Where do great games come from? Why, From Software of course. har har! Seriously though, developer From Software is a veteran and very successful Japanese game developer with games like Armored Core, Echo Night: Beyond, Enchanted Arms, and last year's tough and great RPG, Demon's Souls. Today marks the release of their newest title for the North American market, exclusively for the PS3. 3D Dot Game Heroes has not only a goofy name, but also a cleverly self-aware and charming nature. Combining old school RPG with new school functionality, 3D Dot is an intriguing title for nostalgic seeking fans and newcomers alike.
The goal of 3D Dot Game Heroes is to save Dotnia from the increasing evil that is overwhelming it. The opening cutscene explains, via text, that long ago a dark force shrouded Dotnia and only a brave hero who was in possession of six light orbs managed to return peace by sealing the evil away. Now, a Dark Bishop known as Fuelle has opened the proverbial Pandora's Box and Dotnia is once again under great threat from evil and hordes of monsters. It's up to you, young hero, to seek out the powers that your ancestor once used and again restore peace to Dotnia.
The game begins by allowing players to choose between male and female genders and then from a few dozen different characters, which you provide a name for. A few character classes are included too like Scholar, Royalty, and Hero. The gender and class you choose affect your base stats. A fairly robust character editor allows you to make your own hero to play. Earlier today, an announcement from Atlus reveals that created characters can now be uploaded and shared thanks to the Hall of Heroes, which is pretty cool. I dabbled in the character editor for several minutes before deciding to go with a built in character that looked like a mage.
Dotnia is a kingdom in need of saving, and one of the first quests is to get to the king's castle to hear his plea for help. Of course you'll take on the challenge of ridding Dotnia of this evil, and so your real quest begins. What you do from here is fairly open, but to complete the main quest you will need to find and survive seven different temples. These temples get increasingly harder and feature plenty of enemies, puzzles, and a boss battle in the end. By clearing the temple you will advance the story and earn a Life Up to increase you overall health capacity. Your health capacity is pretty low to start off with and you can die quickly in 3D Dot if you're not careful. Given its numerous ties and homage-paying to games like The Legend of Zelda, it's no surprise that your health is represented in hearts and half-hearts.
There are plenty of other instances in game that are intentional takes from older classic games, like Zelda. 3D Dot has a curious sense of humor that really works well for itself. The sense of humor, including character musings about 2D and 3D, actually goes along with the visual style very well. Even if you don't get a lot of the references to older games -- I'm sure I have missed and am still missing plenty -- you'll still have ample reason to smirk and enjoy what From Software did with their gameworld.
Humor aside, there's lot of combat in 3D Dot. Like any classic RPG, players will encounter different weapons to help dispatch the endless (thanks to respawning) supply of monsters. Shields, swords, and bows make up the primary weapons with magic abilities included as well. Items can be bought and upgraded at pertinent locations, like at a blacksmith for example. So that super large sword that you have at the beginning of the game (really, it's size is comical) can be further upgraded to provide even more capability. The currency for goods is coinage, which you will find hidden in game objects and dropped by slain enemies. Treasure chests often also reveal monetary goodies.
Blacksmiths are but one of several different types of NPCs. Most NPCs scattered throughout the kingdom are found in different towns, and many of these folks have very little to say. Others will send you about Dotnia on different types of quests. These optional quests can obviously extend the gameplay quite a bit. From what I've read, and guesstimating from the pace I'm currently on in my own first play-through, you're looking at ten to twelve hours of play time if you skip most of the side quests and maybe double that if you try to do every quest.
A map gives you the general direction of the next main quest location, but I've still gotten lost or confused on several occasions. With respawning enemies popping up just about every time you pass through a screen again, it can get irritating. I just wish the game did a little bit of a better job giving you more than just a general direction to go, and I could do with out the constant respawning too, although that is a staple of the genre.
From a presentation perspective, 3D Dot is a rather unique title. The 3D blocks, or dots, look pretty great actually. I have never played another game with quite this look. While it's not the most technically outstanding, it certainly stands out from a style perspective, blending an old school RPG flair with unusual 3D blocks. The sounds are less impressive, I thought, primarily due to the retro soundtrack. I'm all for retro gaming, and even though the soundtrack fits the nostalgic atmosphere From created, it's still undeniably grating after a couple of hours. I also "blame" the soundtrack for making me sleepy during a few late night sessions with this game, for what it's worth. The sound effects on the other hand are fine and get the job done without being outstandingly good or bad.
So far my time with 3D Dot Game Heroes has been by far more enjoyable than not. It's a clever game that's well made and well rounded, and at a budget price, too. Players wanting to customize their experience can spend a lot of time in create their own hero and share them, too. As far as I'm concerned, From Software has made another fine game and Atlus has made another wise decision to bring it to the North American market.
To the summary...