3D Dot Game Heroes (PlayStation 3)
CERO Rating: A
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: From Software
Developer: Silicon Studio
Japanese Release Date: November 5th, 2009
North American Release Date: May 11th, 2010
Are you a fan of the original Legend of Zelda? Do you crave the days when videogames didn’t really help you out, but instead forced you to replay over and over to find every little secret? Do you long for the days when videogames were about gameplay and substance, not flashy visuals and surround sound? If you answered yes to any of these questions, particularly the first, then you’ve found your dream game. 3D Dot Heroes, as I shall call it from here on out, is the answer to those questions. It’s essentially the original Legend of Zelda, mixed with the overworld of A Link to the Past, and a few elements from Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest thrown in for good measure. There are no stunning graphics or a fully orchestrated soundtrack by the London Symphony Orchestra. What you get here is most pixelated graphics this generation, mixed with great synth music and archaic gameplay traditions. It can tickle your nostalgia bone so much that you’ll be stuck to the television for twenty hours or so. At least, that’s what happened to me. It really drew out my inner child. Read on to find out why.
Part of the magic lies in the storyline. The Legend of Zelda featured Zelda’s kidnapping and Link rescuing her. There was a little more to it with the Triforce, but at its core, Zelda was kidnapped and needed help from Link, who would ultimately restore order to the land. Simple enough, right? Thankfully the series progressed a lot, so when A Link to the Past hit in a few years, the story spanned generations and felt epic. Fans of ALttP are in luck, because 3D Dot Heroes has far more in common with it than any of the other Zeldas. The major exception: this game is completely humor-centric.
The tale begins many generations ago when the world was 2D. Yes, completely flat. As you could imagine, the people weren’t very happy with this. I mean, would you want live in a flat world? I didn’t think so. So despite acceptance of their flat universe, they just weren’t happy. One day an evil creature wreaked havoc on the world. He released monsters all across the land, and it was a really bad day. Yes, the game actually says that. At that moment, six sages created special artifacts that would harness their combined power and lock away the evil forever. What a coincidence! Once done, the king celebrated by making the world 3D. With the sages’ strength and PlayStation 3’s power (I’m serious), their world suddenly went full 3D. It was also decided that the legendary heroes were no longer necessary, so the Power Sword was eternally sealed away…
If the plot sounds familiar, it should; the whole game borrows virtually every element imaginable from Zelda. Things pick up several generations later when the great evil has broken free, monsters roam once again, and a hero is needed. I’m ad-libbing here, but I’m sure you understand. The rest of the story is just as ridiculous, and only becomes more insane once weapons are introduced. Many of the event items are named after technologies introduced in the early nineties. You can expect to see a Mode 7 weapon, or maybe a polygon item, etc. It’s completely nuts, but works so well. I smiled almost the entire time.
As always, it’s important to know that this is a Japanese import. If you don’t understand the language, you’ll have trouble acquiring all the event items and side-quests. Other than that, it’s perfectly feasible that a non-Japanese gamer can complete the main quest and really enjoy it. The trophy descriptions are in Japanese too, so if you’re a trophy whore, a translation guide will be necessary.
Gameplay works almost identically to the first Zelda on the Famicom Disk System/NES. You traverse the overworld seeking clues that will lead to the next dungeon. There are six total, before you take on the Great Tower. The general progression works as follows: visit a local town, learn a dungeon’s location, complete it and acquire a new weapon. You also meet one of the sages and learn a magic spell. Afterwards, you move on to the next village. Rinse and repeat. This is how Zelda has worked for years, and for the most part, it’s exactly how 3D Dot Heroes works today.
In dungeons, players transition one screen at a time, fighting their way ever closer to the master. Everything from the bosses, health, magic, to even the puzzles and basic enemies are Zelda-inspired. Expect to see knights, blobs, bats, skeletons, and more. Even enemy movement is a carbon copy of the eighties. The same goes for puzzles. The more advanced ones introduced in Ocarina of Time are nowhere to be found here. Instead, you merely tackle switches with blocks, defeat all the enemies in a room to progress, etc. This should be second nature to any Zelda fan. Rather than feeling like a complete rip-off though, everything forms as a great homage to Nintendo’s classic work. It’s for this reason why From Software hasn’t been sued…yet.
Even so, not everything is copied. For one, 3D Dot Heroes features about 20 or so swords. Zelda has never boasted that. Nonetheless, similarities are obvious. The ever trusty boomerang, bombs, bow and arrows, hookshot, and more are present. Even how your armor upgrades is via a magical ring. Classic! Either way, the swords are the difference here. You acquire the vast majority through side-quests and events. Unfortunately, this is where some troubles come into play. Like old-school videogames, you’re never told exactly when and what to do to activate events. You could play the entire game and miss everything, but there are two endings as a result. For the good conclusion, you must rescue two fairies and the princess before defeating the final boss. However, no one tells you that. This is one of those classic love or hate it aspects. Given 3D Dot Heroes was just released, one would hope this would have been addressed. Hints are never a bad thing. Instead, expect to roam around for hours looking for every item and event quest. After 23 hours, I was still missing plenty.
More differences lie in the sword tempering. Players can visit a blacksmith and upgrade not only their swords’ overall length and width, but also whether they fire magical beams, reach through walls, etc. A maxed out sword is extremely powerful. You can also arc sword attacks. By pressing and holding circle and moving the analog stick, you can swing in various directions. This isn’t possible with each sword, but that’s what makes them so unique.
3D Dot Heroes suffers somewhat from mimicking such old mechanics, but there’s no denying that the new elements and sheer nostalgia more than make up for the shortcomings. I’ve enjoyed this import so much that I didn’t even want to write this, instead I desired to just explore every nook and cranny of the world. I’m certain that old-school gamers will feel the same.
With the graphics, it’s rather funny. While they sure look old, they also appear really nice. Some elements are clearly better than others. There’s a whole new level of charm thanks to all the polygon cubes. It really feels like Zelda jumped out of the NES and into the PS3, but didn’t get the memo about ultra-realistic graphics. It still looks and feels like the NES game. There are problems though, some rather surprising. Loading is one. Every time you leave the overworld, you’re treated to a lovely loading screen. It’s white, with a poster of old videogames redone with the 3D Dot graphics. Those like Adventure Island, Double Dragon, Street Fighter and others make an appearance. While this is awesome content, there are way too many screens. I began feeling bored of them by the ten hour mark. Add in another ten, and I started to dread them. This brought down the score a bit, which is a shame. Other little issues include slowdown when too much is happening at one time. This wasn’t done for nostalgia; it’s clearly a technical hiccup. On the flip side, the water looks great and character design is excellent.
Continuing on graphics, I suppose now’s a great time to mention the 16x16x16 dot character creation mode. My numbers may be off, but that’s not important. If that wasn’t enough, the finished product can be exported to a USB stick and uploaded to your home computer, and then the Net for all to enjoy. It stinks that this isn’t an in-game feature, but at least there’s a simple work-around. You can also take screenshots at almost any time and share them too. The ones you see in this review are all courtesy of my adventure. Yes, nothing exciting, but I was too immersed to stop and think to take pics.
As far as the soundtrack goes, once again, it pays homage to The Legend of Zelda. Even the main theme sounds familiar. There is synth, MIDI and more featured. There’s no voice acting, given the design From Software was going for. There are about a dozen songs, and they somehow don’t grow repetitive. Every map area enjoys its own distinct sound that fits perfectly. When in the desert, there are distinct Arab melodies, Celtic rhythms in other areas, and more. It’s a simple, yet very effective soundtrack. (I’m looking at you Ahmed!)
3D Dot Game Heroes is an excellent addition to any classic videogame fan’s library. It lasts between twelve and twenty-five hours depending on what you want to do. Even afterward, you can return to finish any quests missed. Just be sure to pick up a guide or read an FAQ, because there are timed quests you won’t want to miss. Nintendo may have The Legend of Zelda, but PS3 fans now have the next closest thing, literally. When 3D Dot Game Heroes arrives in North America, check it out. You won’t be disappointed.
Overall (Not an Average): 8.3/10