Action RPGs are often deadly serious, gore-laden spectacles of severed limbs, hulking monstrosities, and enemies hacked and slashed into teeny, tiny chunks. Playing through Dragon Quest Heroes 2 is mostly a happy and colorful antidote to all those dark and dire games. I say mostly because after many hours, enemy encounters and battles can become moderately repetitious and some quests can start to feel like unwelcome chores.
Dragon Quest Heroes 2 is a Musou game, a Dynasty Warriors-inspired action title that consists of large-scale battles with dozens of enemies leading to formidable bosses. The main quest -- and it is entertaining and effectively written -- is the story of two cousins that are trying to broker peace between two warring kingdoms before the conflict can spread. Along the way they encounter a number of capable and class-based allies that can be swapped in and out of the player's team as the story takes a few surprising and even emotionally affecting turns.
Although not really an open world, Dragon Quest Heroes 2 includes a reasonable number of side quests. While they can be fairly lengthy and almost always include an interesting payoff, they can also rely on over-frequent use of the game's map teleportation system or tedious backtracking and NPC-hunting. Whether fighting in the specific battle areas or in the "wild lands," the heroes encounter hordes of fanciful enemies -- from skeletons and wizards or animated, amorphous, cross-eyed blobs -- that in typical JRPG fashion exist for no real reason other than their wholesale slaughter. The game allows for a couple of options that allow for varying degrees of button-mashing, combo-memorizing skills. Anyone expecting the sedate and tactical turn-based combat of the storied Dragon Quest series will be surprised by the fast and furious tempo of Heroes 2's battles.
In many action-RPGs that have lots of character, weapon, and ability upgrade trees, it isn't uncommon to be paralyzed by too many choices and fear of a fatal misstep that will have a long-term impact on success. Dragon Quest Heroes 2 allows for extensive and useful upgrades to characters, spells and weapons, but its all done in a lighthearted and colorful way that feels balanced between the hardcore and casual. Additionally, coins dropped by enemies on the battlefield add temporary buffs, health or stamina refills, and the ability to transform into one of the game's monsters. Switching between team members on the fly and even summoning other players to help with bosses allow battles to be challenging but rarely frustrating or dull. That said, there isn't a huge variety in the set-ups or payoffs: mow down the trash mobs that come in waves and defeat the boss.
I really liked the colorful and inviting look of Dragon Quest Heroes 2, though there isn't a ton of detail in any of the character models, architecture or environmental textures -- unsurprising for a game that was released on just about every platform available. As in many games in the genre, the musical score was non-stop and incessantly up-beat and grew repetitious. The family-friendly dialogue is primarily redeemed by being voiced by British actors. Some of the non-human characters are a bit annoying.
Fans of Dynasty Warriors or the Dragon Quest series will enjoy this second-edition genre mashup. Dragon Quest Heroes 2 strikes a great balance between complexity and action and weaves an entertaining story through and around its fast and furious battles. Whether mainlining the story quest or venturing off into the side missions, the fun-factor of plowing through masses of monsters may eventually wane. That said, it was refreshing to enjoy an action RPG that didn't involve geysers of plasma or the dark forces of evil.