragon Quest in that it's rather cliché and predictable, but it's told in a very charming way. In a world where people and monsters coexist, peace is one day torn away as the creatures turn upon their human, elf, and dwarf friends after they appear to lose all sense of reason. Featuring a deliciously evil sorcerer and a whole host of endearing secondary characters, the story moves at a relatively brisk pace which feels just right when most of your time is spent waging war against thousands upon thousands of immaculately designed beasties.
Your role in all of this is that of a fearless royal guard captain. With your kingdom under attack, it's up to you and your king to gather allies and beat back your former friends before each and every spot of civilisation is brought to ruin. At the beginning of the game, you're given the option of playing as either Luceus or Aurora, and in traditional Dragon Quest fashion, you're able to give the two protagonists names of your choosing. Your choice of main character determines which of them you'll control in hub areas, and which of them will always remain in your active party.
Speaking of your party, you can take up to three additional fighters out with you on each mission, and each of them comes with their own moveset, special attacks, and equipment. Some party members play similarly to others, but there's usually just enough difference to warrant their presence. For example, Luceus and Aurora both wield swords and shields, and sport the same basic combos, but the former coats his blade in fire for special attacks, while the latter enchants hers with ice.
Clearly, a lot of effort has been put into creating everyone's unique abilities and general feel, and you're able to switch between your selected party members at any time with a push of L2. This allows you to better control each battle, as your companions tend to specialise in specific fighting styles. King Doric is a hulking man with a lot of reach, for instance, and Isla is a long range attacker who's got plenty of MP at her disposal, which she can use to fuel her array of magical techniques. Jumping from character to character depending on the situation becomes second nature as you progress into the harder stages of the game, and subsequently mastering the movesets of your allies makes for a rewarding experience.
It's worth noting, however, that the primary cast of playable personalities isn't as broad a selection as you'd expect from a Warriors-like title, but that's not a problem seeing as how Heroes is structured similarly to a linear RPG. Instead of being separated between various modes, here you'll be placed into a singular adventure that stems from a hub area that houses everything that you need. Alongside main story missions that progress the plot and are usually bookended by cutscenes, you're also able to hop over to the world map and select optional locations as well as areas that you've already been to.
During your travels, you'll pick up side-quests which can be completed at any time, along with maps that lead you to challenging boss fights. Both involve the whacking of yet more monsters, but they're simple, welcome additions that bolster the amount of content on offer. Likewise, you can travel back to any previous locations that feature in the story and fight to your heart's content, collecting experience and materials at your own pace before teleporting safely to your base of operations.
You'll be thankful for the inclusion of these open missions, too, as there is some grinding to be had in Heroes. While the main story stages aren't massively challenging, there are various optional activities that require preparation before you have a decent shot at success. Fortunately, the equipment and alchemy systems are both straightforward, and buffing your party isn't too much of a hassle as a result, as long as you've gathered the necessary materials from monsters that you've slain.
Which brings us neatly to the combat itself. Building upon basic combos which see you pushing square numerous times, more powerful, situational attacks are mapped to triangle, while on the defensive, L1 is block, and R2 is evade. It's an already accessible system that even has an easy mode for those getting used to the controls, which automatically chains together combos for you – so there's no real need to panic if you're used to the turn-based affairs of prior Dragon Quest games.
So far, so Warriors, but things are changed up by the introduction of magic spells and abilities. By holding R1, a quick little menu will pop up in the middle of your screen, and by tapping the corresponding buttons, you can let loose with the desired onslaughts. Some characters boast staple spells from the series, while others flaunt their own unique attacks. On that note, each party member also has their own finishing move which is activated by entering a state known as high tension. Based on a gauge that fills up as you fight, your high tension super deals out huge damage to anything that it hits. Needless to say, it's perfect for the many bigger boss enemies that you'll encounter throughout your adventure – and they all look great to boot.
Given your options when out in the fray, it's not unreasonable to say that Dragon Quest Heroes can become quite tactical, especially since various enemy types demand certain strategies – but a lot of the extra depth actually comes courtesy of monster medals. These one-off trinkets appear on the battlefield randomly after you've taken down a beast, and picking it up gives you the ability to call back that defeated monster and have them act as a sentry. Many missions task you with protecting a specific point on the map against waves of foes, and because your party roams around with you, it's difficult to cover all of your enemy's advances.
This is where you call upon your monster buddies, who have presumably had some sense smacked back in them. You can place your new allies anywhere on the map, so a lot of your strategies will hinge on positioning your captured creatures correctly, leaving them to stop or slow the march of the opposition while you move to a different location and take action there. On top of sentries, saviour type monsters are also available. These beasts don't hang around – they make use of their special ability, and then they're off into the ether. Some may dish out a particularly strong attack, and others might heal a portion of your health or help build your tension gauge. In any case, monster medals add extra spice to proceedings, and using each ally wisely in order to turn the tide of battle is gratifying indeed.
Of course, you can't write a review of a Dragon Quest game without alluding to the always amazing localisation efforts, and Heroes is really at the pinnacle of what's expected. The English voice acting is excellent from start to finish, with almost every UK accent making an appearance at one point or another. And, although much of the dialogue isn't fully voiced, the included text is appropriately tweaked to read as if it's regional dialect – an impressive feat, given how packed the script is to begin with. The standout performance, though, is Healix – a little friendly monster who has the most heart-meltingly, unbelievably cute voice that we've ever heard in a video game.
An incredibly enjoyable action RPG, Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below is easily one of Omega Force's most polished productions, as it oozes charm that's amplified by fantastic presentation. Combat is accessible, satisfyingly punchy, and hides depth at higher levels of play, while there's plenty of content to keep you busy after you've seen the well paced story through. Even if you're not a fan of Warriors-style gameplay, we'd still heartily recommend Dragon Quest Heroes to anyone on the lookout for a joyous jaunt in a lovingly made fantasy world.