Dragon Quest may have only cemented itself as a big deal in North America recently, but in Japan it’s been the biggest deal since the 1980s. It’s a multimedia franchise, including a classic manga series called The Adventure of Dai. A modern anime adaptation aired in 2020 and was a hit worldwide, so naturally there’s a videogame tie-in. Infinity Strash is an action RPG taking the player all the way through the anime’s story, while including nods to Riku Sanjo and Koji Inada’s best-selling manga.
This isn't Dragon Quest; this is a tribute
The Adventure of Dai is as classic as it gets in the Shonen Jump library. Dai and his friends start from the bottom and work their way up, taking down foes each more powerful than the last. Along the way they get new powers and the stakes get higher, but the bonds these friends form keep them going through it all. The Dragon Quest part is mostly an extra bit of spice, with Akira Toriyama’s famous monster designs doing the aesthetic heavy lifting.
While it never takes a home run swing that could elevate it over what you’d expect from the average licensed game, Infinity Strash is quite polished. At its worst we’re looking at a fairly repetitive hack and slash, but at its best there’s an element of card-collecting and team-building that’s like a mobile game without the nonsense. It looks and runs great as well, at least on the PlayStation 5 build we had access to for the review.
Like many other anime adaptations through gaming history, don’t expect Infinity Strash to be an onboarding experience. This game is for folks already familiar with The Adventure of Dai, or Dragon Quest sickos who just wanna beat up more slimes. But in the regular anime game tradition, the story is told “cliff notes” style, with stills from the source material filling in the blanks between more lively in-engine cutscenes hitting the big moments.
Hack and... Strash?
While the presentation is pretty boilerplate, the gameplay tries to stand out more. It’s almost hard to describe, since Infinity Strash straddles a line between something more over the top and Musou-ish and something heavier and punitive, like an arena fighter or Soulslike. There’s a lot of cooldown management for special attacks, and a basic combo that never goes further than three hits. Dodging, blocking, and parrying are important, but between all the huge VFX and elaborate animations it can feel impossible to know how and when to react. Or even see, to be frank.
Not unlike the recent Eternights, sometimes an anime-style action game stumbles on the line between style and substance. Or in these cases, challenge and cheese. Strict timing and recovery vulnerability doesn’t mesh well with hacking and slashing, and it’s weird to see games try to make it happen anyway. In Infinity Strash, a boss fight can go sour faster than you’d expect, especially if you aren’t using side missions to overlevel your party. I’d prefer games like this to pick one or the other, because not everyone can be Omega Force.
We love a good roguelike mode
Infinity Strash’s best moments appear in a supplemental mode that’s very much roguelike-flavored, and fuels a fairly dense party build customization system. As you progress through the story you unlock further “layers” in the Temple of Recollection, which give you more opportunities to earn "Bond Memory" cards. These cards use art from the manga rather than anime, and can be equipped on your characters to earn stacks of stat bonuses. You can probably see where this is going.
The more time you spend here, the stronger the cards get, and the easier story mode gets. It’s a cyclical loop that encourages you to take breaks from the plot to go on card grinding runs. The cards are the star here, as finding new ones gives you little cutscenes paying tribute to the manga, and finding copies lets you level up. Of course the currency to pay for that comes from playing here too, and failing a run makes you drop everything you collected. If this was a mobile game it would be evil, but since no real money is involved the stakes are much lower and the grind is more humane. At the end of the day, though, it’s still a grind, and the kind of appeal that comes with isn’t unique to this game.
Old school through and through
Infinity Strash plays with its own legacy a bit, mostly by using models from Dragon Quest proper instead of imitating the manga’s art style. But the rest of the game, while fun in that lizard brain kind of way, doesn’t do a ton to separate itself from its peers. Fans of the series will have a decent time, but there’s not much here for folks on the outside. If you’re curious about Dragon Quest as a whole, we recommend starting elsewhere.
Infinity Strash: Dragon Quest The Adventure of Dai is launching on September 28, 2023 for the PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. A PS5 code was provided by the publisher for this review.
- Great performance on PS5
- Fun progress loop with collecting cards in the roguelike mode
- Lots of customization for party builds
- Somewhat confused combat that doesn't stand out
- Tons of time spent on story slideshows
- Grinding feels expected