Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors - Review  

Oww, My Arm!
by Anna Marie Neufeld

10 - 15 hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   With the name Dragon Quest already overwhelmingly strong in Japan and becoming more popular by the day in North America, it's no surprise to see an increasing amount of entries in the series to tempt the masses. While originally a stand-alone plug-in game, Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors was adapted to the Wii console. Slated at first to be a launch title, the game ran into numerous delays and hiccups before finally arriving without much fanfare on the western shores. Was the wait worth it? Well, yes and no. While the game suffers from being a glorified rail shooter with a rail shooter's inherent issues, it makes up for any setbacks with the fact that it is not without some charm.

   Ready to kill slimes and other familiar faces? Strap on a trusty Wiimote and get ready to hack and slash through a variety of levels. Though the controls are simple, mastering them may take a bit of practice. The hero's arsenal of moves includes a vertical, horizontal and various diagonal slashes in addition to a thrust; all of these are performed with the appropriate motion of the Wiimote, and the game does a fairly good job at recognizing each motion. When the foe is aggressive, holding down the B button will raise the hero's shield, which can be used to block a variety of blows. Take care to block directly in the center, however, as blocking around the edges will cause wear and tear to the shield, causing parts to literally fall off as they are increasingly damaged. As the hero deals blows and blocks incoming strikes, a sword gauge will fill; once it is charged to 100%, a Master Stroke can be unleashed upon all enemies currently on the screen. The positioning of the Wiimote is also used to execute these high damage strikes. During each level, the player is restricted to the prescribed path and has a limited field of vision, but is able to choose directions when the road splits, usually with one choice leading to a dead end. At the end of each stage, the player receives a score based on completion time, strike accuracy, guard accuracy, and highest combo among other accomplishments. Bonuses may also be awarded for accomplishments like Accuracy over 80%, "Overking of Overkill," and wearing nonsensical joke armour pieces. When combined, these scores give a grade, and players are rewarded with additional items for a rank of B or higher.

Caption Lovable Slimes

   A hero must equip themselves with the best available, though it is no simple task. While armour may be purchased from kind merchants, weapons must be tempered to increase their power. While initially the swordsmith can only make simple weapons, as the player progresses and unlocks a total of eight tempering materials, increasingly powerful and mythical swords become available. Although it is recommended to have the strongest equipment possible at hand, it should be noted the best swords in the game are not available until the player has completed at least one playthrough. However, take heart for the hero does not sally forth without help. Along the way, the local prince, a young girl, and the hero's father will join the cause. While only one ally may accompany the hero at a time, each provides their own sort of backup and are each useful in different levels.

   It's always nice to have that feeling of coming home to a warm house; it just feels good hearing the crunching noise as the players climb each set of stairs. The usual fare of Dragon Quest sound effects return and, unsurprisingly, fit well with the music and visual theme presented. While there isn't anything groundbreaking about either aspect, that isn't to say they're terrible either. They're slightly better than average in both regards (with some regurgitation from old titles and some work unique to this title), and while neither will blow away the player there's a certain quaint charm to the whole effect that will appeal to both Dragon Quest veterans and newcomers alike.

   While Swords is easy, it doesn't fall into the rut of being simply too easy. Levels are not tough themselves to travel through but getting an S Rank does take effort and some planning. In addition, hunting for materials and budgeting which upgrade to get for a particular dungeon does take some forethought. Those who find the initial run through too easy will be happy to know there is additional content which is decidedly harder after the credits roll. For those that wish to rush through the game, as little as ten hours will probably get the job done, though a more leisurely fifteen is a more likely ending point. Once the initial storyline is complete, the additional post-game content will consume the attention of anyone interested in continuing for another five to ten hours.

   The menu system is very well done. It's easy to find necessary information and items during combat using only two button presses. Outside of combat, options are laid out in a very logical, accessible manner and almost anything the player desires can be found again very easily. The localization of Swords has a distinctly European flavour to the voice acting. It is well done, even if somewhat overwrought, and the player will interact with characters of English, Scottish, and French background among others. To go along with the somewhat silly accents of the voice acting is a well translated and thought out script which includes literal recounting of the speeches given by the characters - one cockney fellow right at the start discusses the "Deafbringah" (Deathbringer). The dialogue is clearly meant to be laughed at and it does an excellent job of extracting more than a few chuckles.

Caption Ex-Nun. No, Really!

   The story itself isn't terribly complicated, but again, it's cute and charming. As today is the hero's 16th birthday he's required to undertake a small journey which will prove his manhood. From this initial foray spawns other journeys until the final boss is revealed. While the story initially seems very straightforward, there are one or two twists going through that will come as neat little surprises. What the game lacks in originality, it makes up with nostalgia and fun. While veterans of the Dragon Quest series will recognize familiar faces and sounds, newcomers will appreciate them as new and unique. Overall, the experience will differ depending on one's familiarity with the Dragon Quest series. Those seeking to take a break from the main storyline may enjoy the mini-games, which will polish the hero's sword and shield abilities to a glossy shine. These mini-games when played solo will net the player tidy prizes when certain ranks are achieved. Those preferring more of a social activity will be pleased to know up to four players may join in on any mini-game.

   While none of the technical aspects of the game will floor the player, there's no getting around the fact Dragon Quest Swords is an oddly fun game; this alone redeems the small flaws, which seperately are not insurmountable but together may unwittingly paint a grim picture. While the fact that the game is a pleasure to play alone doesn't make it good, it certainly ensures those hesitant to pick up the game may find themselves taking a second look. If nothing else, the sword swinging adventure will entertain those brave enough to take the leap of fatih, and leave those players with both a goofy smile on their face -- and one very sore arm.

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