Just like the Final Fantasy franchise, the Dragon Quest series has been in the Japanese video game industry for quite some time. In fact, the first game for both brands came out one year apart. The first Final Fantasy game arrived in 1987, and Dragon Quest came out the year before in 1986.
Fast-forward to 2015, and both series are still thriving with a main series and various spin-offs. The two brands were the flagship products of Square and Enix, respectively, and are now under the same ownership at the combined Square Enix company. While the focus of Final Fantasy at PAX Prime was on Hajime Tabata and the upcoming Final Fantasy XV, Dragon Quest featured some gameplay time with its latest spin-off, Dragon Quest Heroes: The World’s Tree Woe and the Blight Below.
A Mix Of Both
For the most part, the building blocks of any Dragon Quest is its basic RPG format. However, this Dragon Quest variant differs from the rest with its partnership with Omega Force, the development team behind the popular Dynasty Warriors franchise. This means that the gameplay featured a hack-and-slash mechanic, resulting in faster-paced action in lieu of the traditional RPG combat of selecting various commands to attack, defend, cast magic or heal allies.
In a way, this makes the series easily accessible to newcomers while still keeping diehard fans satisfied. The game's somewhat-lengthy tutorial teaches the basics of chaining moves and using two-button combinations to cast your magic spells. It requires less thinking on the player's end and allows for more button-mashing to quell various monsters.
Another Omega Force-related feature is Tension. Basic melee and magic attacks contribute to the Tension meter, which fills up during battle. When it's completely full, the player activates their character's Tension attack, which is stronger, faster and ends with a devastating combo. Just like regular attacks, you can still control the character during their Tension phase with the exception of the final attack combo. Dynasty Warriors fans might recognize the same mechanic as a different name — the musou attack.
As the game progresses, the party, which consists of only four characters at a time, will defeat monsters that drop medals. These can be collected in a small inventory box at the bottom of the screen. From there, any character can use the medals to summon a specific monster to fight on their side, increasing the odds of victory. The medal inventory at the time was small, so only a few monsters could be utilized at once. Depending on the strength, size and rarity of the creature, they could take up one or many slots. In the later stages of the game, the medal inventory grows so that it covers the entire bottom edge of the screen, allowing a total of 24 monsters to fight by your side. By all means, feel free to give the enemy a taste of their own medicine.
Even with a new mechanic, there are still traces of RPG elements littered throughout the game. In the early levels, a basecamp is established where players can buy, sell and craft items for each character. Eventually, the camp becomes unnecessary as new allies provide an airship as a mobile command center later on. Aside from gold and monster medals, enemies also drop ingredients used in crafting various items if you're strapped for cash.
The airship is also used to travel throughout the game's world. Players can stick to purely following the story, but will miss out on fighting unique monster bosses in other parts. However, it should be noted that unlike most RPGs, fighting these bosses doesn't net as many experience points as expected. Instead, they all yield specific ingredients for crafting.
This comes in handy for the mid-to-late game areas where powerful weapons and armor are needed, which money can't buy. In addition, each monster can be fought more than once, so farming these ingredients becomes fairly easy. Taking on these side missions reveals more optional quests throughout the map, so it wouldn't be a bad idea to explore every nook and cranny.
How About The Rest?
Obviously, the entire thing is a far cry from the original series, but it has some nostalgia factor for the fans. While players control the male hero Lucius or the female heroine Aurora, the rest of the roster features new characters for the game as well as some additions from past titles such as Maya from Dragon Quest IV or the thief Yangus from Dragon Quest VIII. Also, its ease of access with the hack-and-slash style of gameplay should attract newcomers to the series, but be forewarned that it's not indicative of how the main games in Dragon Quest play out.
In terms of the big picture, it's another game to keep fans satisfied with content, but the bigger prize is the main games. Dragon Quest X was released only in Japan, but some are holding out and hoping that it comes to North America and Europe. Even then, the next installation, Dragon Quest XI, is currently in development and slated for release in 2016. Unfortunately, it's unknown yet if it will make its way out of Japan. Games like Dragon Quest Heroes: The World’s Tree Woe and the Blight Below (quite a lengthy title name isn't it?) can only do so much before players are left wondering when the current and future Dragon Quest titles will be playable for Western fans.