The Musou formula, which most of you may know from the Dynasty Warriors series, has recently been making its way into many well-known franchises, including One Piece, Berserk, Gundam, and Dragon Quest. Regarding the latter, Dragon Quest Heroes turned out to be rather good, and now we have the sequel, Dragon Quest Heroes II, bringing a lot of new features to the table.
Let's start off by mentioning the biggest change, this being that the game is now open-world (in part). The open areas in Dragon Quest Heroes II are called Wild Zones, which are a little bit bigger than the play areas in missions from other Musou games. These Wild Zones are populated with many different kinds of monsters waiting to fight you, usually coming in groups, and there are monsters that have 'Wanted' above their heads; this means that they are wanted by the authorities. These guys, as expected, are a little bit stronger than their unwanted counterparts and are one of the game's collectables. Each Wild Zone has a different look and style to it, and all of them connect to a battlefield and the hub world.
The hub world for Dragon Quest Heroes II has been changed and improved too. Gone is the cramped airship from the first game and in with a city called Accordia, which is much more open, colourful, and alive, but contains many of the same features from the first game's hub, including a bunch of shops and desks to visit. There are new features on top of this, including the Martial Arts Master who gives you new skills and stat boosts as you increase your proficiency with a character and their weapon, with proficiency increasing by using the characters/weapons in battle.
There's the Quester's Rest as well, where throughout the course of the game you'll unlock maps (dungeons) which can be taken on solo or co-op with up to four people, which neatly brings us into the multiplayer features of Dragon Quest Heroes II. You can play the maps you unlock (they call them dimensional dungeons) in co-op by hosting a lobby or finding a lobby that's already open, but this is where we started to see some issues. When we hosted a lobby it took 5-10 minutes to get a full lobby, and one of the players disconnected when we got to the second floor, which was also frustrating. Although the game has received a number of updates since its launch and its co-op features are now more stable, these issues did impact our enjoyment of this side of the game.
The Vocation counter is another addition to the hub world, and this allows you to change your main character's vocation (class). Changing vocation gives your character access to different types of weapons and skills, and the ability to change this is a welcome addition as your main character isn't stuck with one type of weapon like in the first game, allowing for more variety and choice.
Combat is similar to Dragon Quest Heroes but with a few changes. For those who haven't played the first game, the gameplay is similar to Dynasty Warriors but you can activate skills and spells by holding R1 and pressing one of the face buttons. Tension returns and is the same as before; when you fill the tension bar you can enter high tension which makes you invulnerable for a short amount of time and allows you to use a special attack that deals a lot of damage. Just like the first, you can also travel in a party of four and you can choose from a variety of characters that come from the Dragon Quest series. Torneko from Dragon Quest IV and Terry and Carver from Dragon Quest VI are just a few of the characters that make an appearance in this game, for instance.
One of the new elements in the combat is 'Tag Tricks', which can tag in another in your party and, as they tag in, they can attack and deal damage to the enemy (like Tekken Tag Tournament 2). Another addition is breakneck bonuses, which are experience boosts that can be earned by defeating big monsters very quickly, and all-in-all these new features give the already-great combat that little bit more depth.
Monster medals are back in Dragon Quest Heroes II and they too have been expanded upon. Saviour and Sentry medals return, for instance, allowing you to summon minions and monsters, but now there are also the Substitute medals, allowing you to take the form of the monster whose medal you have obtained for a limited time. You can turn into a Golem and attack enemies, for example, and you can even turn into a Slime and bounce around to attack bad guys. The ability to play as some of the series' well-known monsters is sure to please Dragon Quest fans.
The story is more memorable than that of its predecessor. You start as either a boy or girl, and whoever you choose (we picked the boy) will have the other character as a relative who has come to visit you. Things go bad really quickly as a war has started in this once peaceful region, and you then have to embark on an epic adventure to save the kingdom. The one downfall we'd say this story has, however, is the antagonist, who really didn't leave a lasting impression.
Aside from the story and the collectables, there are a number of side quests that you can do, providing more mission variety than the last game. This counts for the main story too, as, to give a couple of examples, there's a mission that requires you to be stealthy and there's a mission which tasks you with finding a ghost that likes to play pranks.
The music in DQHII sounds like your traditional Dragon Quest fare, so it doesn't feel out of place. Each Wild Zone has its own theme to further distinguish them, and each piece of music fits the area well. Again, like with every Dragon Quest, Akira Toriyama's art style shines through and Dragon Quest Heroes II is no different. Every character, including the NPCs and the monsters, have the same artistic flair.
Overall Dragon Quest Heroes II is a noticeable improvement over the first, and Musou fans will find it a joy to play. The game's co-op portion is good when it works, but is hindered by a few problems, and although the main antagonist is forgettable, the story as a whole isn't and is better than that of its predecessor. The Wild Zones give you a vast open map that is fun to explore, and the hub world has been improved greatly over the previous game. It's more open, has more to do and feels more alive. Dragon Quest Heroes II is a must for anyone who enjoyed the first game, and people who didn't play the first game should give it a go.