Copyright Adam Schlosser

Copyright 2005 Adam Schlosser

Posted by Pip

F158- Reject HySlotheses

People these days just don't respect the rigors of scientific testing. You don't bother a man while he's trying to fight a giant robot! NOW what's he supposed to put in his lab reports. That'll never pass peer review now.
Also, kind of a fan of Jin's thinking. Throw her swords over a cliff? Fine, then she's going to shank you with a slightly pointy rock.

Quick Critique: Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below

Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below (which will now be called Dragon Quest Heroes, because come on!) is a dumb game. But it's a game that's frequently dumb in surprisingly fun ways and it knows it's dumb. That subtitle alone says a lot. Then you have Healix's slime pun speech impediment, the characters talking through the controller, you can temporarily summon monster allies and ugh the puns for their names!, the overwhelming Britishness of it all, and quite key... A. Slime. With. A. Mustache. Where did he get that mustache? Have slimes been able to grow facial hair all this time and they just never did or is it a fake mustache? Who knows! For all this pervasive dumbness, DQH goes a long way into making a Dragon Quest game actually fun and entertaining and helps move the series into territory where it's not being overshadowed by almost every other big RPG franchise out there. There are even non-Akira Toriyama-looking characters! Dragon Warrior's golems and the green dragon are two of my all-time favorite monster designs, but man I cannot stand the way humans in Dragon Warrior games/Goku look, so to see actual good character designs in this franchise is great. I mean, aside from the fact that the elves are just Lord of the Rings characters and the game is doing nothing to even remotely hide that fact.
DQH took a lot of what I thought was neat about Hyrule Warriors and got rid of a lot of the stuff I thought was junk. There's less of a focus on the grunt enemies since you don't have zones to defend (outside of a main objective) and you can use your summoned monster allies to deal with the cannon fodder most of the time, allowing you to focus on the important enemies. Once you take control of a zone, enemies can't take it back by just wandering in. New enemy portals can open up, but that's a controlled thing dictated by time/the story so you're not losing progress because your NPC allies are useless and require you to micromanage them like in Hyrule Warriors. Equipment is handled more like a normal RPG where you just buy it from a shop rather than relying on random drops. Everybody in your party gains experience, even if they weren't in your active party, so nobody falls too far behind. The Trophies even unlock things (and helpful things at that!) in the game, rather than just being for show. DQH also plays far more with scale and the giant-sized enemies are a lot of fun and instantly feel more menacing and worthy of your attention. A major feather in the game's cap is that it runs fantastically. There can be dozens and dozens of character on screen, a slew of different special move or magical effects firing off, and it still plays smoothly. You even get to top all that off with some Dragon Warrior music woven into boss or character themes. As part of the tutorial, you have to fight a dragon and it waddles on out to a remix of the original Dragon Warrior battle theme and it's great. From my very first session, I was fully committed to seeing the game through the minute I heard that music start playing.
Despite having a really solid foundation, DQH falls apart due to some shockingly bad design decisions, menus, and abysmal writing. The story is bad. There's no way around that. It's a thoroughly by-the-books light versus dark story that throws no curves at you and plays it overly safe and simple. It doesn't even get any lift from its characters because they're almost universally as uninteresting as the story due to repeated jokes and simple characterization. The male main character's sole defining feature is that he makes long-winded speeches about strategies and the female main character's defining feature is that she cuts him off and rushes into combat. Those two facts make up the vast, vast majority of their cutscenes and that "joke" is repeated over and over through the entire game. And that's not to get them confused with Alena, who's sole feature is that she rushes into combat without thinking, and her bodyguard Kiryl, who's sole feature is that he stops her, warns her that it's dangerous, and asks her to strategize first and this is repeated over and over in every cutscene they're in. The writing and characters are not this game's strong point. Everybody is flat with a one-dimensional personality that amounts to nothing more than a bullet point. At one point, the game actually threatens to give the villain some motivation and a backstory worth discussing, only for the next cutscene to pop up and tell you that he's wrong and he's just plain old evil because darkness is bad and evil and light is always good and nice. This uninteresting tale isn't even mechanically told well. There are really long pauses between lines. Oddly long pauses. "I think the game froze- oh wait no, there it goes" long pauses. And there's a lot of dialogue that you can't skip, so you'll find yourself filling those gaps in delivery by shouting "get on with it!" at your TV. This is further exacerbated by the game's bad menu system and interaction with NPCs. You're frequently subjected to repeated dialogue, jingles, or animations when you talk to the NPCs, no matter how many times you've talked to them. The Alchemist will always spend one dialogue box to talk about crafting every time you want an accessory or have to check the ingredient list. You have to accept quests one at a time (and you have a limit on how many you can take for some reason) and you're going to listen to the jingle every time you take one, and then after completing it, you're going to have to turn in the quests one at a time, listen to the jingle, and watch the nice lady clap for you. One every single quest. All 104 of them. When you go to equip an item, it shows everybody's equipment, so you have to wade through items that character can't even use. Any time you buy items in the shop, it resets how you're filtering and sorting the items. To change party members, you can't do it through the menus. You have to go a side room in the ship, talk to a specific character, mess around with a bad menu, make sure you hit a confirm button, and then you can swap out your party members. The game just goes out of its way to make it frustrating to interact with.
Combat is the crux of the gameplay. It is incredibly simple with a light attack, heavy attack, and up to four spells fired off by holding a trigger then tapping a face button. The game is super button mashy. Grunt enemies don't do much more than walk towards their objective and will only lash out at you once in a while to almost no avail. You very quickly rack up a few hundred HP and grunt physical attacks only do a couple of damage, so outside of anything that can cast spells, enemies are just in your way. Unfortunately, that's about all you can say for your allies too. They also don't do much. I so wanted to be able to give them orders, like "I can close the portal myself, but you three stay here to guard this chokepoint". A simple "wait here" order alone would have made them vastly more helpful. I would often freeze an enemy in place, only to have my allies not help out by attacking, but they'd just continuously run into the enemy or dash up to it, hold out their shield to block the completely immobilized enemy that can't attack, and then run back to start the process over again. They don't even look out for themselves. I specifically use Jessica from DQ8 in my party because she has a strong healing spell, but she's willing to stand there, close to death, with full MP, and not try to heal herself. The camera isn't particularly well-suited to all the combat either. Enemies will ravage you from off-screen, the camera is too close, anything agile moves faster than the camera and the game only lets you lock onto large enemies. I fought three mini-bosses at the same time with the camera behind a wall for 90% of the skirmish. That both illustrates how simple the combat is and how bad the camera is. Or that I'm so amazing I can fight blindfolded, but I don't think that's the case. DQH also has the most worthless lock-on system possible. The "move target" action is the same as the "move camera" action, so if you're locked on to an enemy and engaged in combat but you want to adjust your view, you're no longer locked onto that enemy and now looking at something probably far away and not a threat. Status effects are some of the most dangerous things in the game because they freeze you in place. Quakes, freezing, and sleep all lock you in one spot for way too long and the cast times on the spells are shorter than the amount of time it takes for you to break free, so enemies can stun you pretty much forever. You sit there for about five seconds while your character sleeps (and being attacked doesn't wake you up), you start to come out of it, and either that enemy or another one will just cast another spell. It's not only frustrating since management of the field is what the game is all about and you can't do that while stuck in one spot, but it makes for a boring game experience. If all your allies got hit by the same move, you have nothing to do but sit there for four or five seconds and pray the game doesn't spam that move like crazy because now you can't dodge it.
DQH also does not respect the player's time and that's something I can't stand. Drop rates on items needed for crafting and quests are super low. Item crafting requires a ton of materials, so it can take hours to beat a single quest that just requires a handful of items, for a reward that's usually not worth it. There are a lot of accessories and ways to customize your character, but grinding out everything to actually buy them takes what seems like ages. It would have been so much better if they just ditched the whole crafting system and had you unlock new accessories through the quests. Leveling up also takes forever, and your level is one of the key determinants of whether or not you're going to die in one hit or not. This isn't a short game, so there's just no need for that kind of padding. The post-game content is pretty terrible, so that's where I called it quits. It's just you against the same bosses, only this time they go from having too much health to be enjoyable to fight to you barely being able to see their health tick down when you hit them. The post-game version of the boss where you have to protect an object is utter bullshit and left me with an extreme sour note on the entire game. Your character alone can't do enough damage to fight the boss AND keep the monsters off the object, so even at level 99 with decked-out gear and all of my accessories going into buffing the object's health, I kept losing over and over. I had the boss down to less than 10% health, all of my characters were healthy and fine, but I couldn't stop the object from being destroyed because your allies are all but completely useless and won't help you fight the boss or protect the target. It's not a short fight either. I was losing it over ten minutes into fight, so it was horribly tedious and it's some godawful game design. There's a kind of new game plus mode but it takes away a lot of your equipment and items, resets your trophy tracking, and resets your logs containing your items collected, monsters befriended, monsters killed, and all kinds of things it has no reason to reset.
I can't really recommend somebody buy DQH (but it's well worth a rental or borrowing it from a friend if you have any nostalgia for Dragon Warrior) but I also sunk waaay too much time into the game, completed the story, and all of the side quests. It's grindy, button mashy, the camera is awful, the UI and menus are garbage, the story is trite, the characters are annoying, and I had a lot of fun playing it and was thoroughly engrossed in its forms of escalating nonsense. I'm totally up for a sequel that fixes a lot of its glaring issues because its problems are pretty easily fixable with some common sense and decent balancing, but there has to be some distance between this and the next one. It's like a Disgaea game. I have fun with it to an extent, but I need to leave a lot of time between them so I can forget everything I hate about the series and let a desire to watch numbers get bigger build up in me again.
Also, high definition Slimes look... odd. Prior to this, I've never really had to put much thought into a Slime's opacity and translucency. According to DQH, they're shiny and reflective. That seems wrong. Shouldn't they be semi-transparent? Or at least matte. I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this.

For fun, here's a little supplementary footage for the critique. I recorded myself going through the fight with the Green Dragon and an early defense mission. As a side note, this was recorded during New Game+ so I am waaay over-leveled for this. I mean, I accidentally killed the mini-boss without him even appearing on-screen. And yes, all screenshots and recording of the game done through the system are watermarked like that. They even have a threatening message about monetizing streaming on the game's title screen!