After recieving delay after delay since its initial 'Wii launch 2006' date, we almost thought that Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors (AKA the longest name they could possibly think of for a Dragon Quest game) might never get released over here, which would have been a real shame. The Dragon Quest series has generally been known for having incredibly deep and time consuming RPGs over the years, and is ridiculously popular in Japan. Since Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King was released worldwide a few years ago, the popularity of the franchise has spread, and since then we have seen lots of love for the series on Nintendo consoles, including two Nintendo DS titles already released and more planned for the future. The issue with Dragon Quest appearing on these more 'user-friendly' consoles is that the games themselves seem to have been made much more casual by nature - DQS: TMQATTOM is a victim of this, and while not a bad game by any means, it's far from the Dragon Quest that we know and love.
To put things in perspective, you need to understand the incredibly linear fashion in which the game works. The entire thing is from the first-person perspective, which goes against traditional RPGs straight away which are usually from the third person, or, use fixed camera angles. You only use the Wii remote (sorry, no nunchuk action here folks!), with the D-pad acting as your point of view depending on which direction you press, and the B button being held down to actually move. The rest of the experience is point and click when you're moving throughout the world, aiming at things with a cursor and pressing A to interact with doors and objects, talk to people or search barrels and bushes for items. It's simple, but moving around in this way does feel kind of laboured after having to do it continously, and pressing the D-pad to actually choose your direction is awkward at the best of times.
Of course, it wouldn't be an RPG without the all-important combat elements. These are probably the most disappointing aspects of the game, and while the developers probably had their heart in the right place, they just aren't effective as a long-term enjoyable experience. When you leave the town (which acts as a sort of hub), you'll choose an 'area' of sorts out of a number of options. Then, you're on your way, walking through the world, fighting enemies, gaining experience and progressing in the story. Unfortunately, the actual combat aspects of the game are incredibly restricting; see, while moving about the town, you can go where you want. While you're outside of town, you are not allowed to stray from the path - you just have to hold down B to walk forward, click on points of interest (which are usually things like rocks with coins under them or grass-patches with items hidden within), and wait for the battles to trigger.
When a battle begins, the creatures that you'll have to face will wander onto screen in succession, and you'll fight them in 'real-time', using your Wii remote as both a sword and a makeshift shield. Holding down the B button brings your shield into view, which you can use to block attacks and projectiles; this is very important, as you'll take damage fairly quickly if you don't utilize the blocking mechanic. This only 'kind of' works, as even though it is effective and simple to use, the on-screen indicators will actually tell you where the projectiles are going to hit a majority of the time, so usually it's just a matter of holding your shield where the flashing red dot appears and waiting for the successful block. Sword-play is equally linear. While swiping your Wii remote at different angles does actually attack at different angles too, it's only occasionally that you'll have to worry about this, such as when a bunch of slimes position themselves so that you simply must use a side-swipe if you're going to actually make contact.
While the idea of using the Wii remote as a sword does work on a very basic level, it's after the umpteenth battle that you start to realise how mundane the experience actually is. Hold your shield here, swipe here, hold your shield here, swipe here; it feels more like routine than strategy, and it's just not as compelling as it would have been when the Wii launched back in 2006. The game has some redeeming qualities though, such as the special moves that you can use (holding your 'sword' up to the sky and then swiping down for maximum damage, for example). You can also use your sword to hit back projectiles thrown at you by enemies, which is a matter of good timing as well as needing to react quickly. Ultimately, the entire battle experience is just much more shallow than we could have anticipated, and while it can be a bit of fun at first, grows tiresome fairly quickly, despite additions like spells and interesting items that we're accustomed to after playing other Dragon Quest games for years.
The best thing about Dragon Quest: TMQATTOM, is what we like to call 'fan service'; that is, the amount of stuff that will make anyone who has played one of the Dragon Quest titles from recent years stop and react with a 'Hey, I remember that!'. All the enemies are plucked out of Journey of the Cursed King, and the popular soundtrack makes a reappearance in both the opening to the game and throughout menus. The good thing here is that the quality that was set out in Dragon Quest: JOTCK was actually of a very high standard. The enemies are creative and varied, and the music is soothing yet somewhat retro at times as a throwback to the RPGs of old. The game also looks fairly appealing at times, with certain environments being quite detailed and the animations from your enemies being spot on in terms of presentation. That being said, for every detailed, well-made environment, there is a few drab ones which are reminiscent of the same repetitive fields and cliff-faces that makes different areas sometimes hard to differentiate from one another.
As Dragon Quest fans, we really wanted to fall in love with TMQATTOM, but ultimately it's the kind of experience that would have been much more effective about a year ago when there was still a lack of 'high-quality' Wii titles available on store shelves. Fans of the franchise will certainly get a kick out of it, considering it's full of enemies, sound effects and more that have been taken directly out of past Dragon Quest titles. But while catering to those particular fans on a very basic level of familiarization, it's also alienating them by creating an experience that is nowhere near as deep as the RPG style that the Dragon Quest series - and Square Enix - is known for, with a whole heap of references that are going to go over the heads of casual players who have yet to experience this universe before. The gameplay isn't broken, it's just repetitive and incredibly simple, and it does bring a unique style and some nice ideas to the table too, but it feels like TMQATTOM isn't sure which market it is catering to, and so never manages to properly draw you in to the experience like it should.