3D Dot Game Heroes – Staff Review

When I was a young boy in kindergarten, my parents bought me a brand new Nintendo Entertainment System. I used to sit in bed thinking about what games would look like in the future. I imagined that games would take your picture, and instead of Mario’s head, you’d see your own. With games like the arcade version of Mario Kart, that became a reality. I also thought that games would be in 3D, but at the time, I couldn’t even imagine that today’s graphics would be such detailed models with hundreds or thousands of polygons. I envisioned pixels, stacked on top of one another building a world. As the years went by, I chalked that fantasy up to boyhood dreaming and to the silly thoughts of a five-year-old. Now with 3D Dot Game Heroes, I’ve found that I wasn’t the only one to have this idea.

The story begins, as RPGs so often do, with a great evil terrorizing the land. Not surprisingly, a hero emerged from the populace to save the world with the help of six sages, each carrying an orb. The hero was unable to kill the monster plaguing the world, but he was able to seal its power within a dark orb. Naturally, a period of peace and prosperity followed, and many people visited the kingdom of Dotnia to see the home of the great hero, but over time, people stopped coming to see to the castle. This lack of tourism greatly worried the current king, so in his infinite wisdom, he declared that nobody cared about 2D worlds anymore. From that point on, Dotnia would be in 3D. Overnight, the world literally sprung up, but somewhere in all the excitement, the dark orb was stolen. So once again, the kingdom of Dotnia is in peril. As luck would have it, the player happens to be a descendant of the hero of legend and is up to the task of saving the world.

Some would call 3D Dot Game Heroes a Zelda clone or even go so far as to call it a rip off. Clearly these people have not played the game. It is very similar to Zelda, but that is for a very good reason; 3D Dot Game Heroes is an homage to not just Zelda, but also to Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. The game combines many of the gameplay elements of Zelda with a graphical style similar to Dragon Quest. Throw in some humor and copious amounts of references to the source material, and you start to see that the developers are paying loving tribute to the games of yesteryear. Take for instance a man who cannot decide whether he should marry his childhood friend or the daughter of a wealthy family. He confides that he’s leaning toward the wealthy girl, but only because she has a better spell set. People that have played Dragon Quest V will immediately get the reference and get a pretty good laugh out of it. Other games also get a nod or two; players of Atlus’ Demon’s Souls may relate to a girl wanting to trade some “Demon” game because it is too hard.

I call it The Compensator.
I call it The Compensator.

Another way that 3D Dot Game Heroes harkens back to Dragon Quest is in its main character and his resemblance to Erdrick. But if you don’t like that, feel free to play another character. Perhaps you’d like to be a ninja. Or maybe you like many of the enemy models better. Or if none of those suit your fancy, why not play such characters as Santa, a car, or a shark that somehow swims in the earth and surfaces to attack. There are dozens of character models to choose from, but if none suit your fancy, the game invites you to create your own or modify an existing one. I chose to pallate swap the main character’s armor from blue to a much cooler looking orange.

Combat in the game will be familiar to anyone that has played the Legend of Zelda. The game takes place roughly in a ¾ perspective where your chosen protagonist walks around fighting the many monsters you find with your sword, shield, and one equipped subweapon. The major difference between Zelda and 3D Dot Game Heroes is that in Zelda, when you have full health, your sword is stronger and may possibly shoot beams. In 3D Dot Game Heroes, at full health, your sword is more powerful, and it might also shoot beams. Oh, and your sword will be huge, possibly as large as about fifty percent of the screen. This tweak on the gameplay is huge, no pun intended. While you have full health, you are essentially invincible, but when you get hit, you must struggle to either get back to full health or even stay alive. As such, you will die, and it will happen frequently. And since you restart with full health after death, you will sometimes die on purpose because it’s easier to die than get the necessary health apples, which serve as a convenient replacement for hearts.

As mentioned before, you will also have several subweapons, many of which will be immediately familiar. Classics like a boomerang and a bow and arrow are among the first things you will collect. You will also get a new magic spell after finishing each dungeon, and several will be critical to finishing the game. For instance, one spell reflects magical attacks and is the only way to defeat the wizrobe-like enemies. Another spell freezes the room, which allows you to kill difficult enemies in a single strike.

Much like a Zelda game, 3D Dot Game Heroes is filled with dungeons. There are seven main dungeons of increasing difficulty and complexity. Dungeon difficulty is rather well balanced, with later dungeons feeling appropriately more dangerous without becoming impossible. Apart from managing the above-mentioned sword powerup through your health, dungeon combat won’t give too many players pause. That said, dungeons do occasionally mix things up with the odd puzzle or two.

At the end of every dungeon is a big boss, and most of the fights are pretty epic and satisfyingly difficult. Most bosses will require several attempts before you can win the fight, and with the exception of one particularly easy boss near the end, the difficulty scales nicely. The boss fights are made even more interesting if you wish to enter them into the bestiary, which is done by physically hitting enemies with the book a set number of times to book them. Since the bestiary resembles a very small sword, it takes a lot of skill to get the necessary hits to add the boss to your book. A trophy awaits those who fill the bestiary to the brim, though dedicated players may take on the challenge simply because it’s there.

Little did the hero know, but he was in the presence of another hero.  Yes, he was talking to Captain Obvious.
Little did the hero know, but he was in the presence of another hero. Yes, he was talking to Captain Obvious.

Graphically, the game is hard to grade. Despite the fact that this game is on the PS3, you won’t be seeing anything like the visuals from recent hits like Final Fantasy XIII. That said, the graphics work very well in their odd little way. In the world of Dotnia, everything really is comprised of block-like pixels. When you kill enemies or smash pots, these blocks scatter everywhere. There are also some pretty impressive lighting effects. When you light dark rooms with a candle, everything casts appropriate shadows. A lot of effort went into making the world cohesive and really make the 8-bit in 3D graphics work.

Not only is the game an homage to the 8-bit games from the NES, but the music is very similar as well. The data selection screen sounds a lot like the ones from Dragon Quest, and the main overworld map is reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda. In the end, the music ends up being pretty catchy, and you will probably find yourself humming along to the midi tunes. The game stays true to its pseudo 8-bit roots, including the sound effects and lack of voice acting.

Completing the game will take anywhere from 15-35 hours depending on how many side quests you go for and how much time you spend exploring. Dotnia is built on a grid of screens similar to The Legend of Zelda, and there are many hidden caves, bombable walls, and hookshot posts to find hidden life shards or chests. There are also many mini-games to play, including a particularly fun tower defense game where you build and upgrade towers to fight streams of monsters that follow a set path. Getting a perfect finish requires a lot of strategy. Once you finish the game, there is also a New Game+ option that allows you to keep any swords you collected for subsequent trips through the game.

Despite all the positives about the game, there are two minor grievances that need to be discussed. For one, the game’s camera angle makes some of the dungeons more difficult than they need to be because it slightly obscures the bottom of the screen. This issue is very minor, but it bears mention. Also, there is a lot of time-sensitive content in the game. It is very easy to miss a lot of side quests without the assistance of a guide of some sort. In order to make sure you don’t miss anything, you really have to check every person in every town after each dungeon to see if any new quests have opened up. Most quests will vanish after the next dungeon is completed, so the window is short. Simply allowing quests to be completed at any time after certain points would have remedied this issue.

Overall, the game is a lot of fun, especially if you’ve had a lot of experience with the games that much of the parody and jokes come from. Even without prior experience, anyone that enjoyed playing the 2D Zelda games will find a lot to like. Its masterful blend of quirky humor and solid game mechanics makes 3D Dot Game Heroes an excellent addition to anyone that has been playing games since the ’80s.

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