28th Mar2010

3D Dot Game Heroes Review

by Kuro Matsuri

3D Dot Game Heroes Review
3D Dot Game Heroes is an homage to Zelda. In many ways, it’s also a ripoff and a parody. It’s an interesting and entertaining game that is about as niche as they come. This review will attempt to take a relatively objective look at the real quality of the game to see how good it really is.

Graphics

The graphics are simple, yet flashy. It’s kinda hard to imagine how that can be done until you see it. Hey, just take a look for yourself:


The simple 3D-pixel styling sounds simple, and in many ways it looks simple. It’s actually a lot less simple than it looks or sounds. Add to that some of the effects they put in there, and it comes off actually pretty flashy. Between some of the high dynamic range lighting effects, such as when you come out of a dungeon, and the “particle effects” where a defeated enemy bursts into a bunch of blocks that fly around all over the place, the graphics are actually visually appealing and entertaining to look at.

There are a few problems with the graphics, though. The biggest gripe is more of a style choice than a technical graphical issue, but the way things in the distance blur can get frustrating. It blurs too much too quickly. It’s hard to understand sometimes why something 5 steps ahead of you is blurry. At other times, it can actually have a nice effect, but it would have been better if the blurring was less intense.

You would also think that a game with such a simple graphical style could be run in full 1080p, while it only runs in 720p. However, at 720p, the framerate will occasionally drop. It doesn’t drop all that often, but it is noticeably when it does. So, the graphics must actually be much harder to render than it appears at first glance. Still, this certainly leaves some room for improvement, either in resolution or in framerate.

Graphics Score: 8.5

Story

There’s a story? Yeah, there is. And looked at as a whole, it is fairly amusing. Really, it’s just enough story to give you a reason to go to all the places and do everything. It’s hard to really care about the story, but then again, in order to care about the story, you might need to take the game as a whole seriously. While this game is definitely fun, it is definitely not styled to be taken seriously, so it had quite a challenge ahead of itself in trying to get the player to care about the story. Well, it didn’t make it.

Still, if you go into it expecting a light, amusing satire, the story becomes amusing enough. For example, take a look at the beginning story sequences:

It probably made you chuckle in one or two places, but the story just doesn’t hold up to the rest of the game. Perhaps an homage to a retro game in the story department just doesn’t quite work out all that well.

Story Score: 6.5

Gameplay

The retro gameplay is what really makes or breaks the game for each individual who tries it. If you’ve been dieing for some retro game action with some HD graphics, this is your chance (and possibly your only chance). It plays almost exactly like the original Zelda, with a bit of it’s own unique twist. After you attack, you can manually spin in a circle to do a spin attack. There’s enough time to spin in a complete circle, but only if you’re fast. It quickly becomes a staple move in your arsenal of straightforward 2-frame attacks.

Also, one thing that retro fans will appreciate that might turn off other gamers is the ability to roam anywhere, sometimes without a clear goal. It is possible to miss talking to the right person, and end up roaming around lost for a while. The good news is that roaming will likely let you find some nice goodies that will help you later, and occasionally you can even complete tasks out of order (usually by accident) this way. It makes it interesting, as long as you have the patience to stick with it when you aren’t completely sure what to do.

The dungeons are very similarly styled as well, cycling through a variety of elements from one dungeon to the next. The early dungeons are very easy, while the later dungeons can get surprisingly hard. The bosses are actually a lot of fun with a fair amount of variety, though there is an exploit or two that can be used to make a boss really easy on occasion.

Here’s the first dungeon in it’s entirety. This should give you a good idea of what the gameplay is like.

Part 1:

Part 2:

What is there to say, really, except that the gameplay was good back in the original Zelda era, and it’s still good now. It is, however, a tired gameplay system, so those looking for a truly new experience aren’t going to like it. Then again, someone looking for a truly new experience is probably going to dislike a lot of things about the game. But, if retro-styled is what you’re after, but you still want a good challenge while playing through it, this is where it’s at… well, it is once you get to some of the later dungeons!

Gameplay Score: 8.7

Weapon Growth System

This section is called the weapon growth system for one reason, your weapon will grow more than anything else in the game. To ridiculous proportions. Imagine if your sword in the original Zelda series could get large enough to practically cover the entire screen… and then some. It’s the ultimate in power for a 2D world gone 3D, and it is very amusing and completely satisfying.

On the other hand, upgrading is slow work. You have to collect a sword that can be upgraded to the level you want it to be, then you have to collect lots of money in order to upgrade it all the way… money that could be used for healing items or other one-time use weapons (bombs or arrows, anybody?) Also, getting a sword that can really be upgraded can be difficult too. If you watched the dungeon video above, you saw that you can collect “small blocks”. These blocks are used to purchase new weapons, but small blocks are hard to find, and it can take as many as 20 of them to buy a new weapon. Though, that does make it all that much more satisfying when you get the ultimate weapon of hit everything on the screen at once.

Yeah, it’s essentially just a novelty trick, but in retro games you had to put in cheat codes to get such ridiculously awesome swords. Now you can do it legitimately, and that is awesome.

Weapon Growth System Score: 9.1

Pacing

The pacing is only what you make of it. You are given the freedom to go directly from one dungeon to the next (though that can become rather difficult if you’re not careful), or you can wonder around aimlessly defeating monsters and collecting random stuff for hours on end.

However, even if you do go straight through the game, the story is so thin that the pacing still drags on quite a bit. The vast majority of the game is spent collecting the 6 orbs from a variety of dungeons. No truly new information is presented until right near the end of the game, and even then, there’s not much of a revelation to make it all feel worth it.

The thing is, that’s just how retro games did it. If 3D Dot Game Heroes had a more complex story with high quality cutscenes, it probably wouldn’t have been a true homage/parody/ripoff/whatever. However, a couple complex action cutscenes done in the 3D pixel style could have been truly hilarious. I’d call that a missed opportunity right there.

At any rate, the pacing is slow… very slow. Thankfully, the gameplay makes up for it, but the pacing could easily boot out a few players who were on the edge of enjoying the game to begin with.

Pacing Score: 5.5

Music

The music in 3D Dot Game Heroes is where the game seems to truly scream “homage”. If you weren’t paying attention, you might think the music was actually Zelda music. Upon listening closely, you’ll find that it’s actually full of surprisingly memorable tunes, the majority of which are nice to listen to and do a good job of complimenting the theme of each region. I found myself humming along as I played on more than once occasion.

As for the technical quality of the music, it’s as though the 8-bit music just bumped up its production values or something. The style is distinctively 8-bit, but it puts in high quality sound samples instead of the scratchy 8-bit samples of yore. Chances are that it will get you humming along to it as well.

Music Score: 9.0

Replayability

After spending 30 hours to play through 3D Dot Game Heroes once, and having a good challenge in the process, I discovered that beating the game unlocks a new difficulty. This is not a “new game plus” scenario, when you start a new game, you start over from scratch. While I enjoyed the game, I found myself thinking “ewww…” when confronted with the option to start over from scratch on a harder difficulty level. If anything, I would go back and play some more on the save that was right before the end of the game so I could explore more and collect more stuff. Starting over didn’t sound appealing in the slightest.

There is honestly very little incentive to continue playing this game once you’ve played through it once, provided that you really explore and invest your time into doing as much as you can the first time around. You might want to come back and do a couple more things, but starting over feels like spitting on all of your work up to that point.

In fact, you’re much more likely to want to go back and play the original Zelda after playing all the way through this. That’s not a bad thing, but it is rather unlikely that you’ll want to play this game again at least for a while. It’s not like anything is going to be different the second time through, and the combination of novelty and nostalgia can only go so far before convincing you to just go back and play the original that started it all.

Replayability Score: 5.2

 

Summary:

Graphics Score: 8.5

Story Score: 6.5

Gameplay Score: 8.7

Weapon Growth System Score: 9.1

Pacing Score: 5.5

Music Score: 9.0

Replayability Score: 5.2

 

Total Score: 52.5/70 = 75.0%

 

Import Friendly?

This game is available now in Japan, and it will be available in the US on May 11, 2010, and in Europe on May 14, 2010. How hard is it to play in Japanese if you don’t speak it? Well, most of the game, it’s not too hard. You’ll be able to figure out the dungeons without any knowledge of Japanese at all. There are a couple of parts that will prove difficult since you are occasionally told where you need to go without putting an actual marker on your map. Those 2 or 3 parts might leave you totally lost and confused, but if you don’t mind looking up a guide for a couple of small sections, you can enjoy this game all the way through without knowing any Japanese.

You will, unfortunately, miss out on the story… but there isn’t really much story here. Besides, you can probably guess the story based on the opening video (shown at the top of this review), almost right down to the end. If you can’t wait to get your hands on this game, the language barrier won’t stop you from enjoying 3D Dot Game Hereos.

Import Friendly Score: 8.5/10

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