Review: Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors

DQS_Pack Art.jpg I know it has Dragon Quest in its title, but if you go into playing Dragon Quest Swords thinking it’s going to be a hardcore RPG for the Wii you’re going to be disappointed. As sort of a spiritual sequel to a plug-and-play TV game from Japan, DQS is very much a casual role-playing experience at its heart, though there are numerous throwback elements that are sure to put a smile on the faces of longtime fans of the franchise.

All the fundamental elements that the Dragon Quest games are known for are present in some form in DQS, from the Slimes, Drackies and other familiar DQ beasties, to the distinct art design stylings of Akira Toriyama, to the sweeping soundtrack artistry of Koichi Sugiyama, to the basic role-playing staples of leveling up, collecting coins and outfitting with items and equipment.

What makes DQS such a departure from past games, however, is its arcade-like, light gun-style first-person gameplay. Over the course of eight chapters spanning roughly 6-8 hours, you take on the role of a nameless hero fighting to restore peace to the kingdom of Avalonia (the story holds up well enough, but it is fairly thin overall), taking up your Wii Remote to wield as a sword, hacking and slashing to defeat foes as they stand before you.

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The game progression is setup in a mission-based format, with each chapter leading you off on an adventure to a single location at a time, be it a cave, forest, tower, etc., and providing ample time in between for town exploration, restocking equipment, upgrading swords, partaking in a few mini-games and so on and so forth. Within each mission, movement is confined to a linear path, merely requiring you to push forward on the d-pad to move onward, only stopping for random encounters at which point you take up arms against the attacking enemies by performing various gestures with the remote (and defending against their attacks by holding the B button to change your sword into a shield), with an AI-controlled companion providing spell-casting backup duties.

You can slash vertically, horizontally, diagonally and with a stabbing motion all via appropriate remote movements, and after landing enough successful blows you get a chance to unleash powerful Master Strike attacks. These special attacks add an extra layer of Wii-style fun to the game, each requiring a more elaborate form of gesturing to pull off, from pointing the remote skyward to charge it up before landing three successive strikes to drawing a figure eight pattern in rapid succession to fill a power meter as high as possible within a given time limit.

The motion-sensing recognition can be a bit spotty – diagonal strikes in particular are hard to pull off without the game mixing it up with a horizontal or vertical attack – but fortunately there aren’t that many moments requiring a specific attack over another. Creatures will occasionally rush after you in patterns, so if you don’t pull off the correct attack to thwart them in one shot you will take damage. It can definitely be frustrating. Some enemies also have weakness to certain attacks (jabbing a Cyclops in his eye stuns him and does more damage, for example), but can be defeated all the same with whatever attacks you choose to go with. The stage-ending boss battles are the most challenging and entertaining moments in the game, and as they get tougher do require some precision to slay effectively, but in general the bosses are more dependant on pattern recognition to shield from their attacks rather than the type of attacks you use. Basically, if you figure out how to block their attacks, counterattack with random slashing of the remote, and sprinkle in Master Strikes as they charge up, you can take down any foe.

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Yes, the gesture recognition could’ve been sharper, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not a huge detraction. Actually, what mostly bugs me about the game’s controls is their limited nature. I really wish Square Enix would’ve done more to give the player greater control over the game. Like the Nunchuk, I don’t understand why it wasn’t put to use, at least as a control option for more advanced players. I would like to have seen a secondary control scheme that made the Wii Remote the sword and the Nunchuk the shield so attacking and blocking were independent from one another. Something like that would’ve added a lot more to the immersion factor, in addition to just being really cool to control. With the current Wii Remote-only scheme, the d-pad movement controls are so sluggish and tank-like. You’re only ever moving in full 3D space while in town, but town exploration is a big part of the game. The Nunchuk’s analog stick would’ve been much more ideal for getting around. Hopefully if Square Enix chooses to make this a regular series for the Wii, some of these ideas will be thought about.

My affinity for Dragon Quest Swords is quite strong overall. I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing it and found the whole light gun-esque role-playing concept to be a refreshing change for a genre that can get a bit overcomplicated and long-winded for its own good at times. Dragon Quest Swords, aside from a few niggles, is a compelling gaming experience through and through, one that both series fans and newcomers should look at adding to their library. On a console without much role-playing representation, Dragon Quest Swords is the best RPG you’re going to find on the Wii right now.

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Pros:
+ First-person gameplay is a perfect fit for the Wii and provides a refreshing arcade-like change of pace to the RPG genre
+ Colorful, distinct art and excellent music, just as you’d expect from a Dragon Quest game
+ Fun boss battles
+ A lot of replay value: hidden dungeon paths, sword forging, secret bosses, unlockable Payback Mode, replayable score-based missions, etc.

Cons:
– Wii Remote recognition is a bit hit or miss at times
– New casual role-playing style may not appeal to the most hardcore DQ fans
– Wish there was a Wii Remote/Nunchuk control scheme

Game Info:
Platform: Wii
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eighting Co., Ltd.
Release Date: 2/19/08
Genre: Action/RPG
Players: 1

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!