Lets just get this out of the way from the start… 3D Dot Game Heroes is a gigantic love letter to the original Legend Of Zelda which debuted on the NES back in 1986, but whether you view this as a celebratory homage or soulless rip-off will vary depending on both your sense of humour and your ability to appreciate parodies. As a die-hard Zelda fan I was almost foaming at the mouth when I saw the first trailer for FromSoftware’s Zelda inspired adventure game and now, 10 hours after installing 3D Dot Game Heroes on to my PS3, I am both eager and excited to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard rather) and tell you all about my humbling experience.
But before I get in to that, let me give you a brief low-down on the game in-case you’ve haven’t been following it as intensely as I have. 3D Dot Game Heroes is an isometric adventure game which more than takes a few cues from Link’s 2D outings. 3D Dot’s main gimmick (aside from it’s nostalgic appeal) is it’s insanely in-depth character creation tool which you can use to create your very own Hero from scratch. Every character and object in the game is made up of an accumulation of tiny square dots, the creation tool allows you to use those dots with infinite possibilities to conjure up any kind of charter you want. If creativity is not your strong point you likely won’t be able to produce anything more complex than a large coloured square with eyes, but thankfully FromSoftware have included several pre-set models for you to customize or use as is. Even better, when the game officially launches players will be able to upload and download character models through the official website and you’ll be able to transfer new models on to your system via a USB device and use them as your own.
If you’ve ever played a top-down Zelda game you’ll know exactly what to expect from 3D Dot in terms of story, gameplay and themes. If Link did it back in the day then it’s more than likely that your blocky hero will be doing it now. The story is pretty much the same, the world map and the items you acquire are all identical and even the dungeon themes directly correspond with those found in previous Zelda titles. Of course this means that if you hate Zelda you’ll surely hate this game too but you’ll also be a minority because the Zelda series is universally adored by both fans and critics. Even with all the similarities 3D Dot Games Heroes is a good enough game to stand on it’s own merits, though Nintendo fanboys will probably use it as fodder to “prove” why their system is superior for years to come. The plot involves the destruction of the Dotnia Kingdom after an evil being known as the Dark Bishop casts a plague which turns the once peaceful, 2D kingdom in to a 3D dystopia so he can steal six magical orbs. As a descendant of a great hero it’s up to your character to retrieve these orbs and restore peace to the kingdom. Initially you’ll start out with only a trusty sword and a shield but as you progress you’ll discover new items and even gain the ability to upgrade your sword. In a funny twist, whenever your character has full health your sword will appear comically huge each time you swing it, similar to how Link was able to throw his sword whenever he had full health. As far as the items go almost every Zelda staple is here including the boomerang, hookshot, bow, bombs and speed boots but there are also several new items which you will earn each time you collect an orb.
The game’s world map is huge. Those of you who love to explore and discover everything that a game has to offer will definitely find plenty to do here. The world is populated with enemies, dungeons, towns, side quests and secret areas which tends to make travelling from one area to next very exciting. However if you’re short on time (or patients) you can purchase and use warp whistles to quick travel to areas that you have already visited. As you conquer dungeons and earn new items you’ll then be able to traverse through previously inaccessible areas on the map. The game does a pretty good job constantly telling you where you need to need to go but unfortunately you may find yourself consulting a FAQ to find out exactly how to get there. The dungeons themselves are generally fun to explore with a healthy mixture of puzzles and enemies to overcome with a huge boss bottle at the end to top it off. Each dungeon has their own specific theme ranging from Water to Desert to Forest, however once inside these themes aren’t as prevalent as I would have liked. For the most part the only difference between each dungeon is the types of enemies and the colour of the floor, The puzzles rarely accommodate the dungeon theme, nor does the dungeon boss who tends to just be a giant, random enemy.
Even after completing the game I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about 3D Dot’s unique visual style. On one hand its charming and it really helps to highlight the 3D aspect of the game but on the other hand itdoes very little to push the PS3’s hardware. Imagine if FromSoftware choose to borrow Zelda’s Wind Waker art style instead, it would have looked absolutely gorgeous! That’s not to say the game looks bad how it is now, far from it, I just found it hard to fight the feeling that a hand drawn or cel shaded approached would have been more appealing than what is essentially a stack of Lego blocks. The 8-bit inspired music throughout the game is fantastic and although characters never speak their written dialogue is usually hilarious which makes speaking to NPC’s a treat rather than a chore. The lack of voice acting and repetitive music may annoy those who’s idea of a retro title is Halo or GTA 3 but long time gamers like myself will likely appreciate the nostalgic undertones.
3D Dot Game Heroes is ultimately a game that you’ll already know whether you love or not before you even place the disc in your console. This isn’t a game like Zelda, this IS Zelda, just with a glossy HD paint job and a new cast of characters. The $40 makes this a must buy for those of us who grew up with a NES in our homes and completionists will easily find themselves losing 20 or so hours designing characters and exploring every nook and cranny of the game. Contemporary elements such as the excellent writing, implementation of a quick travel and the weapon upgrade system all help to make 3D Dot Game Heroes more of a Zelda “improvement” than a Zelda clone but in that same vein it is also one of the most unoriginal games I’ve ever played. If you thought Visceral Games were shameless with Dante’s Inferno, FromSoftware just made Visceral seem like the most creative people on earth. Regardless of anything 3D Dot Game Heroes is an excellent game which I wholeheartedly enjoyed from beginning to end. Hopefully it will garner enough sales and a good enough critical reception to warrant further instalments. I’d love to see A Link To The Past get the Dot treatment next and then who knows, maybe we’ll be playing a 3D Dot version of Ocarina Of Time on our PS5’s 10 years from now.