The following piece was written in August 2019, as part of a Staff Writer Job Application. Sadly, I didn’t get the job but here’s my work for prosperity; A review of the then new Smash Bros. DLC Character, Hero from Dragon Quest (as this is review for DLC content, some preexisting knowledge of the game is presumed).
A new Challenger draws near, with sword and shield in hand, and more than a few tricks up their sleeve…
Released on 31st July, ‘Hero’ from Square Enix’s Dragon Quest series joins Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as the second DLC Fighter. In typical Smash Bros. style, Nintendo announced a video presentation with series creator and director, Masahiro Sakurai on the 30th, which promised to reveal the release date of said Hero… less than 24 hours later, he was in our hands.
With 72 Characters and counting, the Smash roster could be never ending. So it may seem strange it’s taken over 20 years for one of Japan’s most beloved franchises to gain representation. To some Westerners, Dragon Quest is almost mythical in its popularity, purportedly “bringing the country to a near standstill” less new entries be released on weekends only. But with one or two outliers aside, the franchise has never truly caught on overseas, which is probably why its inclusion in Smash was a long time coming.
As the protagonists of Dragon Quest titles usually go by whatever the Player names them, ‘Hero’ is the given name of their appearance in Smash. Representing the legacy of the franchise, four Hero character skins are included from across the years, including; Erdrick (Dragon Quest III), Solo (DQ IV) and Eight (DQ VIII), with Eleven (DQ XI) being put front and centre as the main aesthetic style. It’s fair to say Eleven is not the most recognisable Hero, even in the West, but Dragon Quest XI S was also the very first title ever announced for the Switch console (way back in 2015 when it was still known as NX), it finally releases this September. It’s fair to assume Square Enix may have finally deemed Smash Bros. worthy of a series crossover in the hope it’ll spread some of that sales magic which worked so well for the previously Japan-exclusive Fire Emblem boys, back in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Following Joker’s (Persona 5) entrance to Smash back in April, which included the Persona summoning mechanic from that series, Hero continues the trend of DLC Fighters being a little more gimmicky than the already included 69 characters. Hero emulates his turn-based Dragon Quest routes by utilising not only the familiar Smash, Tilt and Special moves, but also 21 randomly selectable Magic Spells. By performing the Down Special, a small menu containing four of these Spells will pop-up over Hero’s damage percentage.
These including Dragon Quest fan favourites such as ‘Sizzle’ – a fast moving flame projectile, ‘Hatchet Man’ – a slow to start but heavy hitting 35% sword slash, and ‘Zoom’ – a ‘fast-travel’ move repurposed as an invincible recovery tactic.
At first glance it may seem Hero is innately over powered with all this additional fire power, but it’s the random nature of these moves which actually helps to balance things out. You can’t be certain which Spells will appear in the menu, or that you’ll get the chance to select what you want in time.
Each of these abilities also incurs a Magic Point cost (MP – this is unique to Hero) as part of a Mana System also present in Dragon Quest. Like the pop-up menu next to Hero’s percentage, there is also an MP bar. This is filled to 100 at the start of a match, and gradually refills after use or while attacking other combatants. Hero Mains will need to be mindful of not spending too much MP at once, as an empty gauge will leave you with no Special Moves at all.
(NOTE: While random, the selection menu for Magic Spells will rarely offer you a choice your remaining MP cannot afford, unless your MP is absolutely spent. Some Spells cost as little as 1MP)
Another of the 21 Spells, ‘Hocus Pocus’, has ten random chance results all of it’s own, though some are good, some are bad. These including increasing you to a giant size, turning yourself invisible, or randomly selecting any of the other possible Spell Attacks, not excluding ‘Kamikaze’… This Spell sacrifices your own life to deal a whopping 50% damages to nearby opponents. A well timed ‘Magical Burst’ is also a highly gratifying kill move, dealing between 10% to 48% damage, spending all your MP in the process. It’s an almost guaranteed KO if your competitors are unlucky or foolish enough to be in range.
If gambling with the MP meter does leave you dry of Spells and Special moves, there’s one more random chance mechanic in Hero’s arsenal. To further emulate Dragon Quest, or indeed most RPG battle systems, there is a one in eight chance of Hero’s Smash Attacks dealing a critical hit. This’ll double the damage of a successful sword swing, accurately recreating the heavily luck driven gameplay which makes turn-based RPGs so addictive.
Needless to say, mastering Hero does not come easy. Straight after picking the character, you’re hit with the reality you won’t stand a chance without committing the lion’s share of the MP Spells to memory. Even a menu of just four options is incredibly daunting when you’re forced to make a choice as quickly as possible before an opponent takes advantage of your idle position. This is especially true when the one Spell you’re really hoping for refuses to appear…
Those who put the work in and manage to wrangle Hero’s random chance nature will feel incredibly satisfied. Careful execution and a bit of good fortune will see your opponent struggling back to the stage while you simultaneously line up the perfect attack to send them flying off again. This is the beating heart of competitive Smash, and Hero symbolises it perfectly.
Hero can be obtained as part of the five part ‘Fighter Pass’ for £22.49 (including Joker, Banjo- Kazooie arriving in Autumn, and two more unknown fighters coming by February 2020), or separately for £5.59 – which includes the character, all his costumes, and one stage with eight music tracks.
The Yggdrasil Altar stage (I have yet to attempt speaking this aloud) is a key location in a lot of Dragon Quest titles, appearing here in it’s ‘DQ XI’ style. The ‘World Tree’ serves as backdrop for a travelling platform which features a couple of other series landmarks and monster cameos. Unfortunately the stage is a little bland, just a few fly-bys as standard stage formations rotate in and out. The music doesn’t represent the franchise in a particularly eclectic way either. To none DQ fans, it’d be hard to place any of the tracks separately, all sounding basically the same. However, Hero himself more than covers these complaints…
As a final love letter to Dragon Quest, Hero’s final smash – GigaSlash – features cameos from seven more Heroes. The powerful cinematic showcases each lending their power to deal typically devastating damage to any opponents caught in the initial upward sword swing.
Quite frankly, the inclusion of this wide-reaching, random-number-generator (RNG) type mechanic is nothing short of genius on the part of series director, Masahiro Sakurai. The man has often touted Smash as a Fighting game which can be played casually – with many random elements, or competitively – with fewer random elements. However, it’s no secret most professional Smash tournaments have worked for years to iron out Smash Bros.’ chaotic nature, and this has even taken hold in the current Smash Bros. Ultimate Online Mode, where players can battle free of any random encumberments (for the most part).
By throwing Hero into the mix, these random moments are unavoidably returned to the fray. And while the competitive community has decried items and smash balls in the past, this addition has been taken in good sport. Hero is in many ways the truest realisation of Smash Bros. core intent as a Fighting Game franchise. Highly skilled while inescapably chaotic.
The 21 Magic Spells are largely random, but to wield them as part of a winning strategy takes real skill. Only the most dedicated players will commit the odds of each Spell’s appearance and their MP costs to memory. As a spectator, there is no greater tension than not knowing what will happen next, while also understanding that the players in front of you are ready for any and all eventualities – no matter how spectacular, unforgiving or outright insane it may be.
It’ll be an exciting wait to see Hero’s potential in the eSports circuit over the next few months. Will Dragon Quest’s unsung Hero finally get his day in the (Western) sun? Only time will tell. I’m sure to take more than a few ‘Kacrackle Slashes’ to the face before then.