Review: Dragon Quest Heroes II offers hordes of fun

Connection. Dragon Quest Heroes II strives for a cohesive world with lands between towns and battles, for cooperative combat with friends and against large foes, and for compassionate, effusive personalities that interact with energy and wit. It doesn’t want to be a series of battle maps in menus, but rather an experience that feels complete and inseparable.

Don’t worry, though: you can still hit a bunch of monsters with oversized weapons.

In many ways, Dragon Quest Heroes II feels like a game reaching for its inspiration, trying hard on multiple fronts to feel more like an RPG than its predecessor. A simple hub airship is swapped out for a somewhat-larger castle city, maps are held together by wild traversal areas with wandering enemies and paths and generally it wants you to walk to places and talk to NPCs a lot more. This is effective at its goal, for better or worse; it introduces some of the tedium of those experiences, but it also makes for a game that’s more Dragon Quest-like.

In many ways, Dragon Quest Heroes II feels like a game reaching for its inspiration, trying hard on multiple fronts to feel more like an RPG than its predecessor.

It also steps up the action, with a focus on multiplayer combat. There are bigger enemies that take a lot of time and skill to defeat, seemingly perfect for calling in friends for full four-player fights. It also wants these to be fun, with monster medals now coming in a number of new varieties that can serve as buffs or even full time-limited monster transformations. Fights are now way more frantic, and as a result, certainly less monotonous.

Even without friends, there’s a lot of combat to manage here. The full cast of characters seems to be somewhat less popularity-driven this time out, with some smart additions and subtractions made to eliminate redundancy and add new options. This new combat balance makes healing much more crucial, and you can bring in venerable adventurer Torneko to do just that. Or you could opt for Meena, a ranged unit who’ll be torn to shreds if you’re not careful but offers more tactical assistance and crowd control than our portly merchant friend. Kiryl’s an option, too, dropping basically all offensive capability in favor of survivability. You could also try to get by without any of them, carefully building a team by spending points on individual healing abilities. But you need someone! The same goes for ranged attacks, magic and pure melee power. You have a few paths to each one (including changing the class of the protagonists to your choice), and those choices can be interesting.

Where the game takes a step back is in its battle strategy. In an effort to feel more like an RPG, it builds maps about sticking together and fighting through corridors, so how you fight an enemy essentially supersedes which enemies to fight and when. The new, crazy monster medals drown out the old, minion-spawning ones that you’d use in a tower defense-like way that really added a tactical layer to the first game. And that’ll be missed.

Replacing that void is an expanded system of equipment and upgrades, with even more quests and crafting resources and proficiency meters. Heroes II does a good job of making you feel like you’re progressing through these systems, though if you’re ever put in the position of actively working on side quests or leveling up to get the next upgrade, it’s not a great scene. Still, you can feed mini medals to a big Platypunk, and that’s not nothing.

There’s a flippant positivity to the game that really shines through, even with simple prompts and menus, that holds together a game that’s all about characters randomly showing up from other dimensions in an arbitrary fashion.

If there’s one thing Dragon Quest Heroes II gets really right, it’s the tone, oozing personality at every turn and not hesitating to bring all the puns it can muster. This is a hallmark of the franchise, and the way it turned itself around in the West after the early days of leaning too hard into flowery, archaic language. The whole thing with slimes putting goo words into sentences gets a little old, but walking up and seeing what the next mission or establishment is named almost always leads to a chuckle.

The tone’s not all puns, though. There’s a flippant positivity to the game that really shines through, even with simple prompts and menus, that holds together a game that’s all about characters randomly showing up from other dimensions in an arbitrary fashion. The game’s never serious about what it’s trying to do, even in a plot about global war and kingdoms on the brink of destruction.

If you do play, you shouldn’t always play alone. You can call in online friends to help you with a rough stage if they’ve completed it, as well as meet them in neutral territory through a system of standalone dungeon maps. These options provide a fun way to explore characters who may not have made the cut in your party, as well as a convenient way to level up without painful grinding. (In fact, helping out someone else gets you double experience, so it’s very much worth it.) We encountered a few technical issues with matchmaking (even using the “secret number” function to ensure you match with a specific friend), and we hope those will be sorted out, because once we did connect, we had zero issues and a lot of fun.

Dragon Quest Heroes II is a robust game that feels less and less like a Warriors title, an aim for which it strives. The defense elements of the first game are gone here, which is a real shame, but further development time and refined gameplay and systems do a lot to justify play. It’ll make you think a bit in combat and laugh a bit out of it, and neither’s easy.

Score: 8/10
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: April 25, 2017
Developer: Omega Force
Platform(s): PS4, PC
Questions? Check out our review guide.

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