Japanese developer Omega Force, the creators of the Dynasty Warriors series, has been churning out hack and slash games for over 20 years. It has taken the tried and true formula of its main series and applied it to various established franchises with games like Hyrule Warriors, Attack on Titan, and the recently announced Fire Emblem Warriors.
But, very few of these licensed spin-offs have had enough popularity and sales to garner a sequel like 2015’s Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below. Dragon Quest Heroes II feels like an extension of the first game, expanding upon its idea and the foundation that it laid. Trading the traditional turn-based combat for the hack-and-slash fighting that Omega Force is known for, this sequel is perfect for both Dragon Quest and Dynasty Warriors fans alike who are looking for something different.
A Quest For Everyone
Dragon Quest Heroes II doesn’t require an extensive knowledge of the series to play, making it totally fine for someone new to jump in fresh. However, for those that do care, you can tell that Omega Force put a lot of work into properly representing the Dragon Quest brand. The menus, music, and characters all look familiary stylistically. It is absolutely overflowing with the signature Dragon Quest feel with cheesy named enemies like Night Clubber and saved games performed by confessing your sins. There is an impressive level of attention to detail for hardcore fans to appreciate.
Though, the story of Dragon Quest Heroes II is new and unrelated to the first game. The adventure begins with you picking between nameable male and female cousins. Much like the original, who you pick has no direct effect on the story or even gameplay as the other cousin still joins you on your quest. You and your cousin are military students in a world comprised of seven countries that has seen peace for thousands of years.
Of course, this being a JRPG, things change very quickly following a brief combat tutorial, as the country you are studying in is attacked by your homeland, led by your childhood friend no less. From there, the High King of all seven realms tasks the two main characters with finding out the truth behind this sudden war and bringing back peace to the land.
If this story sounds like nonsense, that’s because it is. Regardless, it allows for you to band together with returning slime companion Healix, a handful of brand new characters, as well as heroes from across the Dragon Quest universe for a team of 15 playable characters. You can easily mix and match heroes to your heart’s content, creating a team of four that best suits your needs.
Deep and Engaging Gameplay
The depth found here is surprisingly vast, as Dragon Quest Heroes II is a full-fledged action-RPG. Each person in your party has their own skill tree that you can spend points gained, unlocking new abilities and upgrading stats like HP. There is equipment to be bought and found for everyone, with weapons and orbs increasing your attack and defense in battle. One of the new features is the ability to change the vocation (class) of the two main characters. There are a total of five vocations from the default melee Warrior to the ranged Mage that play out totally different in combat.
Even within your specific vocation, there is the option to pick what type of weapon you want to use. For instance, the Warrior can use a sword and shield for a balance between offense and defense, or switch to the dual wield swords for more attack and quicker speed. This copious amount of variety is welcome, as there is a lot of action to show it off in throughout the 30 or so hours adventure.
It gives us a glimpse of what the open-world Dynasty Warriors 9 will be like, as there is a main hub city and an entire world to explore in addition to the instanced battles you would expect from an Omega Force game. Exploring the different areas of the world is by far the most fun part of the game, with plenty of classic DQ enemies roaming around waiting to be fought. There are an abundance of side quests to complete, special wanted enemies to defeat, and random encounters with people that need to be saved.
Fighting enemies is a blast and a welcome departure from the traditional style of recent re-releases like Dragon Quest VII and Dragon Quest VIII. The game offers two control schemes: simple or standard. For those unfamiliar with action-heavy games, the simple controls allow for repetitive mashing of the attack buttons for easy combos, whereas the standard controls use a mix of the two attack buttons (Square and Triangle on PS4) for various combos. The choice between the two is nice, as it allows for anyone of any age to pick up the game and play worry-free.
You have up to four abilities/spells available during battles, as well as dodging and guarding. Combat is fast and fluid, chaining combos together alongside abilities like tag teaming with a party member to attack. Every combo and ability has its own unique animation that fills your screen and looks pleasing to the eyes, creating some very flashy action. Everything you do contributes to a tension bar in the bottom left corner that unlocks high-tension mode when complete. Essentially this game’s Limit Break, your character goes Super Saiyan in a cutscene and has unlimited mana for a short duration before using their coup de grace (special). As you defeat monsters, you can collect their medals that grant you the ability to summon them as allies, one-off attacks, or even transform into them for a period of time. Due to all of this, fighting never gets boring or too repetitive even dozens of hours in.
Not All Battles Are Created Equal
On the other hand, the instanced story battles are a letdown. These take you out of the world and give you a specific objective that could be anything from defeating an enemy general or escorting/protecting an ally. The maps are decently-sized with hundreds upon hundreds of enemies on-screen at once. Most of the enemies can be plowed through with ease, with minibosses like Mawkeepers guarding gates that summon endless waves of monsters. What’s wrong with these moments is that there are typically multiple mandatory instances like these in a row with major difficulty spikes between them without any notice. The difficulty is completely unbalanced with a battle requiring several levels worth of grinding, which is repetitive.
This is worsened further by the lack of checkpoints. These battles can range from ten minutes to nearly an hour long, so it is very common to lose while fighting the last boss only to have to start all over again. It’s almost like the developers knew this would happen, as losing doesn’t result in a game over and you are able to keep all of your experience. You can also summon other players to come help you in these battles, but these solutions seem like applying a temporary band aid to a major wound that could have been easily treated.
It isn’t a total deal breaker, though. There is so much replayability and content in the game to keep you playing well beyond the story, not to mention the New Game+. Online play isn’t just limited to assisting in story battles, because there are optional dungeons with challenging enemies that can be completed solo or with up to three other players cooperatively. It is a shame that there is no local co-op available, though.
Dragon Quest Heroes II is exactly what a spin-off should be. It appreciates and honors what makes a Dragon Quest game distinct from other JRPGs, while still offering something different than the main series. The gameplay is exhilarating, using over-the-top animations and simple controls to keep you engaged in every battle. The amount of content, while no Dragon Quest VII, is certainly enough to get your money’s worth.
It is hurt by its messy story battles and uneven difficulty, but the addition of online play is welcomed. Whether you’ve been a Dragon Quest fan since it was still called Dragon Warrior or have never touched one in your life, Dragon Quest Heroes II is an action-RPG that is welcoming to both hardcore fans and newcomers alike.