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August 24, 2010
3D Dot Game Heroes - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
14/5/2010Namco BandaiFrom SoftwareSilicon Studio1None
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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3D Dot Game Heroes is out now.
There's no doubt that retro games are going through somewhat of a renaissance at the moment; classic titles such as MegaMan are being re-made verbatim, whilst the Playstation Store, Microsoft Live Arcade and Wii Shop are littered with old classics waiting to be re-played. Given I misspent a large portion of my youth playing RPGs, the emergence of an old-school RPG in both looks and gameplay was always going to appeal to me. And that's just what 3D Dot Game Heroes is; a throwback to titles such as Zelda and Y's, that also serves as a tribute to them. The question every old-school RPG fan should be asking is, can From Software deliver a game worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as the classics it seeks to emulate? Read on...

Long ago the 2D land of Dotnia Kingdom lived in peace; protected by six sages with six magical orbs. However one day an evil king turned up, captured the sages and stole the orbs, plunging Dotnia into chaos where monsters roamed the land. It was at this time that a hero arose and saved the sages, recaptured the orbs and returned peace to the land. For quite some time after the hero's victory, tourists flocked to Dotnia and kept the economy flowing. However as time passed the tourists stopped calling, and the king took it upon himself to find out why. The results of his study show that people are no longer interested in 2D lands, and instead seek the extra excitement that 3D provides. And so it was that the king demanded Dotnia move with the times and change to 3D. For a time all was good in the world... Until someone freed the evil king from his prison, and Dotnia was once again plunged into chaos. A new hero is needed to restore order to Dotnia; are you up to the challenge?

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There's always someone needing saving!
The game is played from the top-down view of old-school RPGs from the 8-bit era; monsters roam the world map and your hero can cut them to shreds in real time, rather than entering into the turn-based battles of many modern RPGs like Final Fantasy. Whilst much of the game is based on other games, one thing that is entirely new is the hero's sword. Whenever your character has full-health, your sword's special abilities come into play, some of which are very cool. Each sword you find has a limited amount of potential, i.e. room for improvement, and the local blacksmith will happily upgrade them until their potential is reached. Upgrades come in seven varieties; strength, width, length, pierce, beam, spin and special. Some of these upgrades have an obvious effect, and it's safe to say that running around with a sword of maximum size (which can end up being about half the screen) is a lot of fun. The pierce upgrade allows your sword to pass through solid objects, such as walls, to attack enemies on the other side. The beam upgrade shoots projectiles out from your sword, ‘spin' allows you to rotate the sword when attacking and ‘special' adds different attributes depending on the sword you're using. It's safe to say that this is not your father's RPG sword.

Your quest is to find the six magic orbs (and sages) that can restore order to the land, and in true RPG fashion each one of these orbs is located in its own temple. None of the temples are a straightforward affair, as you will need to track down keys, flick switches and solve block-puzzles to progress through them. Many of the temples provide you with new sub-weapons such as boomerangs, bombs and grappling hooks, which you will need in order to make it through the temple. Each temple comes complete with its own boss, and once you've dispatched them you obtain one of the magical orbs. To unlock the magic within each orb you'll need to track down the sage of that orb; sometimes this is easy as they are nearby, but at other times you will have to search them out. With the sub-weapons and magic you find in each temple another part of the world map becomes accessible, and you head towards the temple in that area. Do this for all six temples and you'll have the chance to hunt down the dark king in a temple of his own and finish the game.

Unlike most modern RPGs your hero doesn't level up in 3D Dot Game Heroes, and you won't find many shops that will sell you new swords or shields. As mentioned earlier you can get a blacksmith to upgrade your swords, but you have to find them first. Shields are handled differently; after buying a shield early in the game you will have to find others, or find people around the world who can upgrade them for you. This is quite a departure from modern RPGs where obtaining better equipment is generally just a matter of heading to a shop in the next town.

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Creating your own character for the game.
Speaking of a departure from the norm, 3D Dot Game Heroes allows you to customise your hero in special ways too. When you load the game you select an avatar for your character. There are a wide range of avatars to choose from, including, but certainly not limited to a typical hero avatar, a ninja, a dragon, a soccer striker (he comes with his very own ball), Frankenstein, a dark elf, a magician and a lion. If none of these take your fancy you can opt to make your own character from scratch, or edit one of the templates to come up with your own creation. Whilst this is a neat addition, I was in over my head and was more than happy to stick with the default avatars. Each time you load the game you are given the option to change characters. Why would you do this? Different characters have different attributes; warrior types start with more health, male characters have more strength, female characters require less magic to cast spells, whilst magical characters are (unsurprisingly) given more magic. It's quite rare that you'll need an abundance of magic however, so picking a character with more health makes sense most of the time.

Like any good RPG there is plenty of action outside of the main quest. There are three mini-games to play; Blockout, Block Defence and Dash Circuit. In Blockout you use the hero's shield to bounce a ball up into a bunch of blocks, destroying them as you go. In Block Defence the object is to stop a long line of monsters from reaching the end of the circuit using your hero as well as strategically placed towers. And finally in Dash Circuit you have to sprint around a circuit three times as quickly as possible. You will also find plenty of side-quests to participate in by speaking to the NPCs around town. From Software were the team responsible for the unbelievably difficult Demon's Souls game (which Dave recently reviewed), and while this game is nowhere near as taxing as Demon's Souls, the sadists out there will enjoy the unlockable ‘Spelunker' difficulty. In Spelunker mode a single hit will kill you every time. Obviously this mode won't appeal to everyone, but it does add some longevity for those who like a challenge.

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3D Dot Game Heroes in-game viewpoint.
On the whole I enjoyed this game, but it does have a few issues. Firstly, there are times when the game suffers from a lack of direction. During the main quest once you complete a temple and gain an orb, you will often be asked to find the sage who can unlock the orb's magic. You won't be told where to look, or given any clues, you simply have to wander about until you find him. This seems completely unnecessary to me, and is needlessly frustrating. The sages are not particularly hard to find, but I can't think of one good reason other than padding the length of the game, for this. The same applies to many of the optional side-quests – you're rarely given more than the vaguest of hints about a task, so unless you actively explore every nook and cranny of the game there's an excellent chance you'll miss some key parts of the game (including one particular sequence that totally changes the ending to the game).

Also, the temples delight in making you go back and forth, with one temple in particular causing frustration. In this temple there are multiple blue and red switches; step on any one of them and all switches in the temple change to the same colour. Unfortunately any death in this temple resets the switches, so it's possible to make it a goodly way through the temple, die, and then have to re-trace your steps in order to remove an obstacle you've previously dealt with. After four or five attempts I was more than happy to turn the game off and do something a lot more fun.

My last gripe is that the world itself can be a bit dull to explore. The NPCs say very little of interest and whilst their occasional deliberate misuse of English may be humorous to those who remember the poor translations of early RPGs, they're not enough to carry an entire game. Don't get me wrong, there are some funny conversations to be had out there, but for the most part the people populating Dotnia are a boring bunch who don't really warrant your time. The reward for many of the side-quests are disappointing enough that before long you won't take the time to perform those either. Really, outside of two or three of the better rewards, there's not a lot of interest here.

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Visuals in 3D Dot Game Heroes are very basic.
Without doubt the most distinctive part of 3D Dot Game Heroes is the graphics; where just about everything is made up of square pixels. It took a while for this look to grow on me, but after a few hours the game did start to look quite charming to me. It also helps that there are a number of visual effects in use on the world map; water sparkles, the polished floor in the palace reflects everything on it, and some of the magic effects look decent too. Another cool feature happens when you emerge from a temple, with the sun becoming overpoweringly bright for a few moments while your eyes adjust to it. They are small touches for the most part, but they look good, particularly given the pixellated look of everything else. Make no mistake; this game is a tribute to the 8-bit era and the visuals reflect that, despite the extra polish.

The music is destined to be a love it or hate it affair in my opinion. Like everything else in the game, the music is based on 8-bit RPGs, so what you end up with is a variety of semi-catchy but repetitive tunes. I frequently turned the music off, so it's safe to guess which side of the equation I came down on. That said there are some decent enough tunes in there, including the music to the final temple (which was a blessing given how long I spent in there). The sound effects do the job, but won't win any awards for greatness.

Overall I am glad I had the chance to play 3D Dot Game Heroes. It's an old-school RPG that does a good job in emulating the classic RPGs of yore. The one thing it does lack though is the soul of the games it is based on. There is a distinct lack of innovation here and the story and people therein just aren't as engaging as the classics this game is based on. That is not intended to be a stinging indictment on the game – there is definitely some fun to be had here – but it does indicate its limitations. 3D Dot Game Heroes is a decent, but not classic, old school RPG.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSWhen you base your graphics on 8-bit games, you're not searching for high marks here. It's polished and there are some cool visual effects, but otherwise the look is dated.
SOUNDMusic that you'll either love or hate, and sound effects that have been around since the 80s. They both suit this style of game though.
GAMEPLAYClassic RPG gameplay, though lacking innovation
VALUEThere is plenty to do here, with new game+, two unlockable difficulty modes and some mini-games thrown into the mix. You might tire of it before seeing it all though.
OVERALLScratches the itch for anyone wanting to re-live the RPGs they wasted their youth on. It has many elements of the classic 8-bit RPGs, but doesn't deliver anything breath-taking or new.

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