3D Dot Game Heroes - Staff Review  

by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
Less than 20 Hours
+ Terrific tribute to games of old.
+ Plenty of side quests.
+ Great localization.
+ Fantastic character builder.
- Sometimes gets a bit too retro.
- The Flame Temple in its entirety.
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   2D games are a dying breed. It's a sad but true state of affairs, and as time goes on, they're going to get more and more uncommon. Once upon a time, 2D worlds inhabited by carefully crafted sprites were a common sight on home television screens. But with the advent of the Nintendo 64, 2D started to slip away from the television, and the games that maintained 2D elements only did so with the sprites. Handhelds became the domain of 2D games, and now even that is slipping away. With both the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable capable of 3D visuals, the next iteration of handhelds may very well cause 2D to die off entirely. While this will be a sad day for fans of 2D visuals, From Software, creators of last year's Game of the Year Demon's Souls, has used it as a starting place for a loving tribute to the games of yesteryear: 3D Dot Game Heroes.

   In ages past, the Kingdom of Dotnia experienced a period of great prosperity after a mighty hero vanquished a terrible evil. But this prosperity was not to last, as before long people grew tired of 2D worlds. Slowly but surely, the population of Dotnia dwindled. Determined to respark the tourism industry in his land, the King of Dotnia declared that going forward, Dotnia would be in 3D. How, exactly, the King was able to manipulate the existing laws of physics to produce a 3D world is unclear, but the result was magnificent. Unfortunately, at the same time the great evil of the past returned, and a new hero is needed to save 3D Dotnia.

   That's where you come in, o brave hero. As the hero of Dotnia, you can choose to start as a descendent of the ancient hero of legend, as the Prince of nearby Dottano Kingdom, or as a wandering scholar. Your choice determines how much health (apples) and magic (jars) you have available at the beginning of the game, with the hero being health-oriented, the scholar being magic-oriented, and the Prince being balanced between the two. More importantly, you can even choose what your character looks like.

   3D Dot Game Heroes includes an extensive character editor, providing an easy-to-use interface that lets you have as much or as little control over your appearance as you want. For the sake of convenience, dozens of pre-built character models already exist within the game, and it's possible to use these as templates for your own creations. You can do something as simple as changing the color palette, which takes a few seconds, to making more extensive modifications to a model, which may take a while longer. Those who are willing to put in the time and effort can even create a model from scratch, providing limitless possibilities. You're not even limited by your initial choice, either. Although your name and class choice are permanently set once you begin the game, your model can be modified or changed every time you load the game.

It It's so big...

   Although the story is barebones at best, it's equally a clear homage to the story-lite adventures of the late '80s and early '90s. The localization is terrific, equal parts Atlus sillyness and deliberate translation "goofs" that pay tribute to some of the more memorable ones. Lines like "LIFE UP GET!" or "It's dangerous to go alone. Take this," are clear nostalgia-inducers and are placed regularly without getting excessive.

   The visual and audio style are similarly designed to invoke warm, fuzzy feelings. Visually, the game appears like a classic 8-bit adventure title that's exploded into three dimensions (and indeed, you'll bear witness to this very event in the game's opening sequence.) Despite its seemingly simplistic visuals, the effects make it clear that this is not an 8-bit game. Highly reflective surfaces, shimmering water, and other shading effects give the world some depth, while an interesting pixel-texture ensures that you can see the edges of each and every block within the game's world.

   The sound is equally classic, with musical tracks that bear startling similarities to well-known gaming music. Nearly every track in the game will inspire some sort of familiarity, even if it's not readily placeable. All the tracks have a classic, 8-bit midi sound to them as well. Even the sound effects harken back to the good old days, featuring the sorts of simple beeps and clicks you'd hear in a NES or Game Boy game.

   Once you get into the game proper, 3D Dot Game Heroes is a rather deliberate clone of classic Legend of Zelda games, most notably the NES original. Tasked with finding six orbs and their corresponding sages, the hero has to explore six thematic temples, solving puzzles and defeating huge bosses before finally taking on the evil villain once all the powers are gathered. Like a classic 2D game, the camera is fixed facing northwards, but with a slightly isometric perspective to properly display the world's 3D-ishness.

   Like Link, the hero of The Legend of Zelda, 3D Dot Game Heroes's hero is equipped with a sword and a shield, providing very simple but surprisingly fun gameplay. As the game progresses, the hero will discover new tools and spells to help defeat enemies and solve puzzles. The tools, every last one of them, are clearly inspired by Zelda games, while the spells, in a brilliant bit of localization, are "shader magic," each named after some sort of well-known 2D or 3D animation effect. Parallax and Bump Map are only a few examples of these.

Being a hero comes with many perks. Being a hero comes with many perks.

   In another nod to The Legend of Zelda, the hero's sword gains additional power so long as his health is completely filled. Where it differs, however, is that not only does it receive a boost in power, but it also receives a boost in size as well as other additional effects, like the ability to pierce through walls or fire magic beams. It's not a small size boost, either, but a massive one, leading to a sword that makes Zelda's famous Master Sword look like a butter knife by comparison. Unlike a typical Zelda game, 3D Dot Game Heroes is filled with over twenty swords to find, each of which has a different amount of base power and potential for upgrading. The "blocksmith" in the game allows you to spend the cash you find from defeated enemies towards upgrading your sword, making it longer, wider, stronger, or providing additional functions.

   As an homage to retro gaming, 3D Dot Game Heroes succeeds wonderfully, but at the same time, it falls into many of the same pitfalls that mar those older games and make them less enjoyable today. The sword's upgrade in power so long as your health is full is one such pitfall, as the difference in difficulty between having full health and being slightly injured is extremely high. Health is also rather difficult to restore. Although one can occasionally find apples in breakable jars, which is the standard for health restoration in Zelda titles, most of the time you can only find them from specific enemies, and once your health starts to drop, it can be surprisingly difficult to get it back up to its maximum. You can purchase health potions in shops around Dotnia, but you're limited to however many empty bottles are in your possession. There are also occasions where just entering a room is almost a guarantee of taking damage. Enemies sometimes appear almost directly in front of you, and when this happens, it can be very difficult to take them out before they manage to strike you.

   The entire Flame Temple also warrants mention, as it is so relentlessly aggravating that it actually manages to bring the whole game down on its own. The temple is laid out in such a way that, should you die, you must progress through almost the entirety of the temple again in order to hit switches in the correct order, opening the necessary pathways. Worse, it's also home to an incredibly frustrating enemy that, if it hits you, instantly reduces your health to half an apple and completely wipes out your magic. Add to that the fact that there are enemies in the dungeon that require magic to defeat, as well as the general difficulty of finding health and magic restoration outside of killing enemies, and you have a recipe for frustration. Although the Flame Temple is the one and only dungeon that manages to be this frustrating, it has to be conquered in order to progress, and it's a roadblock that is sure to frustrate nearly everyone who plays the game.

   Despite a few places where the retro chic gets a bit too retro, 3D Dot Game Heroes is a terrific example of how to make old new again. Even though it shamelessly borrows almost everything in it from other game series to some degree, there really isn't anything quite like it on the PS3 or any other platform. Although players can expect to spend less than twenty hours on the adventure, an incredible number of side quests, plenty of hidden areas to explore, and two terrific mini-games — a version of Breakout and Tower Defense called Blockout and Block Defense respectively — provide plenty of additional value. The character creator alone can provide endless hours of fun for the artistically minded, and there's even a new game plus. Although not as impressive as Demon's Souls, 3D Dot Game Heroes is a terrific look back at what made NES games great, and for $39.99, it's definitely worth the price of admission.

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