With its eleventh mainline instalment due later this year, the Dragon Quest series has been enthralling RPG fans around the globe since 1986.
Like any wildly successful franchise though, there’s been a host of spin-offs along the way, often making a genre shift to attract a new audience and switch up the gameplay a little. 2015’s Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below, for example, adopted Omega Force’s Dynasty Warriors template to provide a high on action yet low on adventure take on the series, and luckily enough, it kinda worked. With ample room for improvement however, Omega Force has followed up with a sequel, hoping to capture more of the essence that makes the franchise so beloved.
You can tell within minutes of getting started in Dragon Quest Heroes 2 that Omega Force hasn’t set out to reinvent the wheel, rather just add more tread to it. It feels more like Dragon Quest Heroes 1.5 than a full-fledged sequel in most regards. That doesn’t stop it from still being a hell of a lot of fun to play right from the outset though, and there are enough new bells and whistles along the way to keep things interesting for those who have played the original game to death.
It may be a sequel, but Dragon Quest Heroes 2’s story is self-contained, so you don’t need to have played the first game to enjoy it at all. Fans who have kept up with the long-running franchise over the years however will be happy to hear that many familiar faces pop up throughout its duration; you can’t beat a bit of fan-service after all! Regardless of whether you’re familiar with the series or not though, Dragon Quest Heroes 2 spins an interesting yarn that’s perhaps a little childish at times but engaging nonetheless. The characters are quirky, loud and bold; the situations they find themselves in often way over the top and ridiculously fantastical. Story scenes are frequent as you move from one battle-filled expedition to the next, always pushing you on to discover the next revelation that will undoubtedly take you to a new area. Nothing will ever blow your mind, but it’s exciting stuff nonetheless.
Dragon Quest Heroes 2’s excellent presentation helps. The graphics are crisp and vibrant; with PS4 Pro owners even afforded a nice resolution boost to make the visuals even more crystal clear. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of the game’s PS3 roots, but the solid performance and overall charisma of what‘s laid out in front of your eyes dispel any lingering thoughts you have on the matter pretty quickly. And when it comes to the soundtrack and voice acting they’re pretty solid too, though perhaps more than a little bit cheesy at times. The only voices that really irked me were those of the two main characters and their little jelly-like friend named Healix. It’s not that they’re bad – in fact, I’d say that their voice actors put in good performances – it’s just that they don’t really match up with how the characters look. Luckily, you can opt for the original Japanese dialogue with English subtitles if you prefer.
In terms of gameplay there are a few developments to make you aware that you’re not still playing the original title, but there’s nothing that feels truly transformative. The biggest change is that by adding fields you must traverse to reach new destinations, it feels more like a traditional Dragon Quest adventure. You’re pretty much free to wander between fields and towns, beating up monsters simply for fun or to fulfil any optional quests that you may have acquired in the central hub, discovering treasures along the way. Don’t assume that you have to travel everywhere on foot though – a fast travel system has also been implemented, allowing you to warp to previously explored locations and quickly resume your story progress if you chose to do some preparation between major battles.
Combat is where Dragon Quest Heroes 2 feels pretty much like business as usual. It still plays like a brighter coloured and lighter-hearted Dynasty Warriors game with frequent tower defence elements. And the camera can still be a pain in the backside at times, especially when you’ve locked onto an opponent. Despite its repetitive nature, it remains enjoyable for those who like a bit of hacking and slashing though – its ample supply of special attacks and the ability to switch between your four active party members on the fly allowing you to mix things up. There are also two changes of note that grant you yet even more combat options.
The first is that the monster coin system has been expanded slightly, with there now being three types of coins: saviour, sentry and substitution. Saviour coins are essentially one use and done special attacks, while sentry coins allow you to summon monsters to fight alongside you. If you ever played the original Dragon Quest Heroes and thought “I’d love to play as a huge stone golem!” though, the substitution monster coins will be your wet dream, placing you in control of a monster for a short period of time. The second notable addition is the facility to change the class of the two main characters, allowing them to be proficient with a wide range of equipment and utilise alternative skills. It takes time master each of the five classes on offer though, which include Martial Artist and Priest, so you’re better off choosing one and sticking with it to reap the benefits. Still, at least you don’t have to be just a bog-standard warrior if you don’t want to be.
Four-player online multiplayer action is perhaps Dragon Quest Heroes 2’s biggest draw for fans of the original, though I don’t think it’s something to get too excited about. A series of randomised dungeons can be unlocked that are best played with a group of like-minded adventurers, and main story battles can now be played with some assistance too. It suffers from some long-winded and convoluted matchmaking issues though, making playing online a nice little diversion from time to time but little else.
Offering you more freedom to explore and customise your characters, Dragon Quest Heroes 2 is undoubtedly a commendable follow-up to its predecessor even though it feels more than a little bit samey at times. Issues such as an inadequate lock-on system mildly annoy, and the gameplay cycle is frequently on the brink of becoming overly repetitive, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had, especially if you’re an ardent fan of the Dragon Quest or Dynasty Warriors franchises. It may not feel entirely new, but by selectively adding a handful of new gameplay features Omega Force has made Dragon Quest Heroes 2 a more rounded package that’s worthy of your cash.