3D Dot Game Heroes revealed - can it survive?

Every player old enough to remember a previous console will have favorite old-school games that – to them – still stand up to the very best games of today. Gears of War? It rocks, but it’s no Contra on NES. Batman: Arkham Asylum? Give us Duck Tales. And if you happen to be the guy who thinks Fallout 3 can’t hold a candle to old school action RPGs – especially one particular series starring a green-clad elf and a princess? Then grab your ape suit sonny, because you’re about to go bananas for 3D Dot Game Heroes.

Above: The world of 2D RPGs becomes 3D at the decree of the king. He’s a forward-thinking fellow

This PS3 exclusive is a love letter to those classic dungeon dives, sticking so closely to its roots that we’re legitimately concerned that publisher Atlus is going to get sued.

Above: See that crack in the wall across the pond? A bomb will blow that sucker wide open. Not that we’ve seen that before

The first thing you’ll notice is the graphical style, which perfectly blends the look of an 8-bit Nintendo game from 20 years ago with the power of a modern 3D console. Everything in the in-game world is made up of tiny 3D blocks in the same way that 2D games were made up of pixels, from the squat, superdeformed people and monsters to the castles and the forests of identical trees. It looks just like any number of classic games from the past. But, in a slight nod to 20 years of graphical evolution, you can actually custom-craft your character’s appearance, turning him into a potato with a hat, a tank, or anything else you like. And when you kill a creature, it shatters into little square bricks, which are pushed out of your way using actual physics when you walk through them.

Above: If you need a candle but you’re low on cash, you’ll need to kill monsters or cut long grass in search of coins – which are totally not called Rupees

Once you’re beyond the graphics, 3D Dot Game Heroes is all about old school action accompanied by a chiptunes soundtrack. After a brief prologue in which you play as a high-level hero with a sword literally about the size of a semi trailer, you meet your real character: a lowly knight with a simple wooden sword and shield. This is just the start of your gear though – you’ll get a better sword soon, and you can upgrade its girth, length, penetration, and a few more manly-sounding qualities. This upgrade system enables your weapon to grow to mammoth proportions, able to clear entire rooms of enemies with a single swish of the analog stick, as long as you’re at full health. But it’ll take awhile to get to that point, by which time you’ll have acquired a boomerang, bombs to blow up weak walls, boots, a bow and arrow, candles to illuminate dark dungeons, and a hookshot, among other items. Oh, and a fairy companion joins you on your quest almost immediately.

Above: The real-time lighting and realistic water is a cool contrast to the blocky, retro-chic character models and environments

Right about now, most players should be noticing some very strong similarities to another well-known series, so we’ll just spend the rest of our time answering the questions you’re about to ask: No, your character is a human and not an elf. No, your health is measured in apples, not hearts – totally different. And no, we don’t know of any princesses who need rescuing… but we don’t really know the plot other than monsters have returned and your first job is to trudge into the forest and pull a magic sword from a rock. No, the boss of the second dungeon isn’t a dinosaur – it’s a giant hornet (the first dungeon boss is a snake, if you’re curious) and you don’t get a mystical triangle for beating it – you get a magic orb, along with the imprisoned wise man who owns it.

Above: That big white stripe isn’t a graphical glitch. It’s your sword after a bit of leveling up. And it can get much larger that than, even

And finally, no – we’ve no idea how publisher Atlus is going to keep from getting slapped with a cease and desist from a certain other publisher. But the game is already out in Japan and all is well, so we’re optimistic and extremely hopeful that the same tolerance exists here in the west. Becausemore than anything else, 3D Dot Game Heroes looks like an earnest, heartfelt tribute to everything we love about classic videogames, and it would be a shame if modern corporate egoism kept gamers here from enjoying it.

Nov 25, 2009

Eric Bratcher
I was the founding Executive Editor/Editor in Chief here at GR, charged with making sure we published great stories every day without burning down the building or getting sued. Which isn't nearly as easy as you might imagine. I don't work for GR any longer, but I still come here - why wouldn't I? It's awesome. I'm a fairly average person who has nursed an above average love of video games since I first played Pong just over 30 years ago. I entered the games journalism world as a freelancer and have since been on staff at the magazines Next Generation and PSM before coming over to GamesRadar. Outside of gaming, I also love music (especially classic metal and hard rock), my lovely wife, my pet pig Bacon, Japanese monster movies, and my dented, now dearly departed '89 Ranger pickup truck. I pray sincerely. I cheer for the Bears, Bulls, and White Sox. And behind Tyler Nagata, I am probably the GR staffer least likely to get arrested... again.