The Kingdom of Dotnia was once a well-travelled land, having the history of a famed hero who had sealed away the evil King Onyx and his fiends that overran the kingdom. After the charm of the story wore off, King Tezro of Dotnia realized that his 2D kingdom needed some serious upgrading to appeal to people again. Who would want to visit a land rendered by sprites? As Dotnia springs out into the realm of pixilated 3D, the Dark Bishop Fuelle seized the six orbs and the sages that once allowed the first hero to rid Dotnia of King Onyx, and brought about another eruption of evil monsters to infest Dotnia. Thus, a new hero will have to save the kingdom yet again in 3D Dot Game Heroes
In true fashion of finding the grass greener on the other side, most of us gamers were enthusiastic for the release of a game that Atlus promised would allow us to take a nostalgic trip to games from the industry’s youngin’ days. If you’ve been raised on gaming, you’ll certainly have memories attached to those days that you can attribute to what Silicon Studio tried very diligently to incorporate into their tribute to retro gaming.
Personally, the experience of the game that connected me most with my childhood gaming years was its level of difficulty while simultaneously keeping its simplicity. Most evident of this are the boss levels of each dungeon. Partial to NES sequences, each boss behaves in a particular pattern that is easy to remember but difficult to overcome. There are no chaotic environments for your brain to have to register concurrently. Contact is straightforward, but challenging.
Sometimes, however, the difficulty found in 3D Dot Game Heroes can be attributed to the frustration felt when trying to navigate the expansive world of Dotnia. Some areas will remain off limits until you find items to help you move across them, like the grapple hook that lets you leap across one wooden pole to the next. Even beyond knowing that these areas will need to be revisited, the radius of each dungeon will need to be explored in depth to find your path toward it. I’ve had to take consistent breaks from the game before managing to locate the next dungeon on my list without wanting to throw the controller against a wall.
Traversing past some of the puzzles strewn about Dotnia isn’t always as simple as figuring each trick out. Some will have to be crossed multiple times over to find the correct route, and become extremely tiring. Moving across the desert, for instance, moving streams of quicksand are your mode of transportation but sometimes eject you at unexpected ends of the land. Given the somewhat inaccurate controls, too, you might step out onto the wrong path of sand and, to what always results in a sigh-bearing moment, be forced to wait the trip out to make your way over yet again. Although I wouldn’t exactly call the frustration a pleasant aspect of the game, finally getting to your destination through the haze of spawning enemies and various puzzles feels like quite the conquer over the developers.
The presence of the developers is something they want to keep reminding you of, which is clear by the numerous references to the game industry and the developer’s role in producing the games you play. Jokes like “It’s a secret to everybody,” or your fairy companion’s complaints as to the inconsistency of spell names add to what makes 3D Dot Game Heroes so endearing. The main reference is quite clearly a tribute to Zelda games of the past. From Software tends to dance across the line between reference and rip-off, however, but for once that’s not necessarily meant with an accusatory tone. Being that the “borrowing” is part of the game’s intention, it feels more appropriate to a tribute than the usual negative connotation that comes with the term “rip-off.”
Given the open editor to making your hero, you can even create a Zelda rendition with which to travel about Dotnia fulfilling your mission. Or, if you choose, you can pick one of the various ready-made characters that include everything from the hero of the trailers to a chubby Santa Clause. Atlus essentially wants all your desires fulfilled, because you can create any blocky form your creativity can design.
All charming qualities aside, 3D Dot Game Heroes as a game in and of itself can hold its own. I wasn’t initially too engrossed in the game. Dungeons were full of tricks, and the boss levels challenging, but I didn’t feel too enthralled to make my next trip to locating a different dungeon. Once I familiarized myself with more tools to allow me to explore more of Dotnia, and more abilities with which to tackle the increasingly difficult dungeons, I became more aware of how much fun the game could be. I was appreciating the experience of nostalgia that surfaced from every facet of the game. These included the top down camera view, the variety of enemies and abilities I gathered to fend them off with, and finding my way around the puzzles and traps laden across enemy-infested dungeons.
The hefty fights are the most intriguing parts of nostalgia from 3D Dot Game Heroes. From Software delivers an attempt at making the controls over your hero during fights as well rounded as possible. Whatever move you might feel the need to conduct, Silicon Studio seems to have incorporated. You can dash outward with your sword extended in front of you, swirl your sword about to catch multiple foes in your line of fire, and wield additional spells and tools in battle. The most useful of them, however, is the epic sword at its maximum potential that you might have seen in screens or trailers. When your hero’s health is full, your sword spreads out to the full extent of the screen in ridiculous proportions, chopping down everything in sight. The blacksmith in town can increase its size from the length to the width, and even increase its level of strength or give it unique abilities like shooting out laser beams.
Your abilities apart from wielding your main weapon are mapped out on an adjacent button on the PlayStation 3 controller, and can be cycled through with the right trigger. That makes calling on them in the heat of battle not as efficient as you might hope it to be. Either way, your boomerang, grapple hook, bombs, and various magical abilities that are gathered along the way prepare you for both getting the full exploration experience out of Dotnia as well as tackling some of the stronger and more fickle foes. Most enemies can be defeated with the swish of your awesome sword, but others will require special tactics. Magic wielding enemies, for instance, will not be harmed with your physical attack so you’ll have to cast a magical reflection buff to use their spells against them.
Ultimately there are essentially two ways to play 3D Dot Game Heroes. You can decide to take the expansive world of Dotnia for all it has to offer, or you can skip directly to intruding on each dungeon in search of the 6 orbs. There are a plethora of side quests to embark on, and secret treasure chests to be uncovered. It’s very possible to spend hours exploring Dotnia, especially given your inevitable return to already explored areas armed with new methods of getting across obstacles. If you prefer to focus on the grueling battles that make up 3D Dot Game Heroes, tackling the dungeons (provided you can find them) will still provide hours of scrutiny against finding keys to locked doors, passageways to blocked off treasure chests, and a means by which to kill the boss at the end of each dungeon.
Each dungeon gets progressively harder and rife with more puzzles to decode and traps to avoid. Some will entail placing statues over buttons in a particular order to open a door, while others require acrobat-like abilities to leap from one wooden pole to another. Even outside of the dungeons, puzzle traversing will be involved. You’ll be going through portals in the shape of caves and wandering hedge mazes laden with traps all while avoiding constantly spawning enemies. The game never bores in this regard, so long as you don’t get frustrated with your search of the entrance to the dungeon in question.
Although I was keen on discovering each tiny reference embedded in both the storyline and the gameplay of 3D Dot Game Heroes, I ultimately came to appreciate the difficulty of the dungeon explorations the most. Although exploring Dotnia became a colorful and varied experience given the juxtaposition of so many different environments, I was most excited when I finally reached the next dungeon and was prepared to have my mind and skills tested. Overcoming the obstacles that require everything from fighting to timing a hook shot amounted to the most fun aspects of the game and what was most fun about Zelda. Overly pixilated graphics and catchy old school tunes are charming, but charm can only maintain so long. Even with the laborious task of finding each dungeon, you’re rewarded with rooms of challenges and hidden items with met expectations of an epic boss at the end of each dungeon trip.