Smashing through enemy hordes works, as long as the hack-and-slash pace keeps up.
When Dragon Quest Heroes hit the scene in 2015, it delivered a solid mashup of two very different genres: classic RPGs and hack-and-slash action. Now, Square Enix and Koei-Tecmo have teamed up again to deliver another monster-mashing, magic-slinging, army-crushing action-adventure in Dragon Quest Heroes 2. While it improves on the original in some ways, it stumbles a bit in the quest to transition Dragon Quest from its RPG roots into an action game.
Dragon Quest Heroes 2 begins with the lead characters, a pair of cousins, suddenly thrust into a surprise conflict between two formerly peaceful kingdoms. As they adventure forth, they meet new friends and unravel evil conspiracy to bring all of the world’s kingdoms to war and fulfill an ancient prophecy. The story’s a marked improvement over the weak, “Oh no, the monsters are evil now” plot of the first Dragon Quest Heroes, and it develops in interesting ways. The characters it introduces are likable, the storyline – though somewhat predictable – kept me wanting to see what happens next, and the top-notch English localization added a lot of life and humor to both crucial story scenes and incidental dialogue. Characters from other Dragon Quest games will also pop in throughout the course of the story, and as a longtime fan of the series seeing familiar favorite characters appear and join my merry adventuring band was quite a treat, even though the story focus remains squarely on the all-new Dragon Quest Heroes 2 cast.
The story’s not the only thing that’s seen an improvement. The flow of the moment-to-moment gameplay has been changed to more resemble the role-playing adventures that inspired it. Rather than just hopping from mission to mission from a hub or menu, there’s a semi-open world you can explore at your leisure, once you’ve unlocked each region. You also progress through areas like towns, forests, fields, and swamps much like you would in a traditional RPG, battling your way from destination to destination in a way that feels very natural. It helps that it looks good, too: the environments are distinct and lively, and both the characters and iconic Dragon Quest monster designs are lovingly rendered to look better than ever before.
It’s clear that inspiration was taken from traditional RPGs.
There are a lot of different objectives in the critical story missions, as well. These include the usual Warriors-inspired missions where you canvass a large battlefield and mow down hundreds of enemies, but also big boss fights, maze-like dungeons, protection missions, raids on enemy territory, and even a bit of stealth. It’s clear that inspiration was taken from traditional RPGs when coming up with some of the obstacles and objectives in these sections: things like poison marshes, castle mazes, and red-hot damage floors come from decades of RPG tradition.
The problem is that what might work in a slower-paced, menu-driven RPG doesn’t translate well to a hack-and-slash game built on fighting enemy hordes constantly. Things like teleporter puzzles and switch puzzles plopped in between fights bring the sense of action and tension to a screeching halt. One particularly egregious portion has you trotting across the whole of a town multiple times to identify a monster masquerading as a soldier, forcing you to run around and chat up a bunch of boring NPCs over and over until you finally get a few scraps of the fighting you crave. These numerous long stretches of non-action in the middle of action portions tested my patience more than even the tankiest beasts I went up against.
There’s little in combat that’s truly new and noteworthy.
If you’ve played a Warriors game before, you’ll know what to expect in terms of the combat in Dragon Quest Heroes 2: big, flashy combos that mow down lots of little enemies at once, special skills unique to each character, and big attacks you can use after you’ve been fighting for a while that will absolutely devastate the battlefield. There’s little here that’s truly new and noteworthy, but there are some nice new improvements to the way your characters develop.
For starters, your two main characters eventually earn the ability to change classes, which gives them access to different weapons and fighting skills and allows you to choose how they fight. Earning skill points and improving weapon proficiency in different classes lets you customize character abilities, and additional skills and buffs can be learned through mastering weapons. You can stick with a class you really like throughout the whole of the 30 to 35-hour campaign, or spend some time doing sidequests to build up skills across a bunch of different classes and switch between them as needed.
The best medals are ones that let you transform into monsters.
Monster medals – items that let you summon tamed enemies to aid you in battle – are a big part of the original Dragon Quest Heroes, and they make a vastly improved return in the sequel. As in the original game, some medals allow you to summon a NPC monster that will help you by fighting at your side. Other medals bestow special abilities or status buffs when they’re used. The best medals, however, are ones that let you actually transform into monsters temporarily and use their powers for wanton destruction. These transformations can be immensely useful, providing not just strong special attacks but also movement options like flight and super-speed that can aid you in crossing hazardous terrain and reaching targets quickly.
It’s a lot of fun to crush monsters alongside a friend.
Finally, co-op multiplayer (which the first Dragon Quest Heroes notably lacked, especially relative to other Musou-style games) adds the ability to fight alongside up to three other players through either story battles or short dungeons to gather materials. It’s a lot of fun to crush monsters alongside a friend, and having other players in the mix is a huge boon in quests where covering a lot of ground and defending multiple areas is necessary. There are some caveats, however, that make multiplayer messier than it should be. A lobby system that allows you to easily search for players and quests meeting your criteria is only available in the optional Interdimensional Labyrinth dungeons; for story mission multiplayer, you are restricted to joining in only on missions that you have already completed, and have to wait to be matched up with a player who chooses to ask for help. If you want to join a friend’s story missions, you both have to set up a passcode ahead of time and enter it when you want to hop in. Perhaps most annoying is that you’ll be kicked out after every completed co-op story mission, requiring your host to re-invite you and for you to manually rejoin every time.
Ultimately, though, whether you’re by yourself or with friends the fighting still gets a bit wearisome after a while, because it so frequently boils down to beating down hordes of boring weaklings before facing a much bigger threat that actually poses a challenge. Cluttered battlefields also pose a bit of a problem, as it can be a rather difficult to discern at a glance what’s an enemy and what’s a friendly helper – it’s embarrassing to go in swinging at a monster only to realize it’s one you actually summoned. A somewhat clunky camera and targeting system doesn’t help when things get really messy, either, though most of the time you’re so busy slashing up a storm of hundreds of annoying little enemy boogers that it doesn’t matter what you’re looking at.