The first Dragon Quest Heroes was a game that fought against the odds. The idea of crossing over the most classic of JRPG series with the fun but mindless Warriors style of games seemed ridiculous, but DQH managed to combine both quite well, and unlike Hyrule Warriors before it, it changed up the formula to stand out from the Warriors series. Dragon Quest Heroes 2 has changed things up even further, and, despite holding itself back in a few ways, it leads the series in an intriguing new direction all its own.
If you played through the first Dragon Quest Heroes, then you'll likely remember that many of the maps ended up feeling like some sort of twist on Tower Defense games. You generally had to protect certain areas and you'd collect the medals of monsters you slew to deploy them as guards around the map. This stood as a stark contrast to typical Warriors games, where you'd be roaming around a battlefield, taking down strategic positions, and reacting to the flow of battle and the movements of enemy generals. However, while the goals of each map differed from the usual Warriors vibe, it was still very much a game of moving from level to level, but with the benefit of walking around in a hub area inbetween to spend skill points, swap party members out, and buy new gear.
Dragon Quest Heroes 2 moves away from this for the most part, taking ideas from the first title, as well as the other Warriors games, and combines them in a much more open setting. This time around you've got one big world split into zones that you can freely roam around as you move between story battles. These zones come in three types—the hub zone sits right in the center, wild zones stretch out in every direction from there for you to explore and fight baddies at your leisure, and war zones sit on the edges of the map and are home to most of your story battles.
A Slime Draws Near! Command?
The way these story battles play out varies as the game goes on, with some centered on taking out enemy spawn points and others on large-scale battles. The majority have you venturing into mini-dungeons, where you'll fight your way down the corridors of tombs or up large towers, taking out anything that dares block your path until you reach the boss. Monster medals do return from the first game, but rather than all being sentries that you place, they now come in three types—Saviors who cast a single ability then disappear, Substitutes who you take the form of in battle for a brief period, and the aforementioned Sentries.
When you think of combat in a Warriors style game, you no doubt picture a single badass hero cutting through tens of soldiers at a time, only stopping for a glance at the occasional named NPC before continuing his conquest. In Dragon Quest Heroes, instead of a single warrior you're allowed 4 that can be swapped between at a moments notice, and instead of wading through 15-20 soldiers at a time, you're often only swinging at 5 or 6 at once, at least until the particularly hectic battles towards the end.
This is because, rather than having your screen filled with mindless drones that die in a single hit, the minor enemies of DQH2 have a bit more bite for their bark. You're not likely to have a tough time with the simple monsters that get in your way, but they'll chip away when they can and some can take a bit of cutting to get through. This increase in strength carries over to the higher rank enemies as well, those who are given names and health bars.
What this means is that, when battles get rough, your screen will start to fill with these generals and meatier drones, and together they can give you a pounding if you're not careful. It makes having a healer in your group a requirement. One unfortunate side effect of all this is that, on occasion, you can watch as one or more of your three companions gets wrecked because the AI wasn't smart enough to get out of the way, forcing you to waste precious heals or even one of your very limited revives on them. It also means that the difficulty can feel like it jumps up and down as the game progresses.
But Thou Must
Speaking of companions, you'll gather a fair few. The characters themselves are often the highlight of a Warriors style game, and I'm sad to say this is one area that Dragon Quest Heroes 2 flounders a bit. Outside of four characters created for this story, the majority of your cast is made up of classic Dragon Quest characters—with a shocking number of them being from Dragon Quest 4 specifically, including ones that were in the first DQH. The problem is that some of these characters simply don't feel as fleshed out as others in battle.
You see, combat is largely as you'd expect from this sort of game, focusing on different combinations of light and heavy attacks to create a variety of combos. Though, like the first game before it, an emphasis is also placed on spells and abilities, of which four can be set beforehand and cast at any time if you have the MP. Unfortunately, many characters simply lack in combos altogether, or only have one or two versus the multiple that most sword wielders have. For instance, early on you gain access to a boomerang wielder whose entire moveset consists of “throw boomerang horizontally” or “throw boomerang vertically,” with the added bonus that if you press the button just as she catches it, the next time she'll throw two instead of one. There are no combos to be composed here, and throwing the boomerang means that you're just standing around waiting for it to slowly make its arc as you stare at it longingly waiting for it to return so that you can press the button at the right time for the next attack.
The four spells and abilities you can set help alleviate this a bit, but even the characters with fleshed out combos still get to have abilities, meaning that these more boring characters can go most of the game without being touched. It's an unfortunate stain on a largely fun time, because trying out new characters as they appear is a big part of the appeal for this type of game.
Fortunately, the two main characters this time around are incredibly versatile, as they alone can swap classes to use different weapons and abilities. If you've played any of the class-focused Dragon Quest games then you know how this works — level up a class, swap to another, level that one up, earn access to a new class and continue forevermore. It can turn the game into a bit of a grind, but it also gives you access to playstyles that you can't get from the rest of the cast. You can even turn your character into the combat staff wielding King from the first game, if you were as big a fan of his style as myself.
Thou Art a Fool!
If you didn't play the first Dragon Quest Heroes, then no worries, because the two are not connected in any way. Even the classic DQ characters that return from the first game make no mention of it. DQH2 is a standalone story about two cousins who live in a world that has known peace for a thousand years, but now someone is roaming around the world brewing trouble, convincing kingdoms to go to war. It's your job to solve this mystery and protect the peace. It's not a terribly intricate story, but it does feel at home in a Dragon Quest setting, and is largely enjoyable despite how nonsense it becomes towards the end.
To round things off there's an online element to the game, wherein you can venture into special dungeons with others in cooperative play or ask for help online for story battles from those who have already beaten the mission. The wild zones that you're allowed to roam around in also gain special bonuses depending on the day of the week, such as having more metal monsters spawn on Wednesdays to aid your grinding efforts.
What stands out to me is how all of the new elements and tweaked versions of older elements combine together to create something that, in many ways, feels less like a Warriors game and more like a proper Action-RPG. It's almost as if the team had ambitions of moving in that direction, but felt unsure about pulling too far from its roots. Who knows if we'll ever see a third game that will go all-in on that approach, but what we've been given here is a decidedly fun, if flawed, Dragon Quest adventure.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 digital code provided by the publisher. Dragon Quest Heroes 2 is available now digitally for PC as well as both digitally and physically for PS4. The game is rated T.