I have an odd fascination with niche genres that I’ve never really gotten into. Bullet Hell shooters. Point and Click adventure games. Steamroller Simulator 2017. All have eluded me so far, and yet I know they have expensive and dedicated fanbases. So it was with a certain amount of scientific curiosity that I approached Dragon Quest Heroes II. Could this finally be the title to get me excited about Dynasty Warriors-style hack and slash games?
I am well familiarized with the Dragon Quest RPG series of Square Enix. More popular in the East than the West, this charming cartoonish Fantasy RPG series has been a big seller for decades, although perhaps Final Fantasy has stolen much of its fame over the last few years. This Heroes title takes the same route as the Hyrule Warriors of a few years ago: take a familiar series and apply the Dynasty Warriors skin over it, and see what happens when you through it to the fanboys. For the most part, there is a good result when this happens with Dragon Quest Heroes II.
For those not in the know, the formula of these games is based on large open areas where massive waves of disposable mooks rush towards you to die so that you can fill up a super meter unleash an attack that will kill even more of them. The fun is in the over-the-top nature of the conflicts, where a simple sword swing and can cause multiple enemies to explode in various exciting ways. The downside to this? If the pretty lights and sounds don’t work for you, the gameplay typically has little else to occupy you, leaving you to wonder what the point was.
However, the Dragon Quest elements now come into play. Dragon Quest Heroes II evokes a mix of the original franchises appearance and quest system: there is a functional, if perhaps not outstanding RPG plot involved; there is a hub city and a series of smaller locations to travel to, and battles feel more like accepting quests than just choosing your next fight from a menu. There are even random encounters at times. Popular characters from the franchise make appearances at certain points, as well as all the iconic monsters.
The RPG elements are continued with the party system. You can accumulate party members with different classes (or, if playing online, do this as online co-op), and you can spend time playing around with your main character’s class, which is switchable and level-up-able. There is a truly astounding range of weapons and weapon types to collect, and people who enjoy variety in that area will enjoy the options. There is also a rather pleasing gameplay mechanic where you can collect certain monster tokens in different ways and then summon those monsters into battle. I’m a great sucker for recruitable enemies in battle, and this was a nice touch to add to combat variety.
Quest types are often a bit more varied than just “kill this over and over.” These work to some extent. At their best, they provide a welcome relief from the same requirement, but at their worst, they draw you straight out of the action as you have to complete an escort mission or something similar.
Dragon Quest Heroes II is a sequel, but unfortunately, I have not played the original to do a comparison. I am told that the previous title did not have so many RPG elements and did not have any online features, so immediately there have been some improvements if you are a fan of the first one. For me, my attention was held for a good few hours, and although I may not be a convert to the genre completely, I enjoy it in this form: as a spin-off of a franchise in a new direction that I have always enjoyed. I felt the same about Hyrule Warriors the few times I played it. There’s something to be said for massive spectacle with characters you know and care about as they bash each other’s heads in new and exciting ways.