As long time Dragon Quest fans, 2014's Dragon Quest Heroes certainly raised a few eyebrows when it was announced. With real-time battles, combat-heavy missions and no real world to explore, it went against pretty much everything we thought a Dragon Quest game should be. Luckily, though, our worries turned out to be completely off base, and Dragon Quest Heroes went on to become one of our favourite games in the series, stuffed full of likeable characters, plenty of puns and epic battles. It may not have been the traditional Dragon Quest we're admittedly still pining for, but it was a solid game in its own right - and now, it's back for a second go, in the form of imaginatively titled hack and slash adventure, Dragon Quest Heroes II.
The land of Dragon Quest Heroes II is a traditionally peaceful place, where seven realms have lived in harmony for the past thousand years. However, a millenia of peace soon grinds to an abrupt halt, when a shock assassination sparks a surprise conflict between two of the formerly friendly nations. Under the guidance of the High King's bodyguard-come-emmisary Desdemona, it's up to you to travel throughout the seven kingdoms, unravelling an underhanded plot to embroil each of them in a war and fulfil an ancient prophecy.
Along the way, you'll meet up with all kinds of characters who'll join your merry band of adventurers, many of which have appeared in past Dragon Quest games. Through circumstances that aren't immediately clear, they find themselves mysteriously lost in your world, and tag along in the hope you'll eventually find a way to get them home - including everyone's favourite portly Irish travelling salesman and accidental adventurer, Torneko Taloon, fresh out of Dragon Quest IV.
Unlike its predecessor, Dragon Quest Heroes II is a little less like Dynasty Warriors: Dragon Quest edition, and heavier on the adventure - there's towns to visit; forests, deserts and swamps to explore; and side quests a plenty to fill in your time. While in the last game, you essentially went from battle to battle and mission to mission, clearing out enemies and capturing bases in each area before moving on to the next, there's now a vast world to explore, characters to chat to, and secrets to discover. Of course, there's still plenty of scripted big battles and boss fights to take part in too - but outside of them, you're largely free to wander as you please. It's a tweak that makes Dragon Quest Heroes II feels a lot more like a Dragon Quest game, and it's all the better for it.
These two main aspects - the open-ended exploration, and the more mission-based battles - complement each other to create a polished little Dragon Quest-y adventure. Generally speaking, the bulk of your time is spent traversing the fields, forests and deserts of the world, as you move from story segment to story segment, running into new characters, working your way around road blocks and leaping to the defence of locals, who're inevitably being accosted by the errant wildlife. Each 'Wild Zone' area, essentially the wildernesses between towns, is crawling with monsters cruisin' for a bruisin', often travelling in packs of two dozen Slimes, twenty odd mallet wielding Hammerhoods or oodles of bandit mask wearing Platypunks (and many more familiar Dragon Quest monsters), all ready to ambush you should you wander too close.
Being as you're incredibly outnumbered, it's fortunate that the combat in Dragon Quest Heroes II is all about flashy, over-the-top sword swings that send enemies flying - eschewing Dragon Quest's traditional turn-based pick-your-moves-from-a-list battle system, Heroes II continues the trend of fast-paced, button-mashy, real-time battles, first introduced in its predecessor. Depending on the control system you choose (whether you prefer the simplicity of the 'Quick Controls' or want more manual control over your combos with 'Slick Controls'), combat revolves around using different combinations of the attack buttons for different combo attacks, peppered with the odd dodge roll, magic spell or special ability. Both the starting male and female characters (the blue-haired Lazarel and pink-haired Teresa respectively) begin as straightforward warriors, specialised in sword skills, but as you play you'll unlock the ability to switch classes, weapons and abilities, letting you mix things up a bit (and change back should you not like it).
At certain points in the story, you'll get to take on more scripted battles, each in their own self-contained battlefield a la the original Dragon Quest Heroes. As before, the stages are filled with huge armies of enemies you'll need to plough your way through - however compared to the original Dragon Quest Heroes, which centred around taking out 'commander' enemies and securing points on a map, there's a lot more variety in the sequel. While the traditional mow-down-all-the-enemies missions are still present and correct, there's also big boss fights, maze-like dungeons littered with false floors, spike traps and switch puzzles, and protection missions to name but a few - even a bit of stealth thrown in for good measure. It brings some much-needed variety to the table, and makes Dragon Quest Heroes II feel like more of an adventure than its predecessor, which felt more like a Dynasty Warriors clone dressed up in Dragon Quest gear at times.
One neat feature that's worth mentioning - and one that lets you quickly change the tide in battle - are the Monster Medals, familiar to anyone who played the first Dragon Quest Heroes. Dished out seemingly at random when you defeat a particular type of monster, each medal effectively contains the 'soul' of the creature it came from, which can be called upon in the heat of battle to lend you a hand. Different medals have different effects, with some simply summoning a Mummy Boy to fight along side you, others bringing an explosive Grinade in to blow a hole in your enemy's defences, while others still simply buff you, or cast spells to make your opponent's dance uncontrollably (we're looking at you, Mud Mannequins). The best of the bunch, though, are those that let you transform into the creature in question - usually the biggest and burliest of the bunch - for a limited time, dealing massive damage to your enemies, whether you're laying into your enemies with a stone Golem's heavy punches, or raining down serious arrow-based destruction as a robotic Hunter Mech.
To top it all off, Dragon Quest Heroes II also adds support for multiplayer - albeit only online, and not locally (boo!). Adding the ability to take up to three pals along with you, either to lend a hand with a tricky story mission or as a resource-gathering exercise in a preset multiplayer dungeon, having a few competent mates with you can help you make light work of any bad guys (especially as your computer-controlled party can be a bit lacking at times). However, there are a few caveats to the system; for starters, you can only be invited to join in with story missions you've already completed (presumably to avoid any potential spoilers), and your friend needs to explicitly ask for your help first. You'll also be booted out of the lobby upon completion, so it's not really a sneaky way to play through the game in co-op - more just a way to lend a helping hand to a struggling friend, like the nice guy/guyette you are.
In all, Dragon Quest Heroes II takes everything that was great about its predecessor and builds on it to create a much more Dragon Quest-y adventure - there's more of a story, more exploration and more role-playing game quirks fleshing out what was already a pretty darn addictive adventure. Fans of Dragon Quest will appreciate all the references, cameos and familiar pun-tastic jokes, while newcomers should like it for its winning sense of humour, fun and frantic battles and oodles of secrets and side quests to keep you busy. As your friendly beret-wearing healslime Healix would say, its goo-reat!