There was a time in this industry when circles or even slightly rounded edges was a virtual impossibility. And so, we sat there, appreciating the designer’s attempt at creating realistic-looking pictures on our TV screens with nothing but hard edges, never daring to imagine that gaming could eventually become almost photorealistic. And you know; we had fun. We had lots of fun. Of course, to compare the finest accomplishments these days to the not-so-long-ago past when carefully assembled pixels and childish dialogue reigned is, needless to say, silly. So we won’t bother to do that. 3D Dot Game Heroes pays homage to the golden age of gaming while still poking a little fun at itself, all the while pulling on our nostalgic heartstrings and tugging at the corners of our mouths. We want to smile every few minutes and even the inherent frustration is old-school frustration; the irritating situations where we’re convinced it isn’t our fault. If you loved the old-fashioned Zelda s – or any of those action/adventure/RPG titles – this one is for you.
The graphics, as you might expect, are loaded with little dots and squares. Absolutely everything is faithfully represented without a rounded edge in sight; everything from the enemies to the environments and if you look real close, you’ll even spot those tiny squares in the blades of grass. The entire presentation is colorful and, like everything else in the game, is loaded down with a visual array that reminds us of an older era in just about every possible way. You’ve got the multi-room dungeons, the sprawling world map you explore section by section, and the towns and villagers that move exactly as they once did; tight, repetitive animations and all. You could argue that Silicon Studio could’ve made things a bit clearer and slightly more polished but are we really going to argue about the visuals, here? Are we really going to try to dissect a game that turns the archaic 2D graphics into a 3D presentation with giant pixels? It looks exactly as it should and we probably shouldn’t bother with any intricate analysis. Dotnia has gone 3D…what more do you need to know?
We have to treat the sound in much the same manner. When you’re going for a throwback format and you want to be true to history, you need those little electronic ditties we were all convinced we could create in our own bedrooms. You can’t have any voice acting; only dialogue via text, and some standard slashing effects for the combat and general movement and exploration. There are no “human” sounds to speak of and there shouldn’t be. I think what might be the most appealing aspect of this category is the soundtrack: even though it can still be generated on a good ol’ standard synthesizer, there’s a wide variety of music during this “updated” adventure. In fact, I think there might be much more soundtrack diversity than we ever experienced when playing those classics from yesteryear. It’s a little disconcerting to play with only the repetitive slashes of the sword and a few tinny effects from some magic spells, but again, we have to remember the goal in question. And so, like the graphics, the sound is very much as it should be.
As for the gameplay, I could really make this easy for the veteran gamers out there: if you can picture what The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past might be like in a 3D world, and you like that picture, you’ll dive into 3D Dot Game Heroes with gusto and glee. You have the option to move about with the left analog stick or the directional buttons and no, it’s not so old-fashioned that you can only walk in one direction (up, down, left, or right); you have a full range of movement in all directions. However, on the flip side, you can only attack with your sword in one direction, although you do have the option to spin it around to attack to the left and right of the original target. You also have the magic and secondary weapon options, and your health is denoted by apples while your magic is represented by green vials. You’ll get a new spell every time you collect one of the six missing orbs, and secondary weapons include things like the boomerang and bow. …sound familiar?
The world map features a castle – which sort of acts like a central hub – shrines where you can restore all your health, villages that include all sorts of shops and residential abodes, and of course, dungeons (or temples) that must be conquered. You just press the X button to attack, hold the Square button to dash forward, switch your secondary option between weapons and magic with the L2/R2 buttons, and block with your shield by pressing the R1 button. That’s really all you need to know. It’s about as straightforward as you might expect, but the developers do toss in a few slightly more modern additions. For instance, you can upgrade your weapons at blacksmiths, there are optional quests to complete (ala newer RPGs), and then there’s the “growing sword” feature. The more enemies you kill, the wider and longer your blade will become, until it maxes out and you have the most amount of range that weapon can offer. If you get smacked, your sword returns to square one and you have to rebuild.
So this adds a bit of strategy to the gameplay; it provides you with a lot of incentive to steer clear of danger. You can also buy new weapons and shields in addition to upgrading via the blacksmith, and not surprisingly, you can shop around for some valuable items like lamps, arrows, and various apples. The enemies pose various and continually changing challenges, as some are flying and you have to wait for them to land, some launch arrows in your direction, and others require special vanquishing means. Bosses are also diverse and can test your ingenuity and reflexes, which is perfect for anything that so closely resembles a 3D pixilated Zelda . You can save anywhere but sleeping at an inn sets your “Revival Point,” enemies respawn when you leave a screen and come back, there are clumps of grass that need mowing with your sword (and will sometimes yield coin), and the dialogue is both genuinely hilarious and extremely fitting.
See, the game knows it’s a spoof of sorts, even though it provides you with a full, seamless 2D-gone-3D quest. This is why you’ll sense a lot of inside jokes that those over the age of 25 will appreciate, and there are a few that any fan of Atlus will really like. For instance, there’s one dude inside the castle who says, “Hey, I’ve got this Demon’s game. You want it? It’s way too hard!” Then you’ve got your weird butterfly guide who sort of pokes fun at…well, everything. It’s just so well done. The only flaws I can really find involve the camera and the collision detection; although we’re given four different camera options, there are times when none of them seem to work exactly correctly, and you may have to switch your view a few times. I thought Option B would’ve been fine for the whole game but when fighting the first boss, he entirely disappeared when he went down to the bottom of the screen. And I swear there have been several times when I got hit and I was convinced I was way too far away from the offending foe.
These two shortcomings got a little frustrating, I admit, but beyond that, I’m not going to complain. You can build your very own character from scratch (quite literally, block by block), or you can choose from pages of pre-set characters, ranging from standard fighters to weird things like tanks. And yes, it does matter if you choose from the Hero, Royal, or Scholar classes, as these classes dictate how much Life and Magic you will start with. Your choice doesn’t really seem to affect the game in any way; for the record, I went with the Assassin, which just looks funny. The bottom line is that 3D Dot Game Heroes is a wonderful little adventure that makes you want to cry, it’s so damn nostalgic. Everything tends to work really well, it’s just as addictive and involving as those old 2D games could often be, and really…guys, this is Zelda . There’s no doubt. And because it costs $20 less than a normal $60 title, I have to recommend a purchase if you recall the golden age of gaming with a blissful smile. You will absolutely get your money’s worth.
Just don’t get all teary eyed when you start to play. If someone catches you, there’s basically no way to explain it.