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Review #164

Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and Tower of Mirrors (Wii)
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Genius Sonority Inc.
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date:2/20/2008

Wow. I’m reviewing a Square-Enix game. The last game I reviewed by this publisher was back on 11/14/2006 with Final Fantasy XII. I generally haven’t been a fan of what has come out of Square-Enix since the merger. Games like Valkyrie Profile 2, Dragon Quest VIII and the remake of “Ogre Tactics with a slightly different set of graphics to get the Squaresoft fanboys to buy a quality RPG for once” have left me cold. Except, oddly enough, for FFXII which I really liked.

So what made me interested in picking up the review chores for Dragon Quest Swords? Especially as other sword based games like Red Steel and Samurai Warriors: Katana have basically sucked. Well two big reasons. The first is that the only other RPG I have seen for the Wii is Pokemon Battle Revolution. Pokemon may pay the bills for me, but it only received a 5.5 from me back in the days of using a numerical score. It just wasn’t a satisfying RPG experience. The other is the Genius Sonority was the development team on this game. This development company has only made Pokemon games in the past. Sure they included mediocre ones like the aforementioned PBR and Pokemon Trozei but they also made quality console RPG’s for the Game Cube in Pokemon Coliseum and 2005’s Gamecube GOTY in Pokemon XD. I figured if anyone could turn around the Dragon Quest franchise as mediocre outputs like Rocket Slime, Joker, and DQVIII, it would be my Pokemon brethren.

So what happened? Did Genius Sonority give us the first good RPG for the Wii, or have they just repeated their early mediocre effort?

Let’s Review

1. Story

You’ve got a pretty straight-forward plot here. Your main character is the classic stoic and silent hero from the RPG’s of yore. Your character is about to go through a rite of manhood as it is his 16th birthday. At the same time, it is the five year anniversary of the defeat of the dark spooky evil godlike bad guy that populates damn near every RPG on the planet. Nice timing, eh?

At the same time, the queen of your kingdom has become a recluse and has also taken to wearing a strange mask. Once that happens to resemble the same mask that the now dead villain of villain once wore. It couldn’t mean anything, could it? Nah, of course not…

There really isn’t a lot of plot in this action RPG. In fact the story is quite thin and there is little character development. What little plot you are given is exceptionally linear and exists only to push you into the next fighting stage. Your main character literally has no personality as he says and does nothing throughout the entire game. Everyone else is a bit more fleshed out, but they still remain firmly encamped in the land of two-dimensional stereotypes. If it wasn’t for the excellent voice acting cast bringing this game to life, it would be quite boring story wise indeed.

With a plot that has been circulated several times before, but in a far better fashion, (Persona 2 anyone?) Dragon Quest Swords really offers a stoy that will only appeal to S-E or Dragon Quest fanboys, or people who are in desperate need of a Wii-based RPG fix. What here isn’t awful, it’s just fails to be any better than mediocre. I’s a fairly standard paint by numbers story.

Story Rating: 5/10

2.Graphics

The visuals of DQS are not impressive. They remind me of a game from last generation’s consoles. I appreciate that Dragon Quest has kept the same artistic style over the decades, but the Golem you fight in this game looks EXACTLY like a cleaned up version of the creature from the original NES game.

The backgrounds and building textures are nicely done and there’s a level of stylization to the monsters, but the game just doesn’t look like something that you’d find a year into the Wii’s lifespan. Consider that Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles is similar in gameplay and yet the graphics manage to be far more impressive even with a lot more action occurring on the screen.

I’m not really a fan of any of the character designs, except for Fleurtte, which is actually the best character designs I’ve seen in a DQ game.

Even though the game is only middle of the road when it comes to visuals, long time Dragon Quest fans won’t mind, because Enix has never been a graphical powerhouse with their games. That’s always been left to the Squaresoft half.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

The best aspect of the game is definitely the sound. I really enjoyed the voice acting. The ensemble managed to take a threadbaren plot and barely developed characters and they breathed new life into them. Any enjoyment that can be have by going through the all too obvious story of this game is thanks to the cast of actors Genius Sonority assembled.

Once again Fleurette gets high marks here thanks to her actress, Jo Wyatt. It’s a great little Hollywood style French accent that still manages to be cute and cliché all at once. Other quality performances include Wayne Forrester as your character’s father, Claymore and character actor Allan Corduner as your principal do-badder Xiphos. There are no super famous voice actors in the cast, but they all do an excellent job and should be applauded.

The musical score for DQS is enjoyable as well, but nowhere near the same level as the acting. It’s your standard string based soundtrack that you can find in numerous RPG’s, but it also accents well to the more rail-shooter gameplay you find here here. It succeeds in the most important area which is that it doesn’t distract you from the real time gameplay. However, none of the tracks are so catchy that you’ll find yourself humming them after the game is through. Enjoyable but inevitably forgettable.

Excellent Voice cast that saves the game in a lot of ways and a musical score that is decent makes for a good aural experience.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

As optimistic as I was to try this game, the actaul controls of this game were pretty poor. In theory it should play as well as Wii Sports. In practice, the game has some serious recognition issues and a horrible movement scheme.

Let’s start with the moving. You hold your Wiimote like a sword hilt, but where is the D-Pad? At the other end. Trying to steet while holding the Wiimote as you would for combat is a bit of a pain. Even though you’re on a very singular path that you can not truly deviate from, the game tries to give you the illusion that you can turn and look around. That is until you try. Basically the game’s movement is like playing a rail shooter, where the rail system is broken and you have to push yourself along. The result is some ugly gameplay. The game would have played a lot better is movement occurred with automatic scrolling and branching path deviation would occur simply by pointing the wiimote and pressing A. Again, this game can be compared with Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, but not in a favourable way. It’s just a mess here.

Sword fighting is not that much better sadly. You have four different word strokes. You have a horizontal, a vertical, a diagonal and a thrust. The problem is that in order to make the game read your horizontal strike as just that, you have to move the wiimote in a perfect straight line. This is exceptionally annoying, especially in the heat of battle. Even worse is that the game might recognize your thrusting attack, where you jab the wiimote at the screen, one of out every five times. Come up against an enemy where you NEED to jab in order to get the highest score possible and you are screwed.

It gets worse actually. The default for each attack is to go across the middle of the screen. As you might imagine, enemies are rarely there, thus making things a bit harder. You’ll have to aim with the mouse, press A to set a focal point and then all of your attacks will be in that exact spot until you move the pointer and press A again. As the enemies tend to move a lot, by the time you’ve aimed, the focal point is probably useless. As you might suspect, the first level or two is fine, and you can work around these problems and still get a B or higher rating for the level, but come stage 3 on, you will wonder why they just didn’t fully program the game play as a rail shooter instead of this horrible quasi shooter it is. I just can’t believe this is the same team that gave us Pokemon XD. But then, that WAS a turn based game, not an action RPG.

So now that we’ve pointed out that this game is a poor man’s Vampire Night which is a poor man’s House of the Dead 2, what is good about the controls?

Well, for one thing, you don’t need the numchuk. You play the entire game just on the wiimote. That’s a nice present so we don’t have to shill out more money to play this game. It also gives you a vastly different sword and shield feel then we saw with Twilight Princess. Here the B button activates the shield and you can move it anywhere on the screen. Take note though as you can’t stab and block at the same time. As well, the more you use the shield, the weaker it will get and pieces will start to fall away unless you use a shield bolstering powder that restores your shield to new. Yes. I’m serious.

That’s pretty much the game. Thankfully it is a very short RPG, clocking in at about ten hours, so your frustration level will be minimized. If this game was as long as say, Dragon Warrior VII, i think I would have killed someone in a blind rage from playing this game.
Poor gameplay, which is a big disappointment to me. There are some obvious things that could have been fixed easily, which makes me wonder what the game looked like BEFORE the numerous delays that befell it. I’m scared.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 4/10

5. Replayability

The game actually forces replayability on you at times. In order to get more armour and temper your weapon to the next level, you’ll need to collect various items. Those items generally come about by scoring a B. A. or S rating for the level. If you don’t get a high enough rating, you don’t get the tiem, so you’ll be forced to either replay the level in order to have decent equipment, or you’ll have to play the next level with CRAPPY equipment which means the stage will take longer and then you’ll get a low score meaning you won’t get the item for that stage either. Annoying, huh?

Besides this though, it is nice that you can replay any level, and it’s nice to see a game give you an outright score, as half the fun of old school games is beating your high scores. Scores are also a rarity for RPG’s, so it’s a nice little bonus.

The only real problem is the story is pretty shallow and the gameplay is poor, so I can’t imagine every playing this game more than once. It just doesn’t offer you enough to WANT to take advantage of level retries. Unless of course you need to.

Replayability Rating: 5/10

6. Balance

This is a bit of a conundrum. The game itself is easy. All monsters of a specific type have the same exact attack pattern. They will always attack the same way each and every time you encounter them. It’s just rote memorization, even with the bosses. Just watch what they do the first time, and counter their every action, slash them, and repeat. It’s a little bit dismaying to see the utter lack of AI in the game.

Where the game DOES get hard is in the lack of wiimote responsiveness. What should be an easy battle becomes frustrating and profanity laden when your controller will just not do a horizontal slash to literally save your life, and the other strokes don’t affect the monster in question. Same too with these living boulders you begin to encounter on stage 3. You need to thrust attack them to send them bouncing back at the other monsters on the screen. If you don’t, they will explode after a little bit of time doing a lot of damage. I just finally said, “Fuck it” and became really good at slashing faster than they could explode. It still meant some enemies got away though.

The AI of your computer controlled partner generally isn’t very good either. Most of the time they just stand there. Occasionally they will cast a spell or attack, but this is pretty darn uncommon compared to the time they are sitting on their ass watching you stab things dead. At least the AI (or lack their of) is consistent on both sides of the fence.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

Well, this is the only Action RPG/Rail Shooter hybrid I’ve ever seen. Of course if you want a better RPG/Shooter hybrid, I suggest Sigma Star Saga. However that’s a side-scrolling shooter, not a rail shooter.

It’s also nice to see someone try to implement an action RPG for the Wii, especially with a franchise packing the pedigree of Dragon Quest. There’s a lot of fresh ideas here, but they’re lost amidst the mediocre story, graphics and controls.

Originality Rating: 6/10

8. Addictiveness

The game hurts to play. Literally. Your wrist and knuckles will develop a bit of wear and tear on them from the amount of swinging you’ll have to do. It gets progressively worse with each level, as they get longer and there are more monsters to dispatch. It’s similar to Resident Evil elbow, but instead it is Dragon Quest wrist. It is definitely not advised to play this game for more than an hour at a time. Take frequent breaks.

Even if the wrist strain wasn’t an issue, you still have to factor in the issues with the control scheme and the lackluster plot. I can’t really see anyone finding this game gripping enough to playthrough is a single day or two. It’s too much work for very little reward.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

9. Appeal Factor

It’s the first real RPG for the Wii. At least the first that doesn’t require a DS and another $35 dollar game just to play it properly. It’s also a Square-Enix game meaning their legion of fans will pick it up and adore it simply because of the publisher. Ah to be a mindless drone…

In spite of the game’s overwhelming mediocrity, brand label + franchise name + only game of its type for the Wii = a game people will pick up and have some degree of fun with until the wrist splints and expletive comments about the controls set in. It’ll be yet another game that sells wells in spite of its overwhelming flaws.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

So much potential, so little follow through. Dragon Quest Swords is a game that doesn’t succeed in any real fashion except for voice acting. There’s a couple of mini games you can play thrown in as extra. One helps you practice your blocking, while the other just adds to you eventual wrist damage.

I really wanted to like this game, but DQS suffers from the same tragic flaw that has plagued every Dragon Quest game since Dragon Warrior VII: The flaws overshadow the pieces of greatness. What could have been a nifty take on the rail shooter became a buggy action RPG lacking in all the areas a game of that genre needs to even be considered above average. A poor production from genius Sonority. They’re now 0-2 on the Wii.

Miscellaneous Rating: 4/10

The Scores
Story: 5
Graphics: 5
Sound: 7
Control and Gameplay: 4
Replayability: 5
Balance: 4
Originality: 6
Addictiveness: 5
Appeal Factor: 7
Miscellaneous: 4
Total Score: 5.2
FINAL SCORE: 5.0 (Mediocre)

Short Attention Span Summary

I can’t recommend this game. It never manages to be more than an average game even at the best of moments. There are better ways to strain your arm for the Wii, like Raving Rabbids 2 or Wii Sports. If you really need a RPG for the Wii, you might as well get this one due to a lack of options, but prepare to be underwhelmed.

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