Dragon Quest Heroes II Review
So the first Dragon Quest Heroes game came out in 2015, right around the same time as what felt like a zillion other musou hack and slash titles were hitting store shelves (musou is roughly translated as Dynasty Warriors... no, it's not). The game combined the RPG style of the Dragon Quest series with the smash buttons/kill everything approach of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, and while the results were better than just decent, they found themselves overshadowed by the juggernaut that was Hyrule Warriors on Nintendo's Wii U and 3DS systems. Now we have a sequel in the form of Dragon Quest II: Twin Kings and the Prophecy's End, and while this sequel is still based on the same core gameplay, it improves on so much that felt wrong with the first game.
The story is typical Dragon Quest RPG stuff, but it feels closer to an RPG-style story than the first game. The plot revolves around cousins who are thrust into a war between two previously peaceful kingdoms, and of course there are (predictable) plot twists and a prophecy to fulfill. On paper, this summary could account for literally dozens of RPGs, most notably the recent Fire Emblem: Shadows of Valentia on 3DS. Copycat plot aside, it does a good job of engaging the player and even tosses in some recognizable characters from Dragon Quest games for good measure. Since the plot of the first game felt almost non-existent, the renewed emphasis here on storytelling and even some amazingly beautiful cutscenes is a welcome change.
Bringing the plot together leads to the next major improvement. Instead of the Monster Hunter-style of simply selecting skirmishes from a menu, DQ2 tosses players into a semi-open world that grows in size as you complete missions and open up new areas. This simple choice makes the game feel more like a Dragon Quest RPG than it does a Dynasty Warriors hack and slash game, and for most of the adventure it works well and draws the player in much better than the first.
The customization here feels vastly improved too. Your characters can level up, change classes and allocate stats however you may choose, forging a deeper connection between the player and the heroes. The much maligned monster medals of the first game make a return, but now they don't come off as a boring afterthought. Tamed monsters can not only help you in battle, but they can also grant you new powers and even transform your characters into unstoppable machines of destruction for a limited time. I can name at least 3-5 RPGs I've played this year that do the same, but it gives DQ2 a much needed shot in the arm.
But speaking of moving toward a more traditional RPG, one part of DQ2 had me seeing red and wishing for one of those spring-loaded boxing gloves I could use to destroy my TV. There are a lot of different types of missions beyond the Dynasty Warriors "murder hundreds of enemies at once" style, with some working better than others. The stealth and escort missions are about as fun here as they are in most other games (i.e. not at all), but the huge boss fights and the introduction of proper dungeons more than makes up for these two. And while that's all well and good, the move toward a traditional RPG meant, for the developers at least, the introduction of puzzle elements. By the second or third teleport or NPC- based puzzle, the flow of the game was so broke I almost wanted to put it down altogether. These non-battle sequences are painfully slow and almost feel like they belong in some other game and got included here by accident. The contrast between fast-paced action and flipping switches in a certain order to progress is a night and day difference that might work in other games, but here it is just a giant mess.
Puzzle infuriation and stolen tropes from other RPGs do drag down the experience, but when compared to the first game, DQ2 is a revelation. The story, characters and open world make the game feel like so much more than a "mash attack til everything is dead" musou title M.O., and the move toward a traditional Dragon Quest game over a hack and slash title makes a huge difference. If Dragon Quest, Dynasty Warriors or action-RPGs are your wheelhouse, there is more than enough here to keep you busy for between 30 and 50 hours.
Final Rating: 82% - More than just another mash attack til everything is dead game.