Retroreflection #2: Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime

Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are the world’s most famous JRPG series to date. Once respectively developed by fierce rivals Squaresoft and Enix, both tried to match each other year after year until the 2 companies merged in 2003, in order to better compete in the western market. Now some 13 years later, they certainly did just that, with the the now-named Square Enix become a big publisher in their own right, of course retaining the Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest IP’s, as well as owning other big names Tomb Raider, Hitman, and Deus Ex.

That popularity has brought spin off titles for both franchises; Final Fantasy creating a new series subtitled Crystal Chronicles for Nintendo platforms, along with the more strategic Final Fantasy Tactics series. Dragon Quest on the other hand, went with the Pokemon-esque Monsters series, and also the Mystery Dungeon series. This edition of Retroreflection tackles the spin-off that is considered a bit more niche given its core series: Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime.

So what is it?

You know how the story goes: all of Slime village’s inhabitants are kidnapped except you, and it’s your job to find and free everyone, acquiring and upgrading a tank (powered by a magic flute of course) to save your village. Not heard that one before? Of course you haven’t. But while Rocket Slime may sound like nothing you’ve experienced before, it’s the combination of successful elements; most prominently Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, and a semi- strategic tank battle component for boss battles. Enough about the story though, Rocket Slime is about one thing: kicking the crap out of everything and collecting everything.

Unlike your typical sword-wielding RPG hero, Rocket is just a blue yet humble ball of goo. Players can attack using the only method available; holding down the action button along with the d-pad, in order to stretch Rocket in any direction, to slingshot him at baddies or break open chests. If held for a brief moment, Rocket performs a huge “elasto-blast” at enemies, bouncing around the area at high speeds.

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The beauty of Rocket Slime is in its exploration, and this is where the LoZ influence comes in. 75% of the game is a top-down platform adventure through 7 stages, where the titular ‘Rocket’ can jump, hover and attack when desired. After the initial couple of stages, you can explore where you want depending on your acquired abilities at that point; once all stages are unlocked, each one can be returned to as desired to use new abilities to finish them off. Your village companions must all be rescued to finally complete the game, and the village itself serves as hub for recovery and upgrades in between stage visiting.

It’s perfectly paced, with a learning curve that ensures you will never be bored; there is always new areas to explore/unlock, new abilities to learn and items/enemies to collect. 46640-Dragon_Quest_Heroes_-_Rocket_Slime_(U)(Legacy)-9The tank element is also huge fun, providing hands-on-deck fast-paced action as you load up previously collected items into your tanks cannons against your enemy tank. It’s an excellent tactical element that mixes surprisingly well and serves as an excellent climax to a title that is simply a joy to play.

Multiplayer is also available, and Rocket Slime delivers some very entertaining action as well. The tank battles from the single player boss fights are used, and up to four players can link up locally in 1v1, 1v2, or 2v2 battles. Unfortunately it is multi-cart multiplayer only, with no online/Wifi support, so it will be harder than ever to find Rocket Slime buddies to enjoy with. Multiplayer mode really feels like a whole separate game to the main quest, with a choice of a ton of different tanks, and up to 9999 HP available to distribute. Not to mention the variety of levels and support characters available.

Overall – *****

Rocket Slime is an amazing, if a little odd at first, DS gem. It is a game that knows its audience, delivering tongue-in-cheek moments and fan-service that Square Enix’s loyal fans will enjoy, while keeping the adventure fresh and simple throughout. Perfectly paced with tons to explore, Rocket Slime is possibly the most endearing JRPG spin-off in existence. An absolute joy to play from start to finish.

Journey into Mistwalker: Lose Yourself with a Fantasy Genius

Hironobu Sakaguchi could well be considered the Shigeru Miyamoto of JRPG videogames. He created the Final Fantasy video game series; the ‘Final’ meaning his final stab at making a mark on the industry 30 years ago. 4 sequels as director came after that, and also had a hand in the most revered FF titles VI and VII. Sakaguchi went onto direct the box-office bomb that was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. This consequently led to Sakaguchi voluntarily leaving his presidential position at Square (now Square Enix). In 2004, Sakaguchi founded his own company, Mistwalker.

Back when Microsoft actually cared about the JRPG genre, Mistwalker initially signed up with them to produce exclusive titles for the Xbox 360. 2 of which are possibly the finest JRPG’s for the system: Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey.

Blue Dragon is as traditional a JRPG as you’ll ever come across. A group of heroes set about to save their land from an evil ruler, traversing a massive world and using turn-based combat to defeat foes along the way. It does however boast unique qualities most other RPG’s at the time didn’t have. Blue Dragon was one of the first 3D RPGs released for the 360. It also boasts the unique art style of Akira Toriyama, creator of manga/anime series Dragon Ball. His artistic style and talent is also used in the Dragon Quest video game series. And to polish things off, the soundtrack is delivered from the immense musical talents of Nobou Uematsu, who also left Square to join Mistwalker with Sakaguchi.

Blue Dragon helped boost sales of the Xbox 360 in Japan at its 2006 release, along with game sales of over 167,000 in the first 10 weeks. Although in contrast Japan is an area that arguably Microsoft have now given up on; having only sold around 75,000 Xbox One consoles in total, and barely a JRPG even on the horizon. In it’s lifetime, Blue Dragon has managed around 920,000 unit sales worldwide, with over half of those coming from Japan and Europe.

“Microsoft sold 35,343 Xbox 360s – an increase of nearly 90 per cent over the previous week’s figure of just over 4000 consoles. It’s likely that the rise was linked to the release of Blue Dragon, which was developed by Mistwalker, the studio led by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi.”
– Ellie Gibson, Blue Dragon release boosts Xbox 360 sales in Japan, GamesIndustry.biz

Although Blue Dragon has been somewhat criticised for being too-traditional, even old-fashioned, there are some nice touches. For example, the battles are not the often-loathed ‘random’ battles from past Final Fantasy games, but instead induced/avoided by engaging/escaping the on-screen enemies. Hitting them first also gives you the first hit once a battle is initiated. Blue Dragon may not reinvent the wheel, but that does it no harm at all. It comes on 3 discs, and will easily clock up 60 hours+ before reaching the end. Only the most hyped RPG’s of such magnitude would attract the casual western gamer; in comparison the immensely disappointing Final Fantasy XIII managed over 2 million in sales, with over half coming from the US.

Blue Dragon is much the better title, although less-appealing to many on the surface. The cartoon style graphics and action-figure style characters appeal more to anime fans, but the battle elements and grand-adventure style make it an essential Xbox JRPG.

Following on from the success Blue Dragon brought, a franchise was born. An anime series was created, 2 sequels were also developed. This time Mistwalker turned to Nintendo, and Blue Dragon Plus came to pass for the Nintendo DS. This entrant to the series was billed as a real-time simulation RPG. It retains the Toriyama-style visuals that define the series. The series’ transition from 360 to Nintendo’s plucky handheld gives it more of a Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings perspective, a perfect blueprint for its RTS roots. The sequel also retains the characters from the original game, and many of its RPG elements, despite being more of an RTS title. It certainly ranks up there with Revenant Wings, and similar titles Heroes of Mana and Lost Magic.

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Blue Dragon Awakened Shadow followed soon after, not only continuing the real-time strategy elements of its predecessor, but also adopting Dragon Quest IX’s route of allowing creation/customisation of your own lead character.

Mistwalker’s other big release was Lost Odyssey, again for the Xbox 360. Boasting incredible visuals, this 4-disc epic is still a favourite among many an RPG fan, both east and west. For those that were waiting for their Final Fantasy fix at the time, this more than filled the gap. While there have always been varied opinions of Final Fantasy XIII, Lost Odyssey still sits firmly on my gaming shelf where Final Fantasy XIII is hanging on, possibly never to be touched again. Lost Odyssey may have reverted back to the use of random battles, but the battle trigger system (pressing within a time frame to land extra hits) is superior to Blue Dragon’s old school ‘press A and wait’ system, providing more interaction and more reward for doing so.

The story and characters are excellent, providing moments of danger, fear, action, even comedy, and giving the gamer a great sense of empathy to boot. You really feel you are following the journey that Kaim, the lead character, is taking, and will be as determined as he is to find out about his past and how he appears to be immortal.

Following the Nintendo DS releases, Mistwalker stayed with Nintendo, culminating in the production of The Last Story. It proved to be the Nintendo Wii’s swansong RPG, and is now becoming increasingly rare. The Last Story was Sakaguchi’s first title as director since Final Fantasy V, way back in 1992. A Wii exclusive, and still yet to be released on the Wii U’s Virtual Console (please please please), The Last Story is proof that Sakaguchi has definitely still got it. The back story is typical RPG: The Last Story is framed by the ongoing war between humans and the Gurak, set in and around the fantasy setting of Lazulis Island. The story is simple: boy meets girl, gains superpowers and proceeds to save the world. Typical life for a JRPG hero.

However, unlike your typical JRPG that last 60 hours plus, the main story is around the 20-30 hour mark, with no grinding required, as everything happens in real time. Its streamlined controls make it easy to pick up and go, and the action is fast and furious. This, along with co-operative AND multiplayer deathmatch modes, means that Mistwalker certainly have innovated the JRPG over the years, more so than the Final Fantasy series ever has.