The opening few hours of Dragon Quest Heroes II are particularly satisfying if you've played the first entry in this spin-off series. This sequel is improved, and the difference between this and its predecessor is immediately noticeable. I was ready to love Dragon Quest Heroes II all the way through. The components are there to make a great case for why Omega Force’s Warriors-style format is a nice fit for action RPGs.
Yet oddly enough where Dragon Quest Heroes II suffers, it does so in areas and ways that are the exact opposite of the troubles of its predecessor. In a way it's almost as if the two have traded their flaws and successes - which of course is a little strange.
The first Dragon Quest Heroes faltered through repetitive mission design, chiefly demonstrated in an alarming amount of defense missions with persistent enemy waves. These missions were a slog. Still, the plot and its characters were just interesting enough to keep pushing me to see its tale to the end.
Dragon Quest Heroes II explores the flipside: instead of being confined to menus, players can freely run around to travel from area to area. Missions offer a satisfying balance, including pushing the offensive against foes to infiltrate a castle or leading an army against a fierce onslaught of enemies. Of course, the occasional defense-type objectives pop up here and there but nowhere near the frequency of its past entry. But then there's a problem - the narrative.
The gameplay tweaks are all fine and dandy until you factor in the plot and the woefully forgettable band that plays it out. This time around, a duo of aspiring knights, cousins Lazarel and Teresa, reunite with each other right before an invading nation comes knocking. They come to lend their services in aiding an enormous axe-wielder, Desdemona, to prevent another war from happening. There’s also a prophecy (of course) to preface all of this and the coming events for better or worse.
I wasn’t going into Dragon Quest Heroes II expecting an award-winning story and deep characters; this isn't the place for that. The general flow of its story beats are expected - travel to the next spot that’ll push the story forward, meet characters from other Dragon Quests, have them join you, and finish the story mission. Rinse and repeat; dull, but functional in structure.
I like when RPGs have compelling stories to tell. It doesn’t have to be awesome every time, but for lengthy games it's always good to have a good reason to keep going - to be made to feel like you're not wasting your time in its world. Given the history and prestige of the Dragon Quest series, it's hard to believe that Dragon Quest Heroes II drops the ball on this so hard - but it does.
An intriguing hook finally rears its head at around the halfway point. You’re hot on the trail on the true culprit that’s been spreading lies, misinformation, and havoc to turn the world’s inhabitants against one another. Then at the last third of Dragon Quest Heroes II, it hits you. The big twist. This is the most crucial moment of the entire story arc in the game and it is… completely laughable beyond belief; shockingly absurd not because of the actual event, but how hamfisted the execution is. It's just poor.
By this point I'd had enough and my main hope was that the main narrative would wrap itself up quickly. No such luck: the tale drags its feet and pads itself out significantly, the result a tale that feels bereft of creativity and fraught with monotony. There were about five instances in the last dungeon where I thought it would end and it refused to let me go - even after I earnestly begged it to multiple times.
I also have problematic issues with the world itself. Almost every other area in the game besides Accordia, the central hub, is labeled as a war zone. Even places you’ve supposedly pacified via the story are still crawling with monsters. Thus, there really aren’t any other feature-filled towns. This is obviously less of a bummer than the previous outstanding downfall, yet it deserves to be mentioned nonetheless.
So that's the complaining out of the way - and outside of these nasty flaws, Dragon Quest Heroes II is actually a pretty sweet game.
Earlier on I mentioned how it's a breath of fresh air for players of the first installment. The core systems are familiar enough; it’s still very much a musou beat ’em up with a Dragon Quest theme plastered on it lovingly. Each character has RPG-like growth and progression including unique attack patterns and abilities to unlock as they acquire skill points and increase their weapon proficiency.
The new character additions to Dragon Quest Heroes II are very fun to experiment with. Carver and Torneko were my favorites; one dishes out insane damage with charged attacks, while the other offers incredible party-wide support spells. Returning characters from the first Dragon Quest Heroes have also been tuned accordingly. Terry can no longer break the game in half, so I had to let him go because Maya saw substantial buffs that now make her a force to be reckoned with.
Lazarel and Teresa are both particularly malleable in their combat roles. Players can freely alter their vocations in town, which let them equip new types of weapons and gain access to different skill trees. If you’d rather see Lazarel take out enemies from a distance, consider turning him into a mage or steal items from foes as a thief. There are also secret advanced vocations that carry prerequisites to unlock.
Players will have to figure out a solid battle plan real fast; Dragon Quest Heroes II starts off fairly easy, but the difficulty begins to ramp up sharply at a certain point. Characters can equip up to four skills, so having a party with good chemistry is vital. The game is not afraid to throw dozens up dozens of enemies on you at any given time - big, small, thin, fat, gigantic, miniscule; you name it. Depending on how chaotic it gets, its performance will take a substantial hit on the PS4 though it never got to the point where it chugged or stuttered for me. In fact, it’s quite impressive how much the graphical engine can handle.
Another point of contention that I wrestled with is the poor party AI. Life is great when they start wailing on enemies properly, but getting them to do so is a chore all the time. AI members dawdling around hostile enemies is a common scene in Dragon Quest Heroes II and there’s no way to command them to use an ability or start attacking directly. Instead, you’ll have to switch to that party member and use that specific skill. It’s a minor nuisance that began to grate on my nerves as the hours piled on.
Multiplayer makes its way into Dragon Quest Heroes II as well. Players can connect with one another for story battles, but one of them must have completed the mission previously. A separate mode for several non-story related dungeons can also be tackled with other players too. My multiplayer experience is nonexistent since it hasn’t worked for me yet.
Other than those features, Dragon Quest Heroes II’s features are largely the same. Side quests, mini medal achievements, monster cataloging, dungeon diving, and New Game+ increase its staying power. Though the main story lasts a bit over 20 hours, there’s still plenty of more content beyond that.
Dragon Quest Heroes II is an odd mix. It has some super smart enhancements to gameplay but is bogged down by a terrible, messy storyline. There’s a lot of fun to be had, but you may be best served just not paying attention to the story. The game’s expansive gameplay options may feel overwhelming at first, but mastering its systems will reward you with a great action RPG to play.
Versions tested: PlayStation 4
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.