There comes a point in every franchise's life when it's time to move on. Bigger graphics, bolder storytelling and a main character becomes completely re-imagined. While most games mainstream titles have surely moved on with upgraded graphics and fancy special effects, the Kingdom of Dotnia has taken its time with any updates. A slowdown in tourism has finally forced the King's hand however, and so begins Atlus' 3D Dot Game Heroes with Dotnia's classic landscape redesigned to fit a more 3D era.
The title and the storyline can be a little misleading however, since today the term 3D has come to mean something completely different that requires glasses and a multi-million dollar budget. In the case of 3D Dot Game Heroes it simply means a step up from 2D visuals, where houses appear to be flat looking and all NPCs faced forward. This rebirth of classic gameplay instead shows detailed water effects, fancy lighting, houses that look like they have more then one wall, and NPCs that occasionally face left and right.
Sure, none of this sounds like a massive leap by today's gameplay standards, but that is the point. Everything from the game's controls to boss mechanics is a throwback to retro-gaming, reminiscent of classic Zelda games. Players control the 'main character' who can be either a selection of premade designs or their own custom creation, and are told that they are in fact the decent of Dotnia's hero of legend. As the hero players must get the legendary sword, and the travel the world's dungeons to unlock new powers and collect various orbs which will seal away the new evil forces that threaten the kingdom. It's a pretty cut and paste storyline, but done in a style that makes the game captivating and fun.
The key to what makes 3D Dot Game Heroes so much fun lies in its humour and creativity. If this was simply another remake of Link's Awakening or Knight's Quest then there's no doubt it would have a very limited appeal. For example, movement and combat are employed identically to how a classic game would control. Directional buttons (or analog) control the character, one button controls attacking while two other buttons are available for mapped spells/abilities such as using the shield or casting a spell. Players also encounter new items which they can expand upon, such as the bow's arrow pouch, or the bomb's... bomb pouch. These staples of gaming history remain intact to the very core mechanics, meaning the learning curve for the game is extremely low.
It does bring new elements to the classics though, like swords that can be taught new moves, and when swung (only at full health) take up a massive portion of the screen. Creative magical spells also make for a nice change of pace, providing a mix-up between various hack-n-slash encounters and puzzles. The classic humour and wit bleed through every single portion of the game as well, from throwbacks to old school bosses to hilarious references to the developer's other games, like Demon's Souls. A variety of mini-games are also included with 3D Dot Game Heroes, such as a racing game and a very fun version of Tower Defense.Another extremely fun portion of the game is the character designer, which may seem a bit overwhelming at first but can actually be very rewarding. Being able to make any character and stick it in the game adds a much more personal touch, and though it's hard to imagine designing anything in 8-bit block format there's plenty of room for creativity. Being able to go through dungeons with a completely unique character is far more fun then simply experiencing it with a preset, and for as silly as it may sound, searching for new blocks to aid the design process is just as rewarding as getting some extra gold or a few more arrows.
The only downside to the game may be its assumption that anyone who's playing it will naturally appreciate its retro-based style and mechanics. Anyone who's a fan of the classic games will know not only know how to complete many of the games puzzles, but where exactly to go to next and what item they may be expecting to receive. This sort of predictability was more then welcome as it never made the encounters easier, but instead gave a better feel of what precisely the game wanted. However, it's hard to say if someone lacking the experience of those classic titles would pick up on the same visual and design-based cues.
Graphically the game isn't the most fancy looking title out there, but nor is it trying to be. It accomplishes exactly what it means to, and it's hard to really ask for anything more from any game. The real highlight of the game graphically lies in its lighting effects, which really add some extra 'oomph' to any enemy death animation. Caves look dark and cave-like, and the outdoor areas are very bright and vibrant; or as bright and vibrant as blocks can appear to be. The game's sound follows the same track as the rest of the game's design, sounding like a higher-quality version of something a NES would have been able to produce.
If perhaps it sat at a price point that was set to compete with all other new games there would be some debate over 3D Dot Game Heroes. Aside from a few weapon options the game certainly doesn't bring anything new to the industry, but what it does do is capture an entire generation of game design perfectly in a neat package. Combine that with character customization, a variety of mini-games, and a very memorable sense of humour and 3D Dot Game Heroes cements itself as a must-own game for anyone who appreciates a single player adventure.