Game Review

by Dustin Bailey,

Dragon Quest Heroes II

PlayStation 4, PC

Dragon Quest Heroes II
Omega Force returns to the world of Japan's most beloved RPG series with Dragon Quest Heroes II, once again combining their signature Musou action with the role-playing elements that Dragon Quest institutionalized. It's an all-new cast, new story, and a bigger world, now with the added benefit of online co-op and a handful of new features.

Here is yet another entry in the pantheon of “Dynasty Warriors but with [blank]” from Omega Force, a single-developer genre that's produced its share of hits and misses, though there's come to be a certain baseline reliable quality that's made these games inoffensive if not dull. Luckily, Dragon Quest Heroes II is one of the higher quality entries in that milieu, and building on the role-playing elements that set apart the previous game it's made itself into a fun action-RPG whose quality shines whether or not you're a longtime Dragon Quest fan.

Here you play as either one of two cousins—Teresa and Lazarel—who are living peacefully in a land that hasn't seen war in a thousand years, and which suffers under a prophecy that any conflict between nations will call down ruin upon the whole world. Naturally, this being a Musou game and all, mysterious circumstances cause the kingdoms to turn on each other, and most of the story is spent resolving those conflicts while figuring out what machinations put them into motion. It's pretty standard fantasy, even with the largely-unexplained appearances of Dragon Quest characters from throughout the series, but it's enthusiastic and breezy enough that the cutscenes are entertaining and the plot is easy to watch unfold. As is now standard for the franchise in the West, English voices are all recorded with British standards and accents rather than American ones, and the cartoonish European accents can be an acquired taste. Personally, I enjoy the unique flavor this brings the game, but if it's not your speed you can switch to the Japanese language track.

The core of the action is simple, satisfying Musou gameplay. Each character has a single straightforward combo and handful of special attacks on top of it, like launchers, sweeping attacks, and multi-hit strikes. Landing strikes fills up a meter, which when filled gives you a few seconds of invulnerability and boosted attack followed by a high-damage, screen-clearing strike. More and more characters join your band throughout the story, and each of the dozen-plus companions has their own weapon type and fighting style. My favorite is Desdemona, who has a chain heavy attack that keeps going as long as you hold down the button—mix it with an item that keeps enemy attacks from staggering you, and you're nearly unstoppable. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is DQ4's Meena, who launches tarot cards that deal damage and mark enemies, opening them up to further distant attacks and spells.

Any one of these unique styles would get tiresome if you were forced to use it for more than a few minutes at a time, but Dragon Quest Heroes' strength is its party system, which allows you to field four characters in battle and swap between them at will. The three characters you're not controlling will do some damage on their own, but they're far more effective if you continually swap to activate appropriate spells and abilities. You might use a mage to lower the defense of a boss monster before swapping to a warrior whose most powerful attack is charged. Even seemingly straightforward melee characters have elemental attacks that deal bonus damage—or even stagger—certain enemies types, and you'll need to manage when to use those attacks, along with area of effect abilities, healing, and various types of magic.

The difference between a good and a bad Musou game is how well it's able to add additional layers of strategy on top of the simplistic core action, and Dragon Quest Heroes is very effective at doing just that. Managing each character's skills, choosing the appropriate time for healing, and picking which debuffs to cast make battles feel a lot like they do in the traditional RPGs they're originally from—an impressive feat for an action game.

On top of your core abilities, you've also got monster minions to call upon. Defeating foes will occasionally drop monster medals that allow you to summon creatures in to fight alongside you or use specific abilities. New this time are special medals that transform you into one of the game's more impressive monsters for a few seconds, allowing you to unleash a handful of devastating attacks before returning to normal. Medals only last for the battle they're collected in, so you're incentivized to make constant use of them and constantly rotate in new minions. In fact, there are no consumable inventory items to speak of. Healing and revival items replenish between battles, meaning that each new encounter is a fresh start.

You can customize the abilities of the two main characters, switching vocations to open up new usable weapons and abilities. There isn't a substantial difference between changing jobs and simply slotting in a new party member, since the weapon you use determines your basic attacks and abilities. This option is more for the long-term growth of your stats, since gaining proficiency with each weapon type can unlock passive buffs that apply either to the current weapon or the party as a whole.

The missions are generally straightforward, typically asking you to move from A to B and putting gatekeeping enemies along the way. You'll encounter environmental hazards and some difficult to navigate mazes, and on very rare occasion you'll see some simple dungeon puzzles, but mostly it's a series of combat arenas. The exceptions are a handful of defense missions, which are frustrating battles of memorization where the only path to victory is knowing when and where each new wave of enemies shows up.

In addition to the objective-based battle missions, Dragon Quest Heroes II adds large world areas that you can explore at any time, finding creatures to fight, hidden treasure, and materials to upgrade accessories and gear. Though these locations give the game a feeling of greater substance, there really isn't a whole lot to do there—in fact, if you're in a hurry to move the story along you can just sprint straight toward the next objective, ignoring every enemy along the way. There isn't much to do outside of the main story, either, so unless you're deeply invested in “kill fifteen Slimes”-style sidequests or fully upgrading your accessories, your best option after the credits roll is hitting the new game plus. It's a twenty-hour adventure if you barrel through to the end, though, so it's not insubstantial.

There are additional dungeons to take on filled with high-level enemies, and you can fight through these either alone or with up to four players online. I couldn't find a game to join pre-release, but hitting the locations up solo is more of the same—badder monsters, bigger arenas. You can also call in help for any story mission you're having trouble with, though it's rare for any quest to be difficult enough to justify calling someone in. Bonuses to drop rates or other stats come in based on the (real world) day of the week, so there's clearly some thought that you'll want to keep coming back, but it's tough to imagine a scenario where that's realistic for any but the most dedicated of completionists.

Even with that in mind, Dragon Quest Heroes II is a thoroughly entertaining action game from beginning to end. The RPG elements—putting together and equipping your party, managing abilities, and tagging between teammates—add enough depth to keep the combat lively, and the classic Akira Toriyama designs along with the energetic tone makes sure it stays fun throughout. It's strong enough to recommend even if you're not deeply invested in Dragon Quest or Dynasty Warriors, though if you like either (or especially both), it's doubly worth a look.

Overall : B
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : B
Gameplay : B
Presentation : B

+ Strong combination of action and strategy, well-realized vision of Dragon Quest style
Action gets repetitive, little substance to open areas, not much to do beyond main story

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