website tracking
3D Dot Game Heroes: Demo Impressions on Game and Player

3D Dot Game Heroes: Demo Impressions

Michael Ubaldi  //  February 19, 2010

Atlus brings nostalgia to the North American market.


here is something comforting and terrifying about enough years separating your own childhood from the present to qualify favorite video games for precious-metal anniversaries. Terrifying for reasons associated with senescence; comforting in that for all their self-serving, Baby Boomers neither failed to entertain us with reruns and tributes, nor allowed their upbringing to interfere with the making of what we, pushing or in our thirties, reminisce over now as they did then.

In May, five months before the NES will have sat under American televisions for a quarter-century, Atlus plans to publish Silicon Studio's throwback spoof 3D Dot Game Heroes. Atlus manager of public relations and sales Aram Jabbari introduced the title as an "homage to classic 8-bit action-adventure games we all grew up with" when I joined him and several other media attendees in a web demonstration yesterday.

Back to basics: stolen relics invite dark times, the king affirms the player character's heroic lineage, and off you go.
Seen in screenshots, 3D Dot Game Heroes looks like a traditional sword-and-board roleplaying game as realized in Lego bricks. Watched in progress, it was an uncanny — and for most attending the demonstration, delightful — transportation to the gilt-cartridge days of The Legend of Zelda. In spite of close similarities, Jabbari added, 3D Dot Game Heroes is "much more than an imitation or a clone — it's a funny and nostalgic experience." And for sixteen-year-olds who teethed on an original Xbox? "It's still incredibly fresh experience for younger gamers" who might not fully appreciate the parody.

Indeed, added Atlus' Scott Strichart, "it's easter egg central." From subtle nods in dialog and gameplay to Zelda and other classics, to load screens with painstaking renditions of popular and esoteric tableau (one was not of Castlevania, it was of "the black sheep of the Castlevania series"), 3D Dot Game Heroes celebrates bona fide love of an era and a genre.

Watched in progress, it's a transportation to the gilt-cartridge days of The Legend of Zelda.
Jabbari began play by selecting a character, a kind of chibi green dragon, one of several pre-built; but just prior showed how the game welcomes any form described by a 16-pixel-block cube and 8-bit palette. Playstyle options consist of three classes — Hero, a fighter; Scholar, a caster; and Royal Heir, a balance class. The premise? Charmingly facile: stolen relics invite dark times for Dotnia Kingdom, the king decrees "the age of 3D," affirms the player character's heroic lineage with a sword wrenched from stone, and — off you go.

Déjà vu accompanied Jabbari's trolling of a familiar, grid-based countryside swinging a sword — and tossing a boomerang — at sundry monsters for gold coins and life-restoring apples, while an anthem played nearly at counterpoint to the Triforce theme. The state of mind was overwhelming — even for me, a PC square whose nearest NES was at the neighbor's — when Jabbari's character entered the first dungeon to uncover a map and boss key. The boss battle, its mechanics certainly engaging, was hardly novel.

Dungeons, mini-games, and easter eggs promise 25-30 hours of play.
"How are you preparing for calls of 'rip-off'?" one attendee asked in the webcast chat-box. Jabbari was confident of 3D Dot Game Heroes' merits. He has reasons: From Software's Japanese release last November withstood such criticism, and Atlus has overseen the addition of several features since. Besides, in chat-box crosstalk came unprompted testaments to the power of nostalgia. "This is bringing me back," typed one attendee; "I feel 20 years younger," typed another.

Jabbari showed off two of three mini-games allowing players to pass the time while they earn in-game prizes for characters: tower defense, block-breaking and an event with the piquant name of Dash Circuit. With three to four dozen enemies, seven dungeons, and a fantasy game-world sown with inside jokes, 3D Dot Game Heroes promises, Strichart said, between 25 and 30 hours.

Oldie but goodie: will players devote a couple of weeks to a retro parody?
To move the presentation beyond the first thirty minutes of play, Jabbari loaded the game of a well-advanced character. Thus ended the adventure of the little dragon, and although a flurry of abilities and possessions was impressive, the new character ran around in an unfamiliar place for an immediately unapparent reason. At a disjuncture, we watched quietly. I typed a follow-up to clarify the three types of classes. Jabbari read it and answered — "I wouldn't worry too much about that, Michael" — before resuming the character's course up green foothills and into a cave. They were only for the accurate inclusion of a list in this article, but from Jabbari's seat two questions over one detail may as well have come from that guy in The Simpsons making proverbial accusations of a "magic xylophone." Still, the tone of admonition to Jabbari's voice suddenly focused me on variety in gameplay, and I leaned back to give it a little thought.

Players seek class choice to match their gaming style, right? Why would class choice be offered in a manifestly retro game (including differences between male and female characters, which even strike me as trifling)? Because contemporary expectations value customization and some measure of depth. No longer the preference for hours of free time, arcade games dominate bundles and DLC. At just under $40, the price point of 3D Dot Game Heroes is attractive; yet Atlus is still bold to market homage in a North American boxed retail release. Nostalgia exalts times and activities, not necessarily an extended visit; let alone a return. Will players devote a couple of weeks to a parody or would they rather devote just one Saturday afternoon to plugging in the old console and reliving the real thing? That is Atlus' challenge, though from Jabbari's ebullience, no publisher is better suited.

DreadNemesis // February 19, 2010 // 3:39 PM

I'll certainly be willing to put in the time. This one looks like it's going to hold some promise, if not a few quick laughs.

The knowledge that From Software are the developers for this title is also heartening to see. I've become a big fan of their games over the past few years, so I trust in experience in provideing challenging, enjoyable games. I already have this one preordered, so May can't get here soon enough.

Michael Ubaldi // February 19, 2010 // 8:08 PM

You would certainly get a kick out of the tribute load screens, Matt. If you're any indication, longtime fans of old-school NES titles and RPGs will, as Atlus has bet, adore this game.

DreadNemesis // February 19, 2010 // 9:19 PM

What sold me on this game was the teaser video that Atlus sent out throught their Altus Faithful email servus. "Natural Sword Enhancement" indeed.

Join the Discussion

Articles by Michael Ubaldi

July 1, 2011

February 12, 2011

G&P Latest

July 1, 2011

June 28, 2011

About  //  Editors  //  Contributors  //  Terms of Use