3D Dot Game Heroes PS3 review
Atlus' 3D Dot Game Heroes does nothing to hide its mimicry of the Legend of Zelda series, but the classic formula has also been enhanced with some appealling, innovative, and entertaining new twists. The result is a game that feels instantly familiar and refreshingly “new” at the same time. On the other hand, it also tries too hard and pushes too many buttons with its "Old-School" card, and some of those issues rubbed me the wrong way.
Playing 3D Dot Game Heroes feels nearly identical to playing the first Legend of Zelda. The challenging quests take place in the land of Dotnia (think towns, dungeons, caves, mountains, deserts, forests, and so on), which has been consumed by darkness and must be saved. Lo and behold, this fate had befallen on Dotnia in the past, when a forgotten hero restored six orbs to save the day. You would think that Dotnians would be better with recording history - the only person who knows how to save the day again, naturally, is your hero and playable character. There's a princess to rescue and a bad guy with a plot to thwart ... well, you get the idea.
Usually such familiarity would be disappointing, but that is the draw in 3D Dot Game Heroes. Clearly, this game was intended to be a "copycat" - almost everything works the same way as it does in Zelda. Expect to spend most of the time slaying monsters, chopping grass, collecting money, solving puzzles, and crawling through dungeons. Even the enemy designs are similar. I read a lot of other comments and discussed the game with too many people who seemed to be alarmed about the number of similarities to Zelda - I personally feel like Atlus was pretty clear about it when they initially announced the game, so I was more or less entertained by the blatant references.
Moving on, credit should be given where it is due: From Software introduced some new tricks to a very old dog, and some parts of 3D Dot are better than Zelda as a result. First, the visual style is the most iconic, memorable, and unique aspect of the entire game. It almost looks like everything in the game has been transformed from a two-dimensional sprite and upgraded into a LEGO model composed of countless single-colored cubes. The style is supposed to look blocky, but the other effects are done very well. Also, the music and sound effects are fantastic. Each background song in 3D Dot sounds like it could have been listed on a Zelda soundtrack as a hidden bonus or deleted track. Sure, the unforgettable jingles have been replaced, but they actually get stuck in your head as well.
Battling enemies has always been a big part of the Zelda experience, and the combat system received a large breath of fresh air. The hero uses a sword and specialty items like bombs and the boomerang - nothing special, sure - but the other swords that are collected in the quest can also be upgraded into stronger, wider, and longer blades with other special properties to boot. Swinging the sword around in circles is one of the combat system's handy little tricks, and it makes it easy to fend off enemies from all sides rather than chopping wildly in the four basic directions. The sweeping attack is particularly deadly when the blade is tampered at a Blacksmith and given the ability to pierce solid objects.
As a final note on the "old-school" style and nature of 3D Dot Game Heroes, I have swallowed my words for long enough: I think it's entirely overrated. The classic style and challenge will appeal to fans of difficult titles, but impatient players will hate it and fans of the recent Zelda games may not realize the difficulty of the earlier games. I was certainly uncomfortable at first, and I would say that there are some of the little nagging flaws (clueless sense of direction, mindlessly archaic save system, overpowered enemy attacks) will turn away anyone but the strong-willed masochists. At a point, it is completely unnecessary to be so vague and neglectful about helping the player advance and experience the video game they rightfully purchased.
The side-quests in 3D Dot are similar to the ones in Zelda, sure, but they aren't as much to fun to complete because the dialogue is just too limited. Apparently, "old-school game design" was only interested in providing you with the information needed to operate the game, not any hints about where to go next or what to do at all. Sure, there are Life- and Magic-expanding items, Small Blocks, and other special items to collect and stockpile, but why bother when a game just wants to punish you for working so hard with its archaic and confusing mechanics? It is no deal-breaker, but 3D Dot's limited direction is disappointing, and serves as proof of why linearity just isn't killing the video game industry like everyone wants to say it is.
Given its flaws, 3D Dot Game Heroes is still a solid game, particularly at $40. It might miss the “Best Game of All Time” lists that Zelda casually dominates on a daily basis, but Atlus and From Software could have done a lot worse with it. The gameplay is a great mix of new and old, the visual design is clever and colorful, and the challenge is welcomed by veterans of the source material. Despite the frustration involved with finding everything in the game and unlocking all of the Trophies, 3D Dot serves as the PlayStation 3’s best tribute to one of the biggest names in gaming history. That isn't too shabby.