The best thing about Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below is its soundtrack, not its character interactions or 300-hit combos. Thanks to regular Dragon Quest series composer Koichi Sugiyama, this latest action game from developer Omega Force (Dynasty Warriors) exudes an infectiously positive vibe, but the cluelessness-as-heroism and over-the-top fighting don’t fulfill or complement this tone.
Dragon Quest Heroes doesn’t understand its premise’s dramatic potential: Humans and monsters are friends until the latter start attacking the former like typical baddies. The game mainly conveys how dumbfounded the human protagonists are about this shift, as opposed to exploring complicated feelings about massacring those who once lived in peace. Director Yuji Horii doesn’t seem to grasp how a sense of tragedy about a fallen world can make the repetitions of battle more urgent (as in Final Fantasy VI). The oblivious heroine, Aurora, sums up the pointlessness: “The only way to the top is through the monsters, so let’s cut ourselves a path!” It’s almost as if the weapon-wielding heroes suspected that they were living among savages, raising the question of why the game needs a monsters-turned-rabid plot.
This numbskull’s tale could be excused if the action were better. Dragon Quest Heroes’s flashy cycle—hit enemies until you’re charged up, then become invincible before unleashing a devastating, screen-filling blow—can’t outdo the violent thrill of being surrounded in 1994’s Alien vs. Predator game, the demanding graceful movement of Abyss Odyssey, or the defensive struggle of Golden Axe: Beast Rider.
Dragon Quest Heroes wants players to love the illusion of power with the ease of performing a seemingly endless, rapid-fire assault of eye-catching attacks against dozens of enemies. But this appeal suffers due to an awkwardness that’s not fitting for a game that intends to be so frenetic. The button you press to jump is stupidly the same you must use to revive allies. The characters stall momentum with no-brainer observations about moving forward or incoming hordes. Tension mode always ends in a cutscene attack, even if there’s no enemy in sight. Even when the kineticism isn’t interrupted by such things, only a few special moves, like Terry’s slash (which generates copies of himself) or Isla’s double boomerang, distinguish themselves by requiring more than a casual level of attention for optimum success.
So much of the game is filler. Unlocked areas on the map often amount to dozens of boringly arranged enemies. After every battle, you run around a hub attending to role-playing game banalities, from claiming achievements to conversing with one-note, non-playable characters to making room in your inventory because you have too many ingredients. Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara combines RPG and action design more intelligently, with multiple pathways providing mystery about what you can or should do as you advance. Progressing in Dragon Quest Heroes is often more like crossing out items on an unchanging grocery list—common and dreary, not heroic.