Afterpatch Review: Dragon Quest Treasures
Publisher: Square Enix
Available On: Nintendo Switch
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
HUNTING CHESTS! - Introduction
In the past, I’ve touted Final Fantasy as the Grand Papi of JRPGs, but truthfully, Dragon Quest happens to be a whole year older. It has also given birth to various spin-offs - from Mosou to Minecraft; it’s a who’s who of gameplay ideologies, and most are incredible. I adore that caution is thrown to the wind in favor of experimentation to keep the franchise fresh. I’m a big fan, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that when Square Enix announced Dragon Quest Treasures, I paid attention. Hearing that familiar theme sure rustled my jimmies. There was no doubt - I had to review it.
Well, the request was granted, and now, here I am, fingers on my keyboard. This journey comes with the slightest influence from a Japanese exclusive called Dragon Quest Monsters. It also takes inspiration from a little-known hidden gem we call Pokémon. Because I’m weak, I was seduced and happily sat cross-legged as I dove headfirst into this adventure. After committing a decent bit of hours to it, I have thoughts - lots of thoughts - so let’s over-analyze.
THIS AIN’T RIGHT! - Writing
To put it bluntly, nothing about the plot is particularly awe-inspiring. Instead, it proves to be an anomaly. A common trend through the Dragon Quest catalog is an unmistakable charm. The series bathes in it, with the distinct British mannerisms of characters being a key proponent. Not only does it help to distinguish entries from an otherwise crowded genre, but it adds a unique flair. However, while the charismatic energy is obvious, there’s a lack of heft.
My core problem is that no one feels alive. It’s as if everyone follows a basic template of spewing out the most one-note drivel. Don’t get me wrong; there’s an iota of personality mixed in. Hell, there’s even a slight tinge of quirkiness. However, none of it is enough because the NPCs still fail to feel well-rounded. This title is a by-the-numbers affair, and it’s a tad frustrating because it has the potential to be so much more. It’s at the precipice of greatness but doesn’t reach it due to how bland it ends up.
I know I’m being harsh on literary prowess. Frankly, I enjoyed a handful of facets, such as the lore. There's an interesting premise that isn't explored as vastly as I would have liked. It's kept simplistic, cruising the line of being traditional fantasy mumbo-jumbo, almost to a fault. I thrive in that, though, and for anyone like me, I could see pleasure being gleaned. What ultimately helps the stagnation of the plot is the inability to connect the pieces. The narrative structure is haphazard, with no effort to be concise.
Moreover, the looming threat supposedly hanging over a player’s head isn’t much of one at all. There’s no urgency, making me mindlessly coast from start to finish. It lends itself to boredom eventually seeping in. Don’t get me started on the brother and sister twosome, either. Granted, they’re adorable, but they’re also barebones - I didn’t buy into their sibling dynamic. Sure, the initial few minutes show promise, but then it tumbles off a cliff.
Look, let it be known that there’s a sliver of individuality to everyone. The blocks needed for a foundation are in place. Unfortunately, no one’s in a rush to throw on their hard hats. The storytelling stays surface-level, devoid of much flesh, but that’s when it finally clicks. See, Dragon Quest Treasures won't appeal to anyone starving for conflict. There’s no drama because children are the target demographic of the title.
I can also confidently proclaim that it nails the niche because my niece is having a blast. You know, I remember when I was a wee tyke; I didn’t give a flip about the writing. It didn’t matter that I had a general gist because the special effects were sufficient to enamor me. As long as there are goofy conversations lurking, I’m chuffed as nuts. That’s precisely what awaits ahead, too, and if I approach with that mindset, the story is shallow by design.
YOU GOT A FRIEND IN ME! - Gameplay
To revisit my Pokémon comparison - monster recruitment plays a central role. It’s crucial to turn the cogs of this machine. Fighting alongside Golems and Sabretooth Tigers is no longer a pipe dream. My rhyming skills aside, getting the ball rolling when it comes to accumulating a party is easy - by emerging victorious, whichever enemy you’ve beaten can be scouted. It doesn’t mean immediate enlistment, of course, as it still requires a fee to be paid, but I’m one step closer to a pet Chimera. The currency isn't cash but, instead, materials found in the wild.
It’s a crafty method to encourage meandering every nook and cranny of a map. It forces me to be acutely aware of my surroundings while massacring every creature in my path. If I concentrate, I might trip upon plants or rocks, between all the slaughtering I’m doing, that can be foraged. Scurrying over and doing just that bestows other goodies I can then invest in possible partners, but it comes with a tiny caveat that takes this inoffensive feature and twists it into an accessibility nightmare.
For starters, the shopping list of items is unavailable through general play. In other words, when traversing the biomes, I can’t freely check. Either I take a mental note or snap a photo with my phone before venturing out into the wilderness. Sure, it’s a quick fix, but due to my poor memory, I kept forgetting to, which meant having no other choice but to return to the hub base and speak to the NPC handling it to get a gander.
It disrupts the session, ruining any momentum I've cultivated up to that juncture. When I realized that I had no other option but to return to my hub base, it wasn't pleasant. Any enthusiasm for the game flew out the window as redundancy stepped into the fray. I’d let out an exasperated sigh while doing it despite feeling defeated. Point blank; it’s a Goddamn chore and undermines the fun factor.
What baffles me the most is that even a month after release, there’s still no patch to shoehorn a quality-of-life fix. Nothing has been done that addresses this admittedly small hiccup. Granted, it doesn’t and won’t affect everyone, but it’ll still irk a couple. Not only that but because it’s a slogfest, I actively thought about other titles, yearning to jump ship. That’s a death strike to Dragon Quest Treasures, as I shouldn’t want to abandon it. If that’s occurring, it's a failure.
To be fair, there is a different route to locating those necessary items. It’s also positioned in the hub base, and wouldn't you know it, it happens to be near the NPC looking after every creature I’ve scouted. It’s a handy feature that allows the foes I’ve befriended to form a little group before heading out on an excursion. By doing so, they can go hunting for materials for me. Hovering over a location will show a list of what to expect to be brought back, too, which helps when trying to sweet-talk specific monsters.
I’m ready to concede that I can be impatient with gaming, specifically when it’s an avoidable wait. Imagine this; the side-quest objective is assigning a monster to unlock a shop inside the hub base. Luckily, by dispatching a group of slimes or sentient hands, it’s viable to acquire exactly what’s needed. Upon attempting to gather it, however, you end up being one short of the necessary ingredients to do so. To make matters even worse, you’re strong-armed into a standstill, having to stare into the distance, doing nothing, for 30, 45, or even 60 minutes.
Yes, there’s a cooldown, and having to dwindle my thumbs as I sit tight for it to tick downward is atrocious. I believe that Dragon Quest Treasures doesn’t respect my investment due to how it artificially prolongs the duration of itself by enacting asinine aspects. Sure, while the feature and idea behind it enamor me, the execution is lacking. Thankfully, I’m guaranteed whatever I'm gunning for, but how much I get is sketchy. There's a good chance of being screwed by Lady Luck.
X MARKS THE SPOT! - Gameplay
Another thing I’m frequently doing is searching for that titular treasure and bringing it home. Thankfully, having to comb through dirt for those boxes isn’t complicated. It’s straightforward and has you scavenging entire areas with the help of your monster partners. Initially, I was having fun, but then it surpassed an expiration date. So far, I’ve committed 50+ hours over a week, and during a session that lasted a whole day, I felt indifferent. When I was deep into it, the dullness of it crept in at an alarming rate.
Without sugarcoating my experience, it often devolves into this lackluster endeavor, thanks to how repetitive it gets. At first, finding trinkets to appraise was a delightful jaunt. I loved seeing the value as it triggered the part of my brain that, for some odd reason, loves watching numbers increase. Gathering loot is another aspect I’m obsessed with, but again, the execution isn’t something that I can say is optimal.
The primary culprit is the open world. I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as massive, but it’s big enough to expose a problem that shouldn’t exist - movement speed. Both Protagonists, Mia and Erik, masquerade as snails. Their knees are apparently riggety as hell because of an inability to sprint. Due to that, as well as landmass size, traveling begins to grate on a person after a paltry hour or two. It saps motivation to play on. Sure, I kept going, but only because of the obligation to provide coverage.
THEY DO WHAT NOW?! - Gameplay
Unlike Pokémon, Dragon Quest Treasures doesn’t solely utilize monsters as tools for combat. They don’t exist just to be eye candy with murderous intent without granting another benefit. Yea, it’s obvious they’re helpful in eliminating their former brethren, but there’s more. Periodically, I’d come by portions of the map that, to advance, necessitates the usage of action - an ability only my teammates can do. For example, say that a mountain stands in my way. Well, by summoning a slimy jello blob, I can launch myself to, uh, I suppose you could say, new heights.
I like the notion behind these unique skills, but one hiccup concerning them creates needless aggravation. While Erik and Mia are incapable of running, they can jump atop the shoulders of a cyclops or ride a ferocious kitty cat. It streamlines traversal, negating how slow those kids are and injecting them with a swift movement. In theory, that should nullify my earlier complaint, and yet, thanks to an out-of-place cooldown, it exaggerates it. Yeah, it's not egregiously long, maybe taking ten or twenty seconds to recover, but man, it does add up.
Not a single bone in my body understands why, for the love of all that is holy, I can’t beeline anywhere I wish. I get that we need to have controversial mechanics to balance out gameplay. That’s okay, but the thing is, no matter how much I rack my brain here, I’m unsure of what it wants to counteract. I’m trying to approach it from so many different angles, but every time, it’s nothing but a glaring negative. What upsets me above all else is how easily it can be rectified.
I know the above gripe seems nitpicky. To that, I offer a scenario I frequently encounter. Any items dropped after killing a foe don't automatically absorb into my inventory. Apart from this being an extremely archaic facet, say I’m perched atop an ally but have to hop off to obtain my reward. Well, I can’t instantly resume. I must be patient and kick rocks until the frustrating counter runs down. As an extra punt to the pants, these circumstances transpire consistently, solidifying how quickly everything becomes tedious.
CAREFUL CONSIDERATIONS! - Gameplay
I enjoyed how bats, shadow entities, and orcs come with the smallest strategic tinges. I’m not talking about determining which ability will be needed to access a part of the map. In regards to that, it’s easily exploitable. By always having a twosome that digs underground or can launch, the majority of obstacles are covered. No, I’m referring to the icons each has beside their name. Their significance is deciding the quality of the treasure the monsters can find in their solo expedition. By fulfilling the perpetually changing conditions of areas, the overall worth of whatever I find skyrockets.
THIS ISN’T VERY QUICK, EH?! - Gameplay
In fear of being labeled a broken record, yet another avoidable blunder occurs in the form of fast travel. It’s not unlimited, and to do it requires special wings only given out once I beat a side quest. Otherwise, they can’t be bought anywhere, which does make me question that decision. If this mechanic wasn’t tied to a finite item, or if players could purchase it, a lot of the niggles I’ve mentioned so far would be alleviated, especially Erik and Mia’s sloth-like motions. I could just instantaneously teleport, and to still not be able to do so after many, many months on the market is upsetting.
LOOKING GOOD, MIA! - Presentation
Visually speaking, Dragon Quest Treasures retains the familiar look we all know and like. It’s distinct and simple to single out of a lineup. With Akira Toriyama heading the illustrations, that Dragon Ball Z aesthetic feels super nostalgic, especially with folks my age that grew up with that anime. Sadly, my hope of one day seeing anyone in this franchise turning into Super Saiyan remains nothing but a wishful hope. The colors themselves are vibrant and are truly done justice through the lens of an OLED. The lone misstep is that the environments look a bit plain.
LOOKING JUMPY! - Performance
I wish I could report smooth sailing, but alas, I can’t. Now, I can say that for about 90 percent of my playtime, it doesn’t struggle. The fierce frame drops I was confronted by occurred in very select situations, usually when the screen was full of enemies. When I was slaughtering them one-on-one, it was Gucci. If faced by a group, just dwindling their numbers aided in stabilizing things. So far, I bet it sounds peachy; unfortunately, I suffered a complete crash on a singular occasion. Luckily, the auto-save function is generous, and if you stay vigilant, you won't lose an enormous amount of progress. The thing is, because Dragon Quest Treasures isn't stable, I was always worried about a forced closure.
AND THE OLD SCHOOL VERDICT IS…
Dragon Quest Treasures could be a fantastic romp but is bogged by a buffet of strange decisions. It’s a shame because if a handful of alterations were made to those minuscule blunders I noted, it would single-handedly boost the fun factor, especially for adults. As it is, it doesn’t respect a busy person’s time, expecting you to roam this pseudo-open world - it doesn't help that it's sluggish. Having Erik and Mia both have horrible leg joints is a choice because, as children, you’d think they’d be spray and agile, but nope, their body hates them. Regrettably, I can't recommend this title, but the kids in your life, perhaps wait for a discount.
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Special thanks to Square Enix for providing the code used for this coverage.