There are far worse things to do with an afternoon than spending it on Dragon Quest Heroes II. For instance, playing a game that doesn’t let you fight with warfans.
Much like its predecessor, Dragon Quest Heroes II blends the popular RPG series with the high-energy slash-em-up action play of Dynasty Warriors and its ilk. Large battlefield confrontations between opposing generals in so-called War Zones are broken up by more mundane gathering quests, excursions through Wild Zone fields and forests, and lots of loot. Divided as it is between these two styles of game, Dragon Quest Heroes II manages to be adequate at both — and excels at neither.
Players assume the role of either Lazarel or Teresa, a pair of cousins living in a peaceful kingdom before they find themselves swept up in a growing conflict. While most of the other characters who show up to join the hero’s party have set jobs and weapons, Lazarel and Teresa are chameleons. They can assume any vocation — and the sooner that change is made the better.
That’s because the key to having a good time with Dragon Quest Heroes II (or Warriors games in general) is finding the perfect weapon. Warriors games are well known for the bevy of weapons on offer, ranging from common ones like swords and axes to the more uncommon finds like whips and cards, each with a wildly different style. This was what drew me to the series in the first place (I will play literally anything that gives me warfans as a weapon option), and Dragon Quest Heroes II’s armory is every bit as expansive. Consequently, finding the weapons that suit your style best is every bit as important as picking a balanced party or suiting up with the best gear.
Each vocation levels up separately, but with the help of experience boosts, solo/multiplayer dungeons and optional bosses it’s not too tedious to catch up. Careful scheduling can also be a big help, as different in-game bonuses are available depending on the day of the week. Thursdays are the best days to find rare ingredients used to upgrade your gear for instance, while other days affect experience rates, enemy types, gold earnings and so on.
As was the case in the first game, the crux of combat remains each character’s tension meter. Every hit landed in battle builds this meter up, and once it’s full they can launch into an invincible state, deliver a few cost-free hits while the meter runs down, and then cap it off with an extremely powerful coup-de-grace finisher. Adding even more variety to the combat, defeated monsters occasionally drop medals that can be used to summon them in battle. Some monsters fight alongside the player, others pop as a one-shot ability, while still other coins let the player character assume the monster’s form and fight with their unique skills for a short time.
The similarities continue. Accessory upgrades can be still crafted, side quests undertaken to earn rewards and unlock special perks. Even the UI is very similar, with the exception of a serious downgrade to the skill window. While the old one was partitioned tidily, the new version is a mess of nodes that required a lot of sifting every time I popped in to spend a few points on any of the dozen characters available.
Broadly, Dragon Quest Heroes II vacillates between making me appreciate the old and starving me for something fresh. The franchise’s devotion to nostalgia is especially evident in a soundtrack that anyone who has ever brushed against the franchise will recognize — and I’m not going to pretend I found it as endearing as I did even 6 months ago when I was neck-deep in Dragon Quest Builders. Those midi-ish tones and chimes worked well for me in the context of a cutesy sandbox adventure, but their use in Dragon Quest Heroes II left me longing for a further evolution or rearrangement to make them fit the game’s presentation just a little better.
A little bit of nostalgia can be charming, and sometimes Dragon Quest Heroes II gets that right. The reappearance of familiar characters, the use of some old-school sound effects, metal and liquid metal slimes whizzing around begging to be smooshed — there are countless callbacks and hat-tips that do just enough to spark a fan’s fondness without putting off a relative newbie. In general there are a lot of thoughtful touches in this game worth appreciating, like the random names assigned to summoned monsters (a mummy named Chris Swaddle was easily my favorite) and the light dusting of snow that appears when characters are roaming the icy mountains.
There are a lot of areas like this where Dragon Quest Heroes II succeeds me, little things to praise like the attack effects, the weapon designs, the voice acting — heck, they have a child-voiced character who inserts the word "goo" into every sentence and it never once grated on me. But even with those little successes, I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for Dragon Quest Heroes II. It spends a great deal of time up front establishing the world’s big, open Wild Zones, but gives them a bare minimum amount of personality compared to the battlefields and puzzle maps that comprise its War Zones.
Beyond making players run through them to unlock the next War Zone, these in-between spaces are only ever justified with a series of irritating wild goose chases and McGuffin hunts toward the end of the game. Most of the time they’re simply spaces to teleport across or grind in a game where grinding is seldom necessary.
I also quickly lost my patience with the way enemies behave. Most move slowly and don’t get aggressive and follow as predictably as I’d like, meaning that it’s all but impossible to gather a truly massive group together and mow them down (a deeply satisfying part of playing Dynasty Warriors.) Bosses also have a nasty habit of honing in player-controlled character over anyone else. Even while swapping from one character to the next in my party and using items to encourage the likelihood of one character being targeted over others their attention simply followed me, which limits the strategies available for tougher fights and also just feels a bit cheap. I had to be slower, more thoughtful, more patient as a result, and that’s honestly not what I come to this kind of game for.
What I like about Warriors games is the noise. Not just sound, but visual noise, tactile noise. Numbers all over the screen, swarms of enemies animating in unison as they all take the same blow, thumbs jamming on buttons, crashes and clatters, sweeps of light and color, whirling fans and magic and nonsense. But it’s noise in a tidy and predictable way that keeps it from being overwhelming, noise that I’m conducting, with all my square-square-triangle presses keeping the tempo.
Dragon Quest Heroes II never quite nailed that feeling for me. Even the moments it came closest were diluted with errand-like story quests and obstinate A.I.
Dragon Quest Heroes II is exactly the kind of game that, one year from now, I won’t even remember playing. It’s entertaining enough, but in spite of that it never quite finds its stride. Each of its highest moments come with the knowledge of what the game is grasping towards but can’t quite reach, both as an RPG and as a Warriors game.
But at least it let me use warfans.
Dragon Quest Heroes 2 was reviewed using a retail PS4 code provided by Square-Enix. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics statement here.