Review: 3D Dot Game Heroes

“A Modern Masterpiece with Classic Roots”

Where to begin? 3D Dot Game Heroes is a game aimed at a specific audience, and the odds are that anyone considering purchasing it already knows more of less what he or she is going to get. Nobody is trying to deny that this game is basically a nod to the original Legend of Zelda game, and some will accuse it of being a blatant rip-off. And even that may be true – but I would argue that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. This review will use 2D Zelda games as a basis for comparison, but the game will be evaluated based on its own merits. Due to the nature of this title I did not feel it was appropriate to assign numerical value to specific categories, but rest assured that I’ll cover all the different aspects of the game. Let’s get started!

Graphics:

Let’s start by discussing the graphics. As the title of the game itself indicates, this game’s graphics are all composed of 3D dots – cubes, if you will. The idea being to take the pixelated look of classic NES games and updating it into a sort of 3D version. This already shows you without a doubt that the game is going for retro, but especially when it comes to graphics people might see this as stupid or a cop-out, or what have you. But don’t be fooled; the 3D transition is executed brilliantly. Things like the speckling of colors across surfaces maintain the feel of an old game, but at the same time there are very detailed areas and surfaces. Everything is clean, and obviously each block “pixel” has high resolution. The most obvious reminder that you are indeed playing a PS3 game is when you come across reflective surfaces. The reflections are created beautifully and realistically, despite the fact that everything that is being reflected has been created out of blocks. Even the lighting and shadows are done very well, and it shows. And of course, the game is rendered in 720p.

Apart from all of that, seeing the amount of variety and creativity present in the character and monster models is very refreshing. You will find that there is a lot of charm to be found, not to mention a character editor. And we’re not talking about selecting from a set of designs and tweaking them, or designing a face. This is the real deal – create your entire character out of little blocks, in 3D, from the ground up. Including colors, different poses, you name it. The shape and size of your character is completely up to you – I saw a screenshot online of someone whose main character was made to resemble Majora’s Mask.

Story:

If you are familiar with Zelda, there’s no surprise here. Long ago, the sages used their power to seal away a great evil, then divided their power to prevent its misuse. Now, in the present, evil has returned, and it’s up to you obtain that power and vanquish the evil. The neat thing is that you can actually play as a few different characters, aside from your own creations. But more on that later. At any rate, this is a highly gameplay-oriented game, and while there are tons of interesting NPCs to interact with, the story itself is not meant to be revolutionary. There are, however, a few optional quests that can affect the outcome of the game.

Music:

As in other areas, 3D Dot Game Heroes tries to emulate auditory feel of the 8-bit era. It definitely succeeds, despite the fact that the music is obviously not 8-bit. You will find a variety of catchy tunes that change every time you enter new areas, towns, houses, dungeons, caves, etc. Many of the songs are upbeat and very fitting, and if you listen carefully you’ll often find that they are quite complex and satisfying. I personally know the music in a game is good when I find myself unconsciously humming its various tunes, and that certainly happened here. All in all, this is not an area in which the game disappoints. It is very clear that a lot of work went into making everything just right.

Gameplay:

The gameplay is the meat of the game, and simply put, it does everything right. The basic structure is again the same as 2D Zelda games. You explore a (quite large) world map, solve dungeons to recover the orbs of power, gain equippable items along the way that let you access new areas, and so forth. Many of the items’ functions and even design are identical to items found in Zelda games, so I suppose in that sense it’s copying, but that doesn’t make the game any less fun or captivating. Similarly, your life is measured in apples, and you can find “life fragments” (apple pieces), four of which complete a new apple in your life bar. Magic works similarly with vials of magic, but you simply find entire vials of magic as opposed to pieces of them.

What I want to highlight, however, are the differences between this game and Zelda, and the things that truly make 3D Dot Game Heroes shine. First of all, magic plays a somewhat bigger role and is more involving than most Zelda games. As opposed to depleting it by lighting a lantern or charging a spin attack, you consume it by activating spells that you learn throughout the game. There are several of them, and unlike in some games, many of them are absolutely required to progress, and the ones that aren’t are incredibly useful when used strategically. You might do damage to enemies, freeze an area, or slow down time, as examples. Each spell consumes a different amount of magic vials. However, the amount consumed actually depends upon the character you’re playing as. Females consume less magic per spell than males. The different characters also vary in terms of their strength and toughness, so it’s not all aesthetic. This adds a neat extra element to the game.

Aside from a healthy arsenal of usable and equippable items, a big element of the gameplay is your sword. There are quite a few swords you can earn or find, and they all vary in terms of stats. Swords have seven attributes: length, width, strength, spin, piercing, beam, and special. Not all swords have every attribute, but each attribute a sword does have can be upgraded for cash, and the maximum level of each attribute also varies. To add even more strategy to this, each sword has a limited number of upgrade points, which tend to run out before every attribute is maxed. This means you cannot fully upgrade every category on most swords – you have to decide which attributes matter most to you. The special category depends on the sword, but one example is that it will make you run faster. Having the right sword equipped, or the right attributes boosted, can make all the difference.

On top of what I’ve already discussed, 3D Dot Game Heroes has all kinds of little things here and there that simply make the experience more enjoyable. Lanterns (which light up dark areas) are now usable items which can be bought and found, and they last quite a while. There is a buyable item that allows you warp to various areas you’ve previously visited, highly reducing backtracking when you don’t want to run across the map – but there is also a lot to explore, and new areas become accessible constantly. There is an item you can buy which allows you to recover your health on the world map (it doesn’t work in dungeons) and create a restore point, should you die. There are items you can find which permanently decrease the amount of damage you take. These are all tweaks that make the game pleasant. Perhaps most importantly, there are practically no required fetch quests in the entire game. The creators are not going to insult your intelligence or test your patience by bloating the game with such things.

There are, however, all sorts of optional quests. You are rewarded for paying attention and talking to NPCs, many of which will initiate events which store on an event menu. Some are fetch quests, some are just for fun, and many result in rewards such as life fragments or swords. The characters’ dialogue will also change as the game progresses, and new events open up.

Length/Replayability:

Between sidequests, exploration, events, and minigames, this game offers quite a bit of replayability. The minigames are actually quite difficult and in many cases lengthy, but at the same time highly entertaining. If trophies are your thing, there are plenty of those to seek out as well, including trophies for beating the dungeon bosses without taking damage (bosses can be revived and re-fought at any time). There is a monster log which you fill by smacking enemies repeatedly with the log itself until they are acquired. Or why not try collecting every sword? The game is not incredibly long if you rush through the base story, but that wouldn’t be doing it justice. In addition, the game is actually quite difficult. It’s not frustratingly hard, but there are plenty of good puzzles and difficult enemies. And if it turns out not to be challenging enough, there is a hard mode to unlock, in which enemies are much tougher. And if even that’s not enough, play through it and unlock Spelunker mode, in which you die in a single hit from anything.

Final Thoughts:

All in all, 3D Dot Game Heroes flawlessly takes an old game design and renews it and kicks new life into it, while at the same time updating the style and adding a plethora of new elements to keep gameplay fresh, all without losing the classic feel. Whether or not it copies material straight out of old titles, 3D Dot Game Heroes is nothing short of fantastic.

Score: 10 out of 10

Zippy Lately (June 28 – July 4, 2010)

1. Miyavi – Live in US

Some weeks there are all kinds of events and activities in my life that I can discuss. Other weeks there’s very little going on. This week is different because really there’s only one item worth mentioning – Miyavi live in concert!

My region has been very fortunate recently for Asian music fans because first we had Wonder Girls/2PM, later we’ll have D’espairsRay, and this week we have Miyavi coming to Atlanta! Out of those three Miyavi is the artist I’ve wanted to see the most, and the artist whose music I actually love the most. Therefore when I saw the concert announcement I was overjoyed, and I knew that I would be attending that concert. Now just a few days away I’m listening to more and more Miyavi and totally getting pumped for the concert.

I can only imagine this to be nothing less than awesome. With that I bid you adieu for now as I have more Myv (aka Miyavi) to catch up on.

PersaCon ’10: Day 2 & 3

Knowing that Saturday morning had the most activities that Liz, my brother, and I wanted to participate in, we woke up at a decent hour. After snacking on a couple breakfast items we brought, it was time to head out the door to our first panel of the day, Black Shepard’s Q&A. The attendance for Blake’s Q&A was small, largely due to the early hour; however, the fans there were certainly appreciative of his time and work. While Blake has a done a number of roles, my favorite is Akito/Agito from Air Gear, so I was quite happy when a Simca (Air Gear) cosplayer came in and joined us. Having met Blake at last year’s PersaCon I already knew he was quite cool, but thanks to the questions asked I was able to learn even more about him, the anime industry, and his own work in animation. I also asked my own question about whether he messed with his friends by doing voices, and at first he didn’t think so, but then regaled a hilarious story about pranking a friend. He also briefly mentioned his band Electric Attitude; however, since the Q&A panel for bands was happening just a few minutes later he directed us to attend that panel to learn more. Following that we followed Blake out to his table and had him sign an item for Erica, and then soon after essentially followed him into the main room for the PersaCon ’10 bands Q&A.

The bands this year were all present at last year’s PersaCon; however, this year they seemed to get even more attention, signified not only by the Q&A panel but also their presence on the official convention shirt. The artists featured were: The Man Power, Electric Attitude, and Gordon Roqué. The Man Power is comprised of 3 members, Chris Sexxx, Cody Warhammer, and David Debacuhery. Their musical style varies between punk, rock, and garage rock; however, they’re entertainment style remains the same – “melt your face off!” Electric Attitude, fronted by voice actor Blake Shepard, is a six-piece band. Delivering groove, funk, and dance beats galore, Electric Attitude can and will turn any party into a dance party and a rockin’ good time. Gordon Roque is perhaps the odd one out of this bunch, as he played majority of his songs solo. Gordon uses his skills as a pianist and a lyricist not to make people move; instead, he uses his emotionally driven songs to make the audience feel. Having seen them all perform last year, some more than others, the descriptions above are what I was able to discern on my own. Getting to learn about them in the Q&A taught me all sorts of things including what their favorite video games are, who their musical influences have been, and perhaps most amusing to all of us what their worst show incidents have been. Cody Warhammer, of The Man Power, had a particularly crazy story from his time in a previous band, where the lead singer, drunk and nervous, wielded a real sword around, cutting into pumpkins around the stage and a chandelier above, nearly in-sighting a riot in the venue itself as patrons lit fire to the stage they were playing on! Cody happened to answer that question last, but it’s hard to imagine anyone could’ve topped that crazy tale.

Following that exciting panel we decided to reconvene in our room, order some food to be delivered, rest, and then head to Patrick Seitz’s panel. Sadly we were a bit late; however, as some spots opened up I was able to get a great seat and immerse myself in the conversation. Having only seen Patrick’s picture I just imagined he was a funny guy. I was not wrong at all. He kept us laughing through much of the panel, and likewise was able to share some insightful stories, about voice acting, his previous work as a high school teacher, and his year and a half soul search. Patrick’s been getting more and more voice roles of late, which is exciting, but he’s already done a couple of note at least for me personally. Those would be the role of Nekozawa, the creepy neighbor for Ouran’s Host Club, and then Isshin, who is Ichigo’s dad. I’m certainly a fan of both series as is, and it’s always cool to meet one of the voice actors who’s helped bring the characters to life.  His panel preceded the cosplay contest by mere minutes, but instead of searching for a great spot we hung around and Liz was able to get an autograph and a picture, before he was heralded to help judge the contest. Thankfully we were able to initiate an autograph line later on in the day, because my brother and I had Bleach Box 1 and an Ouran Wall Scroll for him to sign. Meeting Patrick was certainly one of the highlights of the con, and a reminder, as Blake was as well, that while many actors can certainly be ‘divas’ that there are certainly the cool ones.

Suited up with my new camera Liz, my brother, and I headed into the Cosplay Contest which was packed! I managed to find a spot just behind the judges, where I at least attempted to take photographs of the contestants. I quickly discovered two issues though a) the lighting, and most importantly b) many of the contestants did not take much time to face the judges, thereby leaving me little to shoot. I was still certainly in the best position to see the cosplayers though as they walked towards the stage, since they had to pass right in front of me. While they were moving too quickly for a photograph at this point, I at least was able to appreciate their cosplays, many of which were quite amazing. I know I’ll leave out some cosplayers and I apologize ahead of time, but some of my favorites were the mario troupe, the Assassin’s Creed II cosplayers (who won best of show), and a pair of One Piece cosplayers I’d actually met the night before. Of course there were many more awesome cosplayers who participated, and many awards were rightfully given to them, but again there’s too many to detail in this post alone.

Following that we decided to take a break since we’d been going pretty non-stop since we woke up. In addition to that coming up was the extensive concert featuring all three artists back to back: Gordon, The Man Power, and then Electric Attitude. This primarily consisted of us perusing around looking for Leah Clark to hopefully get her to sign my Sgt. Frog wall scroll. Having no luck at that I just took a couple more pictures of cosplayers, which is always fun. In the end though we spent most of the in-between time in our hotel room, until a few minutes into Gordon’s concert when we headed out again to hear him and the other artists play.

I’ve already mentioned what the bands style and sound is like, so for this component I’ll stick strictly to my own description of the concerts themselves. First of all, since I wasn’t sure how many people knew of Gordon (whom I’d only learned about last PersaCon), I was really curious what his turnout would be like. Well I was quite impressed because even though I’d only arrived a few minutes late I was already feeling guilty for coming in at that time because of how many people I had to walk in front of. Seemed that the softness of Gordon’s music really eased people in, so there were many con goers littered about lying down or sitting on the floor. Liz and I found one of her friends so we sat over by him and just relaxed, chatted a bit, all while listening to Gordon’s music. Knowing how loud the other bands get I think Gordon’s music was perfectly used to set the stage and ease in fans, who might not otherwise have thought a concert would be up their alley. After the show was over I talked to Gordon very briefly and picked up one of his CDs. Seeing that he’s based out of Nashville I’ll likely be able to see him again more often.

Following Gordon fellow Nashville rockers The Man Power took to the stage. The band called the audience forward, and while the numbers of attendees weren’t what I’d hoped, a core group of fans gathered round. After a few songs more people joined in and the energy raised up enough to where I think The Man Power and the audience were able to play off each other better. Since The Man Power is working on a new CD, to be released in August, we got to hear some new songs including a metal track. Of course the old favorites were there as well including one song where Chris picks out a ‘victim’, in this case me.. Having heard the song a number of times I knew what was coming, but being picked out of the crowd still surprised me. After that only a couple songs remained, and The Man Power ended with my personal favorite, their tribute to Jackie Chan.

To cap off a night of great music PersaCon brought back Blake Shepard’s band Electric Attitude! I’m not sure if the draw was solely because of word-of-mouth from last year or what, but the numbers for their concert was quite astounding. Not only that but many of the con goers clearly got really into the music, which led to a plethora of spontaneous group dances. Electric Attitude seemed to feed off the energy of the crowd, so they continued to pour on the funk for all of PersaCon to witness. While I had a ton of fun at their concert last year this one was many times more intense. During their show I was focusing on taking pictures of the band, but I kept finding myself swept up by the pervasive energy and awesome music. Electric Attitude helped give my night a wonderful send off, and together with Gordon and The Man Power, the three acts really defined my con experience.

Of the scheduled activities especially the concerts were my last hurrah for Saturday and really the whole convention, but that was not in fact the last thing I did that evening. To my great pleasure I was able to get an interview with The Man Power so be sure to expect that soon. In fact you can hear it via stream this Wednesday on http://www.WAWL.org sometime between 9 to 11PM Eastern if you listen to The Cay’s and my show Tokyo Tower, or you can wait for the text version here. Either way that was a lot of fun as well. I was also able to get a brief bumper for the radio show from Electric Attitude, but you’ll certainly have to stream the show if you want to hear that. After those two opportunities I was completely worn out, so I headed straight to bed.

Sunday

Sunday morning I searched around for Leah Clark one more time, to no avail, and I gave the Dealers’ Room one last look. Afterwards we got in Liz’s car and rode home.

Wrap-up

The Good

Patrick, Blake, all 3 musical artists, the staff, cool cosplay outfits, dealer’s room (although a bit small but fitting for the con size), the apparent increase in activities, and the apparent increase in attendees.

The Bad

Hotel front desk staff (since there were many confusions with our room and others), lack of specified autograph times, limited number of panels with guests, and the early start on Friday (if a guest is only to have one panel please make it when people will be there not early Friday before most folks show up).

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All in all I certainly recommend PersaCon for those in a 2 – 3 hour radius, because while it’s a smaller con the intimacy allows for much more than one might find at a larger con.