Preview: 3D Dot Game Heroes

Earlier this evening, Atlus invited us to sit down with them as PR man Aram Jabbari demonstrated the North American edition of 3D Dot Game Heroes. For those unfamiliar, 3D Dot Game Heroes is the retro-3D action role-playing game that came out last summer in Japan for PlayStation 3.

With the North American version scheduled for May, Jabbari gave us a look at some of the game’s core elements.

3D Dot Game Heroes‘ plot centers around the 2D kingdom of Dotnia, who’ve decided that 2D is out and 3D is in. So they shift their world to the current generation. However, new evil confronts the land and a hero must rise. That’s where the player comes in — you know, to go forth to retrieve the almighty sword and save the kingdom in peril.

Character creation is a key element. Since the game brings our 8-bit pastimes to life, it’s only natural that we get to decide which pastime that will be, whether you want to recreate Link, Mario or something all your own. Jabbari went ahead and created Domo-kun, the mascot of Japan’s NHK television station. Admittedly, I forgot his name and had to be reminded of who exactly he was.

Customization is pretty deep. In the Domo-kun demonstration, we saw that as Domo moves his mouth opens and closes and his body shifts from left to right. Players may, of course, craft their own walking animations. They’ll probably appear a lot smoother, too, as Domo-kun looked more like an ottoman wobbling than a 3D Dot Game Hero.

I got to take a peak at the first quest players will take on in the game. The hero makes his way to the palace. After speaking to the king, he’ll ask you to go retrieve the almighty sword. You can say either yes or no to this, but no matter what you respond, you’ll end up getting the sword regardless. The point of a “no” option being available is for comical means (considering you have to say “yes” for story purposes). We won’t tell you what the king responds to a “no”, but it’s funny stuff.

Players start off with a basic sword but can get plenty of swords throughout the game. Jabbari tells us that there are “tons” of extra swords to find and if you don’t explore the land, you won’t find them all. Jabbari’s advanced character (not Domo-kun, different load file) seemed to have one of the biggest swords in the game. It could take out monsters like they’re nothing. I worried before this preview that the big sword would make the game too easy, but Jabbari assured me players won’t be seeing anything like that in the beginning.

Killing enemies give players red and green apples. Red apples restore health while green apples restore magic. I saw one bit of magic where the player freezes his surroundings so the hero can calmly walk through the field of enemies. It was pretty bad-ass, to put it bluntly.

Players have secondary weapons aiding their primary sword. The sword is obviously going to be a hero’s glory, but with it comes the added bonus of another piece of equipment to rely on. I saw the boomerang, bow and arrow, bomb, and hook shot at work. They all add a little variety to the way you’ll kill your foes. I’ll admit, it’s fun planting a bomb and watching an enemy explode, blocks flying about like LEGO pieces. There’s more secondaries than just these mentioned, though.

Continuing the quest, we saw Jabbari’s Domo-kun go through a vast dungeon in pursuit of one of the game’s seven orbs that must be collected. In the dungeon, I noticed that the environment has some interactivity connected to it, as players need to move certain blocks to get through obstacles or to get to treasure chests, and that some doors in the dungeon cannot even be opened. Players will actually have to find colored keys outside of the dungeon and backtrack to open these doors and find special items. These doors are entirely optional, but give players good reason to backtrack.

The quest ended with a boss fight against the snake you’ve probably already seen as the top image of this preview. Players have to destroy each part of the snake in order to defeat it. Defeating it earns players the first orb that the hero must retrieve. If you’re up for more, you can even revive the boss and fight it again. No need to replay the game to re-fight your favorite boss, right?

After the quest, we saw some other little tidbits of the game such as the From Cave. It’s basically a big shout out to the game’s Japanese publisher, From Software. The cave’s inhabitants make references to From Software games like Demon’s Souls with lines like: “The real 3D Dot Game Heroes starts here.” It’s something to appreciate and it’ll bring out a laugh or smirk or two.

The North American version of the game is receiving plenty of additional content not included in the original disc released in Japan last summer. For starters, all the patches made to the Japanese version are now in the game. That includes the optional HDD install (1 to 2 gigs, Jabbari told me), an assortment of pre-made custom characters to start with, bonus tower defense stages available as downloadable content in Japan, forty new pieces of loading art based off Japanese box art, a loading screen gallery, in-game screenshots and more.

Speaking of mini-games, 3D Dot Game Heroes offers three vast mini-experiences. I was lucky enough to see two of the three mini-games available to players.

Block Defense can basically be described as tower defense. It allows players to set up towers, whether it be a Fire Tower, Slow Tower, Quake Tower, or any other element, and use them to kill waves of enemies as they pass by. What’s more is that if players see the towers aren’t doing well, they can jump in and kill the enemies with their sword. However, doing that won’t earn them any experience.

The second mini-game we saw was called Blockout. This is basically brick breaker. Players hit the little ball with their sword and shield while it bounces around breaking bricks. The ability to use the sword to hit the ball is actually a feature exclusive to North America as the Japanese version can only use the shield.

Other small things to note that we were shown are the games loading screens, which features homage to classic games like Chrono Trigger and Populous, an in-game homage to Mega Man where the hero obtains Dash Boots to make him run faster, and that players hear an annoying little bleeping noise when their health is low. You’ve gotta love that noise.

3D Dot Game Heroes looks promising to say the least. The game features seven large dungeons, a large land to explore, a dozen hours of playtime, and all the fun of a 3D game gone retro. Our final words: keep it on your radar, especially if you’re a fan of the classics.

Atlus was kind enough to give us a fresh batch of new screenshots. Check those out through the gallery.

Oh, and for those wondering if the game will ever come to Xbox 360? Jabbari gave us a plain “Nope.” Sorry, 360 fans.

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