On the blunt side.
The unnecessarily long-subtitled Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors begins like many quests do - with a festival. Confetti and fanfare fill the air in celebration of Avalonia’s fifth year of liberty, and you have been invited by the Yoda-esque, cane-wielding, kung-fu-master-speaking Swordsmaster Dao to participate in a sparring match. Tomorrow will mark your sixteenth birthday, a time when boys must prove themselves as able men by fulfilling the rite of passage, the Walk of the Worthy. So you might as well get in some practice on an old man…
Beyond that small bit of questionable morality, the story is not so daring as to stray off the run-of-the-mill hero’s journey. There’s an ornate mask, a queen who has secluded herself, a monstrous death-to-all baddie named Xiphos (which is Latin for I’ve got a weird name but I’m really damn generic), and you - a strapping young lad who swings a sword because words are so passé.
The conventional three-act mythical structure is followed with nary a nod towards creativity, apart from some bits of light humor and one saw-that-coming twist. It tries not to take itself too seriously - the cel-shading, orchestral score, and jingles are whimsical and nostalgic - but the impending doom and ultimate destruction of life is hardly so.
Fortunately, the passable story isn’t what Dragon Quest Swords is about. The underlying premise around this spin-off is to combine the staples of the Dragon Quest series with the Wii-mote’s sensing capabilities into what can be called a first-person rail sword-shooter role-playing game (yes, a FPRSSRPG). The result is a well-produced, simple, and clean adventure that is also regrettably barebones when compared to entries in the main series.
Each of the eight levels is linear in just about the strictest definition of the word. Disregarding your ability to turn your head about eight degrees to the left and right, you can only move forward or backward… while always facing forward. Even with a few branching paths, there’s usually only one road that gets you to the level boss.
Of course, hordes of monsters (not counting the ever cute slimes) stand in your way. Enemies can take a back position in battle, but once they leap to the front, they’re vulnerable to a Wii-mote thrashing - vertical slashes, horizontal slashes, diagonal slashes, and thrusts. Most of the time, you will be on the edge of your seat, living up the frantic action, while your hand is trying its best to be accurate. Focal points can be marked on the screen to direct the center of any sword swipe, but diagonal slashes and thrusts still do not register precisely due to the inherent imprecision of the infrared system.
Regardless, most enemies can be dispatched with a few vertical slashes and a couple of shield blocks, so scoring a 100-hit combo is possible. Any formidable foes can be swiftly vanquished with a Master Stroke, which can be used once your sword’s gauge is full. Still, it’s irritating to lose the combo and take damage just because you have to deflect, say, some arrows with a diagonal swing that doesn’t register correctly. Sometimes they come off at completely the wrong angle and sometimes thrusts turn into slashes. It only makes the absence of the nunchuk, which would have also opened new attack possibilities, that much more puzzling.
Combat is intentionally light, which is appropriate for a nonchalant offshoot of a well-established franchise, but it’s coupled with a lack of depth that erodes any sense of grandness you should feel on an epic journey. Repeating a level, if not just to gain experience and receive a higher letter-grade ranking at the end, further reveals the monotony. Monsters always appear in an exact sequence, in the same locations, and in the same groups. Hardly anything changes, so it’s easy to learn where to cast certain spells, where and when to strike an enemy, and how to spoil every moment of surprise and challenge. This “practice makes perfect” approach is suitable for rhythm titles, but an action title works better when unpredictability exists, where mastery over the volatility of battle is what matters.
Moreover, there’s only one town on the entire island, though it has all the necessities a budding warrior will ever need: an armor shop, an item shop, a weapon-smith shop, a mini-game booth with some discardable multi-player play, a church, some not-so-hidden caves, and a 24-hour bar. That’s where your father, Claymore, usually knocks a few back and sweet-talks the ladies when your mother isn’t around. He’s also got an Irish accent. Aye, don’t’cha list’n to wha Square Enix is tryin’ to say, lad.
Along with Prince Anlace (royalty has a British accent) and Fleurette (women with fancy hair, feather headdresses, and tight red and black clothing have French accents), Claymore can be chosen as your magical aide through a stage. Oddly, you can only choose one of them at any time, and since you only need one partner to see it through to the end, the other two characters become as useless as the ingredients list on a bottle of water. It just doesn’t make much sense. All three of them frequently appear in cut-scenes before a stage begins and after the boss battle ends, so what were two of your so-called friends doing while you and your chosen sidekick get pummeled? Playing with themselves? Why not just make combat more challenging, so that all three partners can actually be useful?
If it hasn’t become clear yet, cutting your way from beginning to end is fairly easy. Until you reach the final boss, the strength of your party owns nearly everything in sight: your arsenal of master strikes, the number of healing items, and the incredibly MP-efficient healing or enemy-clearing spells of your partner. This doesn’t mean that you won’t get hit or won’t ever be on the brink of death, but you have to be quite careless about your swinging technique or equipment strength to die.
Still, the pursuit of achieving an S-rank (or even an X-rank) on every level, if not just to obtain some rare tempering items, should give enough incentive for replay despite the redundancy. After completing the main game, you can also face several additional bosses that, if beaten, will unlock a new mode that any vengeful monster-killer will enjoy.
On merit, Dragon Quests Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors is the common adventure with a strange view perspective and Wii-mote capabilities. It has as much complexity as would be expected from an E10+-rated title and is enjoyable insofar as it’s casual and brisk. If the main Dragon Quest series is the main course, then Dragon Quests Swords is a frothy aperitif - not enough to fill you up completely, but appetizing enough to get you interested in the next meal.