Dragon Quest Wars is a game past its prime. One of the few noteworthy pieces of DSiWare, it is an Intelligent Systems strategy game starring a handful of monsters from the series. People deploy them on limited maps, attempting to best opponents with units identical to their own. Unfortunately, time has taken its toll. What once looked good on the DSi is unimpressive on the 3DS, and the death of Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection services on the system killed any hopes of online multiplayer matches. Yet, even in this dark hour, Dragon Quest Wars isn’t without its merits.
The gameplay and tactics employed in Dragon Quest Wars are sound. The character designs haven’t weathered the years well and the entry’s online lifeblood has been cut off, but the foundations are still here. At its core, this is an admirable game that puts each player, of which there can be as many as four, on equal footing. It seizes the opportunity to set people out on a field, each with the same characters and abilities available to them, and give them a chance to work their way to victory with what they’re given.
While all Intelligent Systems strategy games are great, Advance Wars and Fire Emblem in particular, most offer a wide variety of units, maps, and options. By restricting people with Dragon Quest Wars, the developer encourages more creativity. Everyone gets the offensive Slimes, Drackies, and Hammerhoods, the defensive Golems, the magical Chimeras, and supportive Healslimes. Each character has the same skills and spells. Whatever you could do in a turn, your opponent could too.
The only variation comes from what you bring with you, as each person is limited to four of the six units in a Dragon Quest Wars match. You have to consider not only what each of your characters is capable of, but what your enemy will be doing with those same units. While this is true of Advance Wars and Fire Emblem as well, since each game has specific units available to the user, the former lets you spawn as many of an array if you have cash and latter allows you to level and take characters down different paths. Dragon Quest Wars’ restrictions are its strength, as you’re constantly aware of what few things you and your foe can accomplish.
Rudimentary maps are another means of avoiding distractions. Every field is largely the same, with only minor cosmetic differences. You could even go ahead and say Dragon Quest Wars is set on the equivalent of a chess board, with the only movement restrictions defined by a unit’s range. Terrain doesn’t matter. There are no locations with bottlenecks or only one defendable position. Everything is open to you. Positioning matters, but only when it comes to the formations you create in your own head. By keeping things so simple, you can focus on your foe and his or her army, instead of extraneous elements.
The range of multiplayer is another boon. While it would be incredibly difficult to pull together four people locally for a match, Dragon Quest Wars shines when more people participate. Given the troop limitations, more units on the field allows for better odds at manipulating the other people. Temporary alliances can be made, to get characters removed from battle. Focuses can shift. It’s possible to sequester yourself and put up stronger defenses while others wear each other out. It allows for a game that is centered around the people you’re playing with, rather than in-game elements.
My absolute favorite part of Dragon Quest Wars, however, is its pacing. This is a game that doesn’t overstay its welcome. With only four units, each able to take between one and three hits, you don’t find yourself participating in drawn-out stalemates. Matches are challenging and fleeting. Wins and losses matter, of course, but the consequences aren’t so dire. It’s impossible to over think, because you don’t have options that could leave you stunned or stumbling. Instead, you do and hopefully enjoy. As much as I enjoy hour-long affairs in more substantial strategy games, a occasional palate cleanser is appreciated.
Dragon Quest Wars isn’t the best or prettiest strategy games; it certainly isn’t historically important. Yet, this bit of DSiWare does some things right. It manages to muster up gameplay that still holds up, even when online multiplayer goes dark and character designs make us cringe. Intelligent Systems clearly put effort into making a balanced, simple, and quick strategy game anyone of any skill level can enjoy, and it’s important to appreciate those little things.