3D Dot Game Heroes

Is it weird that a game I had never played – and came out this year – had me drowning in pools of nostalgia? That’s exactly what happened when I first booted up 3D Dot Game Heroes, a game that seems scientifically optimised to transport you back to the late 80s or early 90s.

If you’ve heard anything about 3D Dot Game Heroes, you’re probably aware of how closely it hews to the formula laid out by The Legend of Zelda so many years ago. Heck, it doesn’t just hew, but clings to the same conventions, progression system, and even items you collect like a limpet to a rock in a particularly bad storm.

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I’m not going to get into the argument of whether this mimicry is a good thing or not. Rather, I look at it as a love letter to the original Zelda, and an excuse for long-time fans to dip their toes into the ever-sunny waters of the past once more.

Having said that, it’s a fine line between reproducing ancient gameplay mechanics for novelty value, and actually providing a gameplay experience that feels enjoyable to a gamer in 2010. It’s here that 3D Dot Heroes stumbles.

Now, when it comes to presentation, this game really pulls it off. The 3D graphics are unique and whimsical. The writing (such as it is) never misses an opportunity to point out or parody RPG conventions. If you’ve ever played a game like Zelda on the NES, or anything else from the same period, you’ll find yourself chuckling a fair amount here.

The thing is, it’s the sort of idea that would work amazingly if the game were a 20-minute tour of old-school RPG tropes. But because it’s a surprisingly long 20+ hour experience, the joke starts wearing thin and the age of the underlying mechanisms become increasingly apparent. I was having great fun while plundering the first couple of major dungeons… but by the fifth or sixth, I was desperately wishing the developers would introduce concepts that hadn’t been perfected two decades ago.

I have to stress how much this is based on my own gaming habits and expectations, and how they have changed since I was a kid playing my first JRPG on the Mega Drive. Sure, I’ll keep busting out the old consoles to get a nostalgia kick, but I’ll rarely play an old game for more than five minutes before putting it away again – gaming has progressed since those times, and I for one find it difficult to retrace my steps after sampling the banquet of new games available.

Does that sound like you? Then maybe you should rent 3D Dot Game Heroes instead of buying it. If you’re of a certain age and played the right games, you’ll definitely enjoy this for a while. But if you, too, can only sample ye olde games in small doses these days, then you might get a bit frustrated.

On the other hand, if you yearn for a game that will simultaneously allow you to play a NES-era RPG and look good on your HDTV, then there’s a lot here for you to enjoy. The main quest is substantial enough, but there are also a bunch of side-quests, mini-games (the best of which is a fully-featured Tower Defence game) and overworld areas to explore. You won’t be starved for content, that’s for sure.

Let’s talk about the presentation some more, because any game that purposefully includes such wonderful sentences as “New item get!” is clearly doing something right. The character selection screen contains dozens of pre-made – and utterly insane – avatars to choose from. You can be a standard hero, but wouldn’t you rather be a ninja who travels underground, with only a snorkel visible to let him breathe? Or a manager who must save the world so he can plan his retirement in peace? The humour in these sparse lines of text is great. You can also potentially lose hours creating your own characters with the fun and versatile creation system. Guess how many people on the internet have already made Link replicas…

This humour can also be found in the game itself, from the note-perfect intro detailing a dark lord imprisoned by an ancient hero to random villagers sporting a whole one line of dialogue. Actually, that last one is still pretty prevalent in recent games too, isn’t it?

Overall, I’m of the opinion that this charm doesn’t quite cover up the repetition and aged gameplay systems that 3D Dot Game Heroes sticks to so faithfully. If it had used these conventions merely as a starting point or touchstone, then it could have been something really special. Or maybe if the creation tools were expanded to allow for the making of your own basic RPG adventure, then there’d be something else truly unique about the game to go alongside the graphics.

As it stands, though, you’ll need to be really hankering for some old-school gameplay to enjoy 3D Dot Game Heroes. I wasn’t able to manage it, but I suspect there are quite a few of you out there who would actually enjoy this game from start to finish. You know who you are.

"Note-perfect, but adheres too faithfully to ancient conventions"
- 3D Dot Game Heroes
Follow Own it? Rating: PG   Difficulty: Hard   Learning Curve: 15 Min


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Comments Comments (6)

Posted by Srassy
On Wednesday 2 Jun 2010 9:47 AM
Hmmmm, I quite like the music for 3D Dot Game Heroes with all its almost 8-bit tunes.

I'm imagining that because the tunes loop constantly that they're given a lower score.
Posted by McPhisto
On Wednesday 2 Jun 2010 3:26 PM
You know, I didn't really talk about the audio, did I? Here's my reasoning: I quite liked bits of the music, especially when certain pieces mixed in orchestral sounds with bit-tune samples.

However! It sure did start to grate after a while. It doesn't matter how good the overworld tune is, after a while I couldn't stand it any longer. Having music that, irrespective of quality, drove me to turn the sound off definitely lowers the score.
Posted by Srassy
On Wednesday 2 Jun 2010 5:45 PM
Yeah, I can absolutely agree with that. Thanks for the confirmation Tristan. :)
Posted by Wozza
On Wednesday 2 Jun 2010 8:10 PM
Haha looks like a cool game. Would love to check it out, but not sure about sinking 20 hours in.

Looks like Zelda 1 in 3D from the screens.
Posted by SpawnSeekSlay
On Wednesday 2 Jun 2010 8:18 PM
Certainly will pick this up!
Will go from the hardcore Demons Souls to the retro 3d Dot Heroes.
If the sound is a mutt, will just play some pantera or drum'n'bass overtop
Posted by nimrod76
On Wednesday 9 Jun 2010 4:05 PM
Looking good, but still not sold on it. Think I will wait for the price drop.