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

Platform(s): Wii
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix


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

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 2, 2008 @ 6:52 a.m. PST

Square Enix announced the latest title in the Dragon Quest universe, and the first to make the jump to next-generation consoles, Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors will be released for the Nintendo Wii.

Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Genius Sonority
Release Date: February 19, 2008

As soon as the Wii's controller was announced, gamers' thoughts sprang to swordfights. Be it regular swords or lightsabers, everyone wants to see a sword game on the Wii. The unique controller and motion-sensitive actions seem like they would be a match made in heaven, but so far, all of the sword-based games on the Wii have done little to live up to this ideal. Despite the obvious idea and market desire, it's much harder to re-create sword-fighting on the Wii than it would appear. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was built more on waggling the controller than mimicking sword-fighting motions, and No More Heroes allows the player's stance to matter, but not his actions.

The latest attempt comes from Square Enix in the form of a spin-off of its classic Dragon Quest franchise. Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors is a usual title. It's technically the follow-up to an unusual plug-and-play title released only in Japan called Kenshin Dragon Quest , which had a controller shaped like a sword and shield that were hooked directly into the TV, and players had to slash their way through classic Dragon Quest foes using the motion-sensitive controller. It isn't difficult to see why Square Enix decided that the Wii was perfect for a follow-up to this title. The question is, were they right?

In some ways, Dragon Quest Swords is the sequel to a game that doesn't exist. Your character is the nameless son of a famous swordsman, Claymore, who, along with another group of heroes, defeated the evil villain Xiphos the Deathbringer a few years ago. Since then, their world has been at peace. But on the dawn of your character's 16th birthday, a number of strange events begin to occur. A mysterious scaled beast has been sighted in the water nearby, the Queen has taken to wearing an unusual mask and refusing visitors, and whispers of Xiphos' former army growing in strength abound. Your father, Claymore, lost his arm in the final battle against Xiphos, so it is up to you, his son and the most skilled swordsman in the kingdom, to discover exactly what is going on and put an end to it before the hard-won peace for which your father fought is extinguished.

Dungeons in Dragon Quest Swords resemble nothing so much as controllable rail shooters. In many ways, it functions identically to cult hit Killer 7 ; players are set on a linear path and press up or down on the d-pad to move along it. Occasionally, you'll be given a choice of a direction to proceed in, which can lead to dead ends, treasures or continuing deeper into the dungeon. You keep moving forward until you reach the end of the level, at which point you fight a boss and achieve victory. It's fairly simple, but simple isn't necessarily bad. The linear path means that the gameplay keeps flowing in a quick and smooth way, and rarely do you encounter any sort of "bad" choice when the path splits occur. At worst, you find a dead end with a mimic chest, but even that has its rewards in the form of gold and experience points. Traveling through the dungeons is fairly simple, but you're going to be doing a lot of fighting as well, and that is where Dragon Quest Swords ' appeal really lies.

The combat in Dragon Quest Swords is quite simple. Once you get into a random encounter, enemies start flittering and moving across the screen. To attack, you simply swing your Wiimote in the direction you want to slash. Swinging sideways slashes sideways, vertically slashes vertically, and thrusting at the screen performs a power stab attack that can only hit one enemy. You can alter the "focal point" of your sword slash by pointing at an area on the screen and pressing A, which recenters your attack on that point; this is a crucial skill, since enemies don't tend to hang out on the middle of the screen.

Defending against enemy attacks is done using your shield. Pressing B brings up your shield onscreen as a transparent image controlled by the Wiimote. Enemy attacks appear as flashing icons, and defending requires moving your shield onto those icons before the attack hits. Succeed, and you take zero damage, but fail, and your character suffers. The downside to blocking is that shields have limited durability. Every attack they block removes some of their durability, shrinking the size of the shield and eventually rendering it useless. Thus, the only way to complete succeed in combat is to play an offensive game, and defend only when necessary; otherwise, you'll find yourself on the edge of the boss with only a fist-sized chunk of metal to protect you.

The big problem here is that the slashing mechanic is just not accurate. You have to hold the Wiimote in a certain way, slash in a certain way, and even when it seems as if you've done every single thing correct, you'll find that it only registers accurately maybe one-third of the time. A sideways slash becomes a diagonal slash, a vertical slash becomes a stab, and it quickly becomes aggravating when you suffer unfair damage simply because the game didn't correctly register your attacks. Enough practice with the game will eventually let you get your accuracy up to maybe two-thirds of the time, but even that is still an aggravating rate of failure through no error of your own.

Dragon Quest Sword 's inaccurate controls are not enough to ruin the game, though, because the low difficulty level means that it is very forgiving of inaccuracy. You can generally wildly slash your way through many of the fights, assuming you're not going for super-high rankings, and even achieving a high ranking depends more on working the scoring system than any actual skill on the player's part. Your enjoyment of Dragon Quest Swords is going to come down entirely to how much you're willing to fight with the controls. If you get frustrated or annoyed easily, you're simply not going to enjoy the title, but if you're willing to put the time into learning its foibles, then you can have an enjoyable, if sometimes exasperating, experience.

Beyond your sword, you have a few other abilities that you can use in combat, but they take the form of infrequently used super moves. Master Strokes are special attacks gained whenever you get a new weapon; the better your weapon, the more Master Strokes you get. Activating the Master Strokes involves filling up a super bar just below the hero's HP, which is done by repeatedly striking foes. Once it is at 100%, you can activate the cinematic Master Stroke of your choice. Master Strokes generally involve making a few motions with your Wiimote, like thrusting it into the air or shaking it, followed by slashing at the foe for massive damage. They're useful when you need to do major damage to bosses or really want to clear the screen, but they take a while to recharge, so most gamers will probably end up saving them for the boss battles.

Besides your main character and his moves, you also have access to a small selection of additional party members. Unless the plot dictates otherwise, you can bring along one of your party members when you enter a dungeon. Party members don't actually fight in combat, but they assist the player by casting magic from the sidelines. At any time, the player can bring up the game's menu and select a spell to cast, including healing spells, screen-clearing magic spells and character-buffing status-boosting spells. Each use of these spells drains that character's MP, and using them willy-nilly will leave your ally drained of MP before you're even halfway through the dungeon. You can also set these characters to cast spells automatically, but this is just an unwise idea. The character AI isn't terrible, but with MP conservation being so important, it is frankly silly to allow them to toss out magical spells without your control. More often than not, they'll blow 10 MP on blasting a pathetic enemy or heal your character when you'd much rather use an item. Support characters also have their own HP bar, which goes down at the same time as your character's. However, since they're generally squishier than your sword-wielding protagonist, they'll oftentimes go down before he does, unless you keep them properly healed.

As a Dragon Quest spin-off, Dragon Quest Swords isn't without its fair share of RPG elements. Every enemy you defeat, much like in a classic RPG, will drop EXP and gold. Gain enough EXP, and your character will level up, which will allow him to do more damage and gain more HP and attack strength. Your support characters can also level up, assuming they come into the dungeon with you, and they can gain new spells and more HP. You can also buy new weapons and armor in town, and depending on the equipment, they'll either improve your defense and attack power or increase the number of points you get by providing a handicap.

In short, it's a lot like most RPGs, except with rail-shooter-inspired combat system instead of the classic turn-based fights. The good aspect of this is that you can build up your characters, gain new strategies and abilities, and otherwise do everything you can in an RPG. The downside is that it introduces level grinding where it just doesn't work well. While it's reasonably possible to run through most of the game by only playing each stage once, you'll have a much harder time, be low on cash, have inferior abilities and not have the materials and items required to obtain better weapons. That means you'll have to replay the stages to grind for levels, which can become tedious very quickly. Once again, your enjoyment of this is directly related to how well you can work the controls. If you can work past the aggravating touchiness of the combat system, you don't have to grind much at all. If you can't, be prepared to see the same stages a few times.

The town in Dragon Quest Swords is a bit different. Unlike the dungeons and the world map, you actually wander freely around the town, which is fully modeled. This is potentially the most aggravating and frustrating part of the entire game. For no apparent reason, the developers added 3-D exploration in this area, and this area only. Instead of being able to quickly and simply access shops and menus, you have to wander slowly around the town, dealing with loading screens and boring locals, just to do some basic shopping. This is aggravating enough since it feels so out of place with the rest of the game, but the controls in this area are also terrible. Movement is controlled using the d-pad and Resident Evil -style tank controls, which are both uncomfortable and slow. There is nothing natural or smooth about moving through the tow; you'll fight the controls the entire time and wish you were back out in the dungeons. If the town were perhaps a bit smaller or there were fewer loading screens, this might not be as annoying an issue, but it is almost certainly one of the weakest points of the game.

If you go into Dragon Quest Swords expecting a full-length RPG, you're going to be disappointed. Even with level-grinding stage replays, the full story tops out at about eight hours or so. Admittedly, there is some replay value in the form of achieving a high ranking, a couple of hidden bosses, an unlockable hard mode, and a few multiplayer minigames, but they do little to really increase the playtime. Unless you find yourself really enjoying Dragon Quest Sword 's unique brand of gameplay, you'll probably end up putting it away once you finish the main quest.

The multiplayer minigames offer little multiplayer innovation. They're mostly simple games involving catching thrown darts or slaying slimes. The Wii offers a number of better multiplayer experiences, and there is absolutely no reason why gamers should select Dragon Quest Swords over Wii Sports for their multiplayer fun.

Dragon Quest Swords holds to the current Dragon Quest trend of looking simply fantastic. Combining Dragonball Z creator Akira Toriyama's expressive and recognizable designs with top-notch cel-shading has resulted in an extremely visually pleasing experience. The animations are all quite good, and the actual combat sequences flow incredibly smoothly into one another. Perhaps the only complaint one can make is in repetition. We've seen many of these models before, and while they're still charming and well-animated, they don't hold the same impact as they did in Dragon Quest 8 , nor do they push the system impressively like in Dragon Quest: Joker . Still, it's a great-looking title, and it serves as further proof that Square Enix really knows how to bring Toriyama's designs to life.

The audio in Dragon Quest Swords is both quality and a bit of a disappointment. The voice acting, much like Dragon Quest 8 , uses a blend of varying European accents and languages to give the game a very unique flavor. The voice actors are generally quite good, although a few stumble here and there, but not enough to be a bother. The only real disappointment comes in the pure amount of repeat tracks. Dragon Quest 8 had a great soundtrack, but it's practically duplicated in Dragon Quest Swords . The classic Dragon Quest tunes are enjoyable and sound great, but the general lack of new and interesting songs hurts a bit.

Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors is fun but difficult to recommend. If you can get past the shaky controls and low replay value, you'll have a fun experience, especially if you're a Dragon Quest fanatic. However, if the controls aggravate you, the entire experience is going to be more of a chore than a game, and those gamers who lack the time or patience to fight the system to the point where they can enjoy themselves will want to pass on Dragon Quest Swords . If you can get beyond these issues, Dragon Quest Swords is a fun, if rather forgettable, experience. However, even ignoring the gameplay issues, Dragon Quest: Sword 's relatively short length means that most gamers will probably burn through it in a weekend. The relatively low replay value and frustrating controls don't encourage gamers to replay it for a high score, in the way that they may play Ghost Squad or Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles . Unless you're a die-hard Dragon Quest fan, it might be best to wait for a price drop or simply pass on Swords altogether.

Score: 6.5/10

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