Finished Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe & The Blight Below

I talked a bit about Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe & The Blight Below in last month’s recap, and I said I had played enough of it. And I thought I had, but then I kept going back to it. Last night I finished it from the sense of seeing the “The End” screen. After that the game gives you a bunch more quests. Rather than being excited by that, I just felt daunted.

Just to repeat what I said in the recap, this is a Mosuo game like the Dynasty Warriors series. You and 3 NPC team mates take on hundreds of monsters at a time, and your attacks can hit 10 or 20 baddies, depending on how clustered they are. Each character has a few special skills/spells to use, and as you fight you build up a tension meter that, when maxed, let’s you go into a super-amped mode where spells don’t use mana and you’re more or less impervious to damage. At the end of this segment you have one final, often area-clearing, coup de grace attack.

Monsters that are defeated sometimes drop “Medals” that you can pick up and use to summon that type of monster to guard an area. This gives the game a bit of a tower defense element. These monsters won’t travel with you through a level, they just patrol the area you place them in.

You can control any of your party members, though I mostly stuck to my main hero, other than jumping to another to fire off their coup de grace now and then (the AI won’t use that ability).

The story is very linear. There are maybe 12 “playing fields” in the game that you’ll revisit often. It’s not a bad story but not super compelling either. The set up is that you live in a world where monsters and people are friends, until suddenly one day the monsters started attacking. The cause is the titular blight. The solution is to slaughter thousands of your former friends in your attempt to stop the advance of the blight on Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

You eventually have a stable of 13 (going from memory here) heroes to choose from. The Main Character is always in the party then you slot in the other 3 as you see fit. Characters not in the party get some experience, but not as much as those doing the fighting. As characters level up they get skill points you spend to make them more powerful. Early on you have some tough-ish choices to make in spending skill points, but eventually you get to where the updates are more subtle. Do I want 5 more health, or 5 more mana? That kind of thing. Every character gets geared up with a weapon, an ‘orb’ that acts as your armor, and accessories that you can craft from monster drops, though I didn’t do much with that.

There are some side quests but for the first 25 hours or so they are super low-effort. You’ll be asked to gather X quantity of rare monster drop Y or just to kill X quantity of monster type Z. To complete these quests you’ll revisit levels and fight infinitely spawning monsters until you chose to “evac”. I found this portion of the game super tedious and doing these is when I initially decided to quit.

Then, near the end of the game, suddenly you start getting quests with some narrative backstory. One character is getting married and you’re tasked with gathering items for the ceremony. Another character had a grimoire stolen and you need to track down the thieves and recover the tome. None of this was earth shattering but the associated missions had a start, middle and end, which made them MUCH more interesting to do than the earlier side quests. Some of them also require specific party members, which was the first time I’d bothered to change up my party. I have NO IDEA why they held this type of quest back until so late in the game; it would be a much strong title with more quests like these nearer the start of the game.

A screenshot of the combat in Dragon Quest Heroes. It's hard to make out what is going on (which is the point the image is trying to make), but there're a lot of damage numbers showing.
Combat becomes so chaotic you just have to swing and hope

OK so hopefully that gives you a vague idea of what the game is about and how it plays.

The weird thing is, I don’t know that I would recommend this game even though I kept going back to it. I think what appealed to me is just how kind of mindless it is. With election day coming up, and some difficult projects at work I’ve been feeling pretty stressed. DQH was something I could boot up and just work out my aggressions on without really putting much thought into it. The game isn’t very difficult (I suppose it could be if you rushed through it, I was doing all the boring side quests which leveled up my characters) and I mostly button-mashed my way through the whole thing. There is no death penalty. In fact if you fail a mission and give up, you still get to keep the experience and gold/items you accumulated up to the point you failed.

The big issue I have with it is that the UI is terrible, or at least terribly slow, in a lot of places. Yesterday I posted about how slow it is to refill healing potions, and that slowness appears in a lot of places. Lots of repeated, voiced, un-skippable dialog throughout the game. SO MANY “are you sure?” prompts on the simplest things.

The combat itself is so chaotic that you’ll either love it or hate it. This becomes more an issue as opponents get physically larger. The way the camera is set up you can’t look up very far, so you’ll be fighting monsters based on what you can see of their knees or something. In the final boss fight, the boss at one point starts to fly and I literally could only see the bottom of its feet.

Also all monsters of a type look exactly alike. So if you’re fighting 3 trolls (which are huge) you probably want to focus on one of them at a time. But if you lose track of that one — say you get knocked across the room by a troll club — when you get re-oriented it’s really hard to know which one you’d been fighting; monsters do have health bars but they’re up over their heads and if you can’t see the head, you can’t see the health bar. Similarly if you summon a monster, it looks exactly the same as the enemy monsters, though it does get a name. Problem is, if it is a tall monster you probably won’t be able to see the name (which, again, floats over its head).

So in the end I’d just give up and mash skills and attacks and wait for stuff to die. It was mindlessly entertaining. Which for me right now was enough, but I dunno that I’d suggest anyone else go out and track this game down.

Here’s more combat footage to put all this in perspective. It is long and boring so please, if you watch, skip around through it. You don’t want to sit through the whole thing, believe me!

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