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Friday, January 27, 2023

Dragon Quest Treasures

A spinoff of the Dragon Quest series starring Erik and Mia from its 11th entry, which as its name implies, is focused heavily around hunting treasures in a large open world.  But does Treasures strike gold, or should it just be left buried?

Dragon Quest, as long running and successful a franchise as it is, is certainly no stranger to spinoff games, running the spectrum from Warriors style beat-em-ups to roguelikes to action platformers centered on the series' signature slimes to a monster collecting spinoff inspired by Pokemon; a bit ironic considering Dragon Quest had recruitable monsters as a mechanic several years before Pokemon was even a thing.

Treasures is another such entry, taking the familiar world of Dragon Quest XI (and starring two of its protagonists) but changing up the gameplay to be an open-world experience focused around completing objectives and hunting for hidden artifacts across a span of several floating islands.  To this end, your two main characters acquire a pair of magic daggers that allow them to procure said treasures, enlist monsters to help them pinpoint exact locations and travel more efficiently, and gradually upgrade their home base by finding loot and recruiting new characters to staff it.

A key component of any open world game, at least in my view, is making it fun to get around; after all, if you're going to be spending a ton of time running around the map, the developers had better put some work into making that aspect enjoyable, otherwise it's just 20+ minutes of empty filler in between each mission. Treasures thankfully does just that - your characters will automatically hop over small obstacles like fences and rocks, and pretty much anything that looks scalable with platforming is.  Recruited monsters aid greatly with this too, with some monsters being ridable to make running around faster (Knights), able to propel you into the air to scale cliffs (Slimes) or even go gliding over significant stretches a la Breath of the Wild (Drackys and other flying monsters).  Others still allow you to simply submerge into the ground, becoming temporarily undetectable to slip past potential dangers or avoid combat.

Combat in the game is pretty simplistic overall - Erik and Mia use their daggers and a slingshot to attack, with the latter having a large variety of pellets to utilize various effects - doing physical and elemental damage, inflicting status effects, healing allies, or even making monsters you shoot with them more likely to be "scouted" after their defeat, and they can hold X to heal using their stock of MP or tap it while moving to dodge.  Your monster allies largely move and act on their own in battles, though you can give general commands to go on an all-out offensive or battle more defensively.  Serviceable, ultimately nothing spectacular; but in a game where the majority of the focus (and experience) is in finishing objectives and treasure hunting, it's excusable.  In fact, the main reason you bother with combat is less for experience and more to gather dropped items or having a chance to "scout" them and make them into a recruitable team member back at your base for a fee (typically a handful of items and/or some gold).  Monsters will also randomly drop Medals, which you can equip on your characters to boost their stats, earning more slots for them as your treasure rank increases.

Treasure hunting itself is pretty cleverly handled.  Holding L and pressing B activates your character's treasure radar, which will point you in the direction of where its' buried.  When you get in close proximity you can pinpoint its location using your monsters' vision, showing where it's at from different angles so you can identify it with landmarks (with cute touches like looking through the slats on the Knight monster's helmet, or having a Ham Shamwich's view blocked by their hat and their nose).  From there, you dig it up and it gets added to your reserves, with one of your monsters carrying it until you're able to return to base and store it in the vault.  Sometimes monsters will drop treasures after taking a heavy blow, and they'll vanish unless you collect them again before too long passes (several minutes, so it's a pretty generous countdown).  You'll also (seemingly randomly) happen across already exposed dig spots with minor treasures called "Bric-a-Bracs" that reward less XP and gold for your vault, but finding enough of them does add up over time.  

There's a bit more to it than that, though.  Party composition, time of day and a few other factors determine each island's "golden ratio", the chance to find treasures there, so you can change up your party and try later if the prospects in an area are pretty bad.  On the other hand, a ratio of 100% is pretty ridiculous - you can barely go 30 yards without finding another bric-a-brac.  Which makes it kind of a shame that you can only carry 6-10 treasures at a time depending on your party composition.

As you complete missions and upgrade your base, you'll also add several new amenities.  These include being able to cook meals that temporarily boost your allies' stats, craft any of the many pellet types available from collected items, or even send out teams of up to three monsters on expeditions - basically they go out and gather items for you on trips that last 30 minutes or more, and they may even bring back some treasures under the right conditions.  Once a certain point in the story is reached, rival treasure hunters will become a more constant gameplay element, attempting to ambush you in the field and steal your treasures or raid your base - you can do the same back to them, however, so it's a fun dynamic.

Dragon Quest Treasures is a fun little romp - an open world lootfest adventure with some creative mechanics and the endless charm that the series has had as its trademark for three decades.  You have to be a Dragon Quest fan to get the most out of it (and appreciate the enormous encyclopedia of references to be found in the goodies you uncover), but for series enthusiasts, it's a quite fun time.  Oh, and mute the voices - I got so annoyed by my monsters constantly repeating the same three phrases over and over again every few seconds that I had little choice to continue playing.

Developer: TOSE
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Switch
Released: 2022
Recommended Version: N/A