Why did the king want to go into 3D again?
The very first moment I stuck 3D Dot Game Heroes into my PlayStation 3, I got a huge smile on my face. Here I was looking at a title screen that was so obviously cribbed from the 8-bit era, complete with period specific chip-tune style music, and couldn't have been happier. The flood of memories coming from my childhood was certainly impressive as Silicon had nailed that aspect of their quirky throwback title. Tell me if you've heard this one before: You play as the descendant of a legendary hero who has been tasked by the king to save your land (Dotnia) from impending doom.
To start off the game after an optional hard drive install, you're given a choice to create your own hero or pick a pre-made one. The character creator isn't just a "name, rank, serial number" creation tool, but you're able to go pixel-by-pixel and draw out however you want your hero to look. You'll be able to tweak a set of poses and the tools provided work quite well. If your creative juices aren't flowing, there's a plethora of heroes already made for you including a ninja, who is just a breathing tube sticking out of the ground, and my personal favorite, a dog. Yes, my great grandfather was still a human hero, and people still talked to me like I was a normal person, but I was a dog. Every time you load the game, you'll get to pick a new hero if you'd like to switch it up. Not only that, but you can head on over to the official website and download creations of other players to use them in Dotnia. The only attributes that really effect how your character plays in-game are the sex and class of your character. Men get bonuses to strength while the ladies get a reduction in magic consumption. This is a combat heavy game, so you may want to grab a warrior dude.
When you finally set foot in Dotnia, you'll be exploring the vast landscape in search of six orbs hidden away in as many temples, then make your final assault on the Tower of Darkness. All of your favorite elemental based temples make an appearance, as well as the final tower which in typical old school fashion has you completing bits and pieces of the previous temples, as well as re-fighting all of the bosses. This particular location is an exercise in frustration due to the fact that if you die you get sent back to the beginning of the tower and there are limited warp points to get you back to where you need to go. In fact, all of the dungeons have this old mechanic in place, and while doing certain things will help you return to where you died quicker, repetition is never all that fun. While mostly charming, the art style is such that many times enemies and items are obscured by the now 3D architecture and the overlaid HUD, often making you lose some precious health or completely miss something you'll need to utilize. If you actually like that old school frustration, it's here in spades.
The world is open enough that you can get around, but there's a certain order in which you'll need to progress through the temples as you will need specific gear to get places. You'll eventually pick up most of the staples like a boomerang, bow and arrow, sprint shoes and hookshot, most of which are mapped to the circle button which you can cycle through quickly with R2 and L2. If you've got full health, your primary sword will be roughly half the screen and extra wide, allowing you to really screw up foes. On top of that, you can pay a blacksmith to increase your length and girth as well as give you the power to properly penetrate. The problem here is that once you take any damage, your sword shrinks and you feel severely underpowered, losing all its abilities. Throughout the game, you'll be able to collect additional swords and shields, each which have different power and attributes. Most of these are optional so if you don't think you need to get them then don't bother, though they'll certainly help you out.
Aside from the main quest, there's plenty else to do which will usually result in some new item, sword, or extra cash. One particularly entertaining aspect is the inclusion of several mini-games. You'll come across a time trial sprinting game, an breakout clone, and even a tower defense game complete with multiple upgradable towers. All of these are an entertaining way to pass the time, but would have been nice to access directly from a menu if you just want to kill some time. At least they've included a fast travel system which will let you warp to the main cities you've visited with an expendable item. There are also plenty of references to other games if you're paying attention, clearly there with a wink and a nod to some of the more difficult titles of days past including From Software's own Demon's Souls (From Software published in Japan).
There's certainly quite a bit to do if you want to explore the land of Dotnia (including a new game plus mode), but I found that after a half dozen hours the charm had passed and the dated adventuring mechanics had turned the title into a rather short-loved trip down memory lane. If you're really into the old school then you may want to grab 3D Dot Game Heroes, but if you've never touched anything from days past, you should certainly steer clear. Its main draw is nostalgia, and even that fades quickly.
- Serious nostalgia charm.
- Cute retro inspired graphics.
- Fairly lengthy single player with plenty of side quests and extras
- Sure, the 8-bit games this was cribbed from were somewhat broken, but this is more broken than those.
- The smile you'll have from its charm will fade quickly.
- The Tower of Darkness.