Dragon Quest has been my favorite JRPG franchises ever since I stumbled across Dragon Quest VIII almost 12 years ago (I wrote about revisiting that game here). In the years that followed, I’ve managed to play nearly every main line Dragon Quest game, excluding the Japan-only MMO Dragon Quest X. Then along came Dragon Quest Heroes, a game that promised to be a delightful romp through fields of classic Akira Toriyama-designed enemies, featuring a host of your favorite heroes from previous Dragon Quest games.
But does Heroes live up to the legacy of this storied video game franchise?
Dragon Quest Heroes is an extreme distillation the series, and it works surprisingly well. However, some of what makes Dragon Quest so appealing is lost in the process.
The initial appeal of Heroes was the prospect of playing a Dragon Quest game that was made specifically for high definition. The series spent the previous console generation hiding on handheld platforms. With 3 definitive re-releases and 1 new game, there was plenty to be thankful for… but I never stopped looking forward to the day when I could explore a vast world, full of the series’ signature charm in glorious 1080p. Heroes made good on that promise.
Yet, as beautiful as the world is to look at, it feels a bit disjointed. That is due to the lack of travel in Dragon Quest Heroes. Early in the game, the party receives a massive floating fortress, which serves as the headquarters that the adventurers return to between quests. This allows the party to effortlessly move to and from one scenic location after another; point to a landmark on the map, and the heroes magically appear. This is convenient, but it completely eliminates any semblance of a journey—an integral part of any great adventure. Nearly every RPG features some sort of fast-travel mechanic… but not until after the heroes have spent a long, long time navigating the surface of the world that they are trying to save. This is vital connective tissue that makes the best games feel like they take place in a believable world. Instead of feeling grounded in a sense of place, Heroes comes across as a collection of fenced-in destinations with very little evidence that they are a part of a larger world.
The battle system, on the other hand, actually holds up nicely in the transition to a completely different type of game. The Dragon Quest experience has always been marked by straightforward battle systems. Traditionally, this has meant menu-driven, turn-based battles. Dragon Quest Heroes is pretty uncomplicated as well. In fact, the battles in the game feature a familiar suite of attacks and abilities, but the turns are much faster—real time, in fact. I’ve always considered Dragon Quest to be JRPG comfort food, and Heroes shares a similar flavor profile. It’s different, but it totally works.
And that’s pretty much all there is to the game. There is a story in the game, but it’s not particularly compelling. The heroes press on in hopes of finding the power necessary to defeat some evil power that’s destroying the world… but the real reason to continue is for the love of progression. Level up the magic spell because the enemies fall faster. Buy the new sword because the enemies fall faster. Craft the accessories because the enemies fall faster.
I spent 38 hours mashing buttons in Dragon Quest Heroes, and I enjoyed most of it. The game has all of the requisite components of a Dragon Quest experience, but lacks the connecting sense of place that makes other entries in the franchise so endearing (see Dragon Quest VIII). Though it’s far from a perfect game, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be found for fans—new or old—of the series. Dragon Quest Heroes is a beautiful game, full of familiar characters and a satisfying sense of progression.
What a time to be alive!