3D Dot Game Heroes

Despite its deep surface, this game feels shallow.

So the six magic orbs must be located and their power mustered by the descendant of the Legendary Hero before the Dark Bishop can be defeated and…. Yeah, I’ve heard this all before. The story is a little flat.

That’s why the king of this kingdom has decided to upgrade everything to 3D. He has realized that players have graduated beyond the two-dimensional pixelated heroes and monsters that have filled role-playing games for decades. Nowadays gamers want isometric angles, vector shading and real-time lighting. They want to climb skyscraping mountains, delve into deep dungeons and battle towering beasts.

And so the king has puffed up his pixelated kingdom into a 3D version of itself. Landscape, monsters and citizens alike are now built up of colored blocks, their pixels having expanded into three dimensions. Looking like they were assembled from Legos, they are now capable of turning and displaying their stair-stepped contours all around.

This style could have easily become perplexing, with the flat colored surfaces melding together. But the designers have wisely clarified the graphics. Floors in most of the dungeons reflect whatever is standing upon them, letting the player see the characters from multiple views. Sharp directional lighting keeps the corners defined. And objects standing in the foreground and background are blurred out of focus rather than being allowed to blend together on the same plane.

It’s an ingenious method of filling out the characters while keeping them flat, and it’s a shame that the same inventiveness wasn’t applied to the game’s storyline and action. 3D Dot Game Heroes takes almost all of its cues from the Zelda playbook, with temples filled with sliding blocks, grass that can be cut with a sword, and various hopping, dashing and arrow-shooting monsters. I like Zelda enough, but Zelda and its many sequels already exist — no clone is needed.

3D Dot Game Heroes isn’t even interested in exploring the game-changing possibilities of its visual style. Instead, it sticks to puzzles that would have worked in any two-dimensional game, ignoring the possibilities of combining 2D and 3D logic like Super Paper Mario and Crush did. And unlike other games with retro-hip style like Viewtiful Joe and Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman!, which wink at their vintage roots and sport a sly sense of humor about themselves, 3D Dot Game Heroes is a solemn, generic RPG. Instead of spoofing or celebrating the clichés of the genre, it takes them seriously.

THE GOOD: The game gives players plenty of opportunity to mess around with the 3D pixelated style. The model used for the main character can be changed at will, and because players can design their own character models, there is no limit to the wackiness that can be placed at the center of the game.

THE BAD: The game’s soundtrack is made up of the pinging and chiming digital tones that filled classic RPGs of the Super Nintendo era. But these compositions are insipid and utterly unhummable. If the whole game is essentially a Zelda clone, the least they could have done was mimic that game’s jaunty heroic theme tune.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Despite its deep surface, 3D Dot Game Heroes feels shallow.

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