Nearly two years after it was first revealed at E3 2006, Square Enix's lengthily named Dragon Quest title for the Wii has finally made its way to European shores. Promising players the ability to wield their Wii Remote as if it were a sword, The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors has ensnared many a gamer since its announcement, but is the finished product up to scratch?
Different how, you ask? Well, for starters there is almost no exploration. The game is split up into eight distinct chapters, each of which consists of a single level that must be: accessed via an over world map, and completed before moving onto the next level/chapter. When not making your way through a particular level you are free to explore the game's one and only town, which contains a selection of shops (for purchasing items/armour/weapons, etc.), a Chapel (for saving your game), and a small selection of other buildings. Those expecting a detailed world in which to become immersed, a la classic Dragon Quest titles, will be sorely disappointed. There are only a handful of NPCs with which to interact, and none of them offer much in the way of compelling dialogue. The protagonist's companions are more interesting, but with little to no character development they ultimately fail to carry any emotional weight.
While the game does feature the usual levelling, party, and character customisation systems, they have all streamlined and simplified significantly. The former is mostly self-explanatory; offering stat upgrades that never really require your attention. The party system allows for one companion to accompany you through each level (and only once you've encountered them in the story). Once in your party, said companion can assist you with spells and abilities during battle. It's all automatic by default, but you can also instruct your partner to use a particular ability with a tap of the D-pad. Character customisation comes in the form of armour and weapon upgrades. Weapons (read: swords) can be purchased and then 'tempered', using materials found out in the field, to improve their stats. There isn't a huge variety of equipable items, and there's almost no strategy involved in their selection. While a few have specific bonuses (magic resistance, for example) the progression from weak to powerful weapons/armour is pretty linear.
To surmise what we've covered so far: if you're looking for an in-depth, 40+ hour role-playing romp then you're out of luck, but if you're more interested in having some simple fun you might want to read on. Without much in the way of engaging characters or a plot that goes beyond 'defeat the big, scary, evil guy', DQS ends up relying almost entirely on its core gameplay mechanic: sword swinging. Thankfully, we can reveal that it works well.. for the most part. While not 1:1, it is possible to initiate strikes at a variety of angles in between vertical, horizontal and 45 degree diagonal. The game's manual recommends holding the Wii Remote "proudly upright," pointing at your television, and we soon found that the penalty for not adhering to this guideline is irritating to say the least. Multiple enemies can often be attacked using a single stroke, provided you swing the Wii Remote accurately, but if the required angle is not 45, 90, or 180 degrees you're probably going to run into problems getting your sword to strike precisely where you want it to.
By default, all slashes will travel through the center of the screen, but this can be changed by setting a focus point using the A button. This eventually become essential for attacking specific targets, but can become fiddly at times. Other than slashing, it is possible to defend during battles using the B trigger to turn your pointer into a shield. The closer the attack you're blocking is to the center of your shield, the less likely it is to cause said shield to shatter. It won't take more than twenty minutes to get you're head around it all, but mastering when to attack and when to block will take a while longer. As much as the combat system is enjoyable, and it most certainly is when it's working correctly, it's not really suited to prolonged periods of play. Generally speaking, the best way to play Dragon Quest Swords is one chapter at a time, a feat that won't take more than 8 hours of your time all in all. While extremely brief as far as most Japanese RPGs go, for an arcade-esque, on-rails sword-'em-up, it feels about right. Plus, there's a selection of high-difficulty post-game content to keep die-hard players busy for a few additional hours at least.
The core sword-swinging mechanic isn't entirely perfect -occasionally misinterpreting diagonal slashes- but it works well for the most part and it is fun, albeit somewhat repetitive and subsequently unsuited to prolonged periods of gameplay.
Nothing mind-blowing, but pretty solid nonetheless. Environments, although a tad barren, are vivid and pleasing to the eye, and character models are simple but well animated. Slowdown is rare, but occasionally rears its ugly head during particularly busy encounters.
The soundtrack, composed by Manami Matsumae and Koichi Sugiyama, is excellent. It features a variety of classic Dragon Quest tracks as well as some all-new ones. Sound effects are less impressive, some being of particularly low quality. (Ripped from Kenshin Dragon Quest, perhaps?).
The main adventure is incredibly short compared to most fully-fledged RPGs, clocking in at under 8 hours, but there are at least some post-game bonus missions and a couple of mildly entertaining mini-games to keep you coming back for more.
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Dragon Quest Swords, despite it's rather unfortunate full name, is an all-round solid title. Those looking for an engrossing role-playing game with weeks worth of gameplay, deep character customization, and an interesting plot will ultimately come away disappointed, but anyone who can accept the game for what it is - a simplistic, 'arcadey' title with a couple of RPG elements thrown in for good measure - should find a few hours of solid entertainment here. It's worth a try at least, if not a purchase. Do people still rent games these days? If so, do that.
I've certainly been enjoying this more than I would have imagined. The trick is to not think of it as a full RPG, rather an on-rails shooter with a deeper than normal story...after all, it IS based on a TV plug-in game from nearly ten years ago!
Very fair review Karn, definitely. I certainly agree with the score.
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Shame it isn't a full-on massive RPG, but it does sound promising from what you've mentioned Karn! May just have a play through if someone gets their mitts on this, but otherwise will probably give it a miss for now.
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Good stuff Karn. Could be worth a look afterall...
Never been into the DQ series before but may be worth a buy if I find a bargain somewhere someday. Nice review. ^^
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