If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Dragon’s Quest, Final Fantasy, and The Legend of Zelda must be blushing uncontrollably as 3D Dot Game Heroes takes cues from all of these fantastic 8-bit classics and repackages their experience into a modern day, old-school action / adventure RPG experience. But given as we’re currently in 2010, do these old-school game mechanics still work in a world populated by modern day RPGs such as Mass Effect or Final Fantasy XIII?
When you first launch 3D Dot Game Heroes, you’re asked to create your hero. If you have any sort of imagination, especially when it comes to working with pixels, then you’ll surely enjoy creating your own hero to be used in the game. For those of you who have absolutely no artistic talent at all, 3D Dot Game Heroes has a number of already made heroes for you to choose from. 3D Dot Game Heroes also allows you to both import and export any of the heroes you create, so even if you can’t make your own version of Link, you can easily import someone else’s hard work.
Now that you’ve got your Hero, it’s time to head into the kingdom of Dotnia. The kingdom of Dotnia is in peril, which most kingdoms in action / adventure RPG games are. The evil bishop Fuelle threatens the peaceful land by attempting to reawaken the Dark King Onyx who was imprisoned inside a dark orb years ago. As the Hero, it’s your job, nay, your right to put a stop to Fuelle’s evil plans by seeking out six sacred orbs to combine them to banish the evil bishop Fuelle for good.
As I mentioned earlier, 3D Dot Game Heroes can easily be referenced to old-school action / adventure RPGs, especially the original ‘The Legend of Zelda’. Moving around the world works with a combination of a stationary section of the world, which when you make it to an end of a section, the game world shifts to allow the Hero to adventure to a new section of the world map. The adventure will take the Hero across a lot of land to a number of towns, INNs, and dungeons. Each town is filled with townsfolk, each with their own useful or useless information while INNs allow the Hero to rest up and serve as a checkpoint in case you happen to meet your untimely demise in Dotnia.
The dungeons are where you’ll be focusing most of your time and effort in as they’re where the sacred orbs are hidden. Each dungeon will have its own theme as well as challenging puzzles that will require the Hero to use items that were acquired along his adventure. 3D Dot Game Heroes is filled with items that might seem familiar to most. Boomerangs, hookshots, and bombs are just some of the items you’ll be using along your adventure through Dotnia.
Combat in 3D Dot Game Heroes can be both delightful and frustrating. Instead of relying on upgrading your weapon & armor, you upgrade your sword by visiting blacksmiths to increase its various stats such as its length, width, and strength. When your life is maxed out, your sword will grow 3x its size where it nearly fills the entire screen with its awesomeness. This is all well and good, but there are times where the combat fails as things like trees or rocks can stop your sword from reaching an enemy, and this can make for some frustrating situations. I’m not expecting my Hero’s sword to travel through scenery, but if I’m a few centimeters away from them, I’d hope the game would cut me some slack and allow me to attack past the scenery.
As a game based out of an 8-bit pixelated world, 3D Dot Game Heroes looks absolutely gorgeous and offers a unique perspective on what 2D pixels can look like in a 3D environment. Every character, building, and piece of scenery was painstakingly pieced together. Destroying either enemies or scenery results in an explosion of pixels that litter the immediate area. Lighting and water effects also look absolutely gorgeous, especially areas of the world where the sun is setting.
Enemies offer a nice variety of challenging ways to combat them. When you first start out, enemies will be easily disposed of by hacking their 8-bit pixels to bit. But as you make your way to more challenging areas of the game, the enemies will require a bit of strategy in order to defeat them. Bosses located in each dungeon will also test your might as they can be quite a handful.
If you aren’t a fan of linear stories, then 3D Dot Game Heroes might be a challenge for you as its very linear, regardless of the game seemingly allowing you to full access to the entire game world. New areas of the world will only open up when certain items are acquired. The same rings true for dungeons. Your time for the most time is spent making your way to a dungeon, defeating the dungeon boss, acquiring an orb, talking to a Sage and then doing it all over again. There are moments during town visits you can take part in some side-quests or mini-games, but they come too far in between the dungeon crawling. The lack of any kind of quest log also annoyed me as there were times where I revisited the game after an absence of a day or two, and I had to wander around in order to refresh my memory on what it is I should be doing.
FINAL THOUGHT: 3D Dot Game Heroes will be an absolute treat for anyone who has played classic 8-bit action / adventure RPGs. There’s enough in here to offer a sense of nostalgia, while at the same time offering a fresh perspective. The game isn’t perfect with its linear story and lack of a quest log, but this probably won’t hold most old-school gamers back from a uniquely familiar experience.