Gamescom, held in the German city of Cologne each summer is arguably the biggest games show in the world, attracting hundreds of thousands of people to it's halls each year, both press and public. Tucked away in a little corner of the massive Square Enix booth, which mostly consisted of consoles running the crazy explode-em-up, Just Cause 3, and the already-out Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae, we found a treasure trove of role-playing game goodness in the form of 3DS dungeon crawler, Final Fantasy Explorers and the upcoming Dragon Quest Heroes, the latest entry in one of our favourite franchises ever. With freebies in place to tempt any passing journalists over (even if we're still not entirely sure what the cardboard-slime-with-a-hole-mysteriously-cut-out-the-bottom was for - it did make an exceptionally good fan for the 36 dergee Cologne heat though), we wasted no time in picking up a controller, and getting stuck in.
Generally a rather traditional, turn-based and slow-paced role-playing game, the long-running Dragon Quest series is one that's quite close to our hearts, with it's cutesy enemies, likeable stories and characters, all wrapped up with a pun-tastic sense of humour. Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below, to give it it's full and rather lengthy title, however, takes the series in a rather different direction, by grabbing a stable of recognisable characters from games gone by and mashing them up into an action-filled role-playing game that almost seems at odds with the series' routes. Turning a sprawling role-playing game into a mission-based hack-and-slash seemed more than a little iffy to us seasoned Dragon Questers on paper - but as it turns out, we were pleasantly surprised.
The level we played - 'Feld der Fieslinge', which seems to roughly translate to 'creepy field' - was, well, a field filled with enemies, basically. Weirdly enough, it didn't actually seem all that creepy though, given it's lush greenery, rolling hills and ruins, and abundance of smiling enemies. In fact, that was one of the most noticeable parts of Dragon Quest Heroes - quite how many enemies there were roaming the land, usually in fairly large groups - kind of like teenagers on a Friday night. From the perpetually happy Slimes and Dracky bat-like creatures to the fuzzy little Sanguinis and Slime Knights, who ride their noble slimy steeds like a space hopper, all the series staple enemies were present and correct - only in much bigger numbers than before.
Our team meanwhile was a hotchpotch of past Dragon Quest companions - under the command of the new Heroes male protagonist, Luceus, we had Dragon Quest VIII's red-haired Jessica, priestly guard Kiryl from Dragon Quest IV, and a blonde woman we didn't really recognise. You can switch between any of your party members at any time, so if you prefer to hit things up as a mage, are better at offering support as a healing priest or like the more close-quarters combat of a knight, you can choose a character to suit your play style, with the remaining members left to their own devices, automatically following your lead to attack the enemies alongside you.
Attacking the hordes is straight-forward enough - with no turn based battles, or even defined battles to speak of, anyone you can see, you can pummel, with different combinations of the two attack buttons letting you make various combos, and the jump button letting you juggle enemies in the air or leap after the more high-flying bad guys. Dotted all around the small-ish map, you need to beat all the enemies on the screen to finish the stage - including the bigger, stronger boss.
As you'd likely expect, the boss we came across was an old recurring Dragon Quest foe too - this time a giant Golem surrounded by a handful of Skeleton minions. Working in much the same way as the other skirmishes, except on a much larger, and potentially more deadly scale, the boss put up a heck of a fight compared to the Slimes, Drackys and Sanguinis we'd been ploughing through - and actually killed us once during the battle. Thank God we were somehow resurrected to continue the fight - although we're still not entirely sure whether it's an automatic thing, or Kiryl the Priest's magical revive spell was responsible. Either way, we did manage to finish off the pesky Golem in the end.
It was around here, towards the end of our demo, we discovered R1 brought up a shortcut menu, with a handful of magic spells/special moves to pick from - but as everything was in German, we could only really guess at what they were. Pieced together from our handy little German dictionary, Infernohieb and Flamenhieb sound like they're largely interchangeable - an 'inferno strike' and a 'flaming strike', whilst the final 'Zack' seems to translate as a 'jab' of some sort. Each ate up a chunk of your character's magic gauge to use, but unlike the more traditional Dragon Quest games, it did seem to recover over time without the need for potions and such, letting you break out the fiery sword strikes way more often than you otherwise might.
Even if we're a tad disappointed that Dragon Quest Hereoes isn't the next 'proper' entry in the Dragon Quest series of adorable role-playing games (for that, we'll have to wait for the recently announced - and gorgeous - Dragon Quest XI), it still stood up as a very Dragon Quest-y take on the Dynasty Warriors-style, fast-paced hack-and-slash formula. And despite our doubts, we actually rather enjoyed our time with the more action-orientated role-playing game, and look forward to seeing how it balances it with the more traditional, story-based Dragon Quest we've come to know and love.
Dragon Quest Heroes will be hitting the Playstation 4 later this year, on the 16th October - and if you fancy splashing out a bit on a fancy edition WITH A CUDDLY SLIME, you might want to head over to the Square Enix Online Store, stat!