A core aspect of Dragon Quest franchising is about faithful adherence to one’s own tradition. In contrast to, for example, the history of Final Fantasyproving that a series can be endlessly self-referential while still pushing to evolve, a lot of it Dragon Quest has been the same. The music, art, sound effects, and monster designs are removed and tweaked little, if at all, only to be packed away again for later use. It’s part of what makes the series what it is, and messing with that formula now would no doubt alienate fans.
This traditional simplicity is responsible for both Dragon Quest Treasuresboth charm and flaws. While the game’s flaws are rife, and in a strict one-to-one comparison, its performance would only give the game an overall average rating, Dragon Quest Treasures is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts. When all is said and done, the game is fun, cute and charming, more than it is frustrating in the slightest.
In this open-world action role-playing game, players follow the journey of Erik and Mia, adventurous young siblings who begin their story as members of a Viking crew. They encounter a flying pig, Porcus, and the cat, Purrsula, and are swept away to a magical land: a collection of islands in the shape of dragons, suspended in the air. This new world, Draconia, is where the events of the game take place.
It is soon explained that treasure hunters are the most influential and admired people in Draconia. Once the protagonists have made it through some establishing events, the player’s primary goal is revealed, and the main thrust of the game: to establish their own treasure-hunting gang and see it thrive. Venturing out to the game’s five sprawling islands, they’ll dig up treasure, connect to a long-abandoned railway system, and help NPCs with a collection of side quests, all while teaming up with classic Dragon Quest monsters, like the iconic slime enemy. At the center of the five islands is a sixth, home to the gang’s headquarters. This is where players return after each excursion to have the shiny new treasure appraised and added to the vault, increasing their wealth.
This base serves several other functions as well. Three shops can be opened through missions where crafting materials, recipes and ammunition can be bought. The basement contains several levels of something called “Snarl”, each floor contains short battle traps that culminate in a boss fight. Most importantly, the gang headquarters is where new monstrous allies can be recruited. Management of these recruits is a big part of Dragon Quest Treasures, and players will often recruit new members and juggle their active team. When you first arrive at the HQ, it’s clear that the structure has seen better days, and your mission to restore it seems like a good setup for some solid base-building mechanics. Unfortunately, the development of the base is minimal, only a small handful of missions, and it feels like a missed opportunity.
The other five islands are a joy to explore – each is its own distinct biome – but with enough variety within that biome to keep things fresh and interesting. The Wingswept Moors, for example, contain poisonous bogs, eerie ravines and open plains where a pack of large sabrecats make their home next to an enormous skeleton. When players see a landmark like this, it’s in their best interest to investigate. The game excels at rewarding curiosity and exploration. Secret locations and eye-catching backdrops are scattered throughout the map, and if it looks like a treasure might be hiding behind an eye-catching wall or on top of a rocky outcrop, it probably is.
The player’s monster companions are key to environmental exploration in Dragon Quest Treasures. Unlike the exploration tricks in Breath of the Wild or something similar, there are very clear and specific ways for players to uncover the world’s secrets. Each monster has one of five ‘Forte’ abilities to aid navigation: jump, slide, scan, sprint and sneak. Erik or Mia can bring three party members with them, meaning players will never have access to all five Fortes at the same time. These abilities open up the world in a big way; gliding, sneaking and jumping abilities are hugely beneficial. Occasional gusts of wind can take players to otherwise inaccessible places, as long as they have a monster that can glide. Sneak allows the party to slip past enemies without engaging, while allowing them to squeeze through cracks. Players in particular will not want to leave home without the ability to jump, as it opens up a verticality that offers great rewards.
While the other two abilities can be useful, they are arguably not necessary, and this is where the freedom to party is revealed to be something of an illusion. Yes, it would be nice to sprint across the map, but that means places that require either jumping, sliding or sneaking will be blocked. If the goal is to explore everywhere, players are essentially locked into monsters with these three abilities. They will return to the islands repeatedly during their adventure, but unless every place where a secret was missed is noted, treasures will inevitably be missed.
Aside from their exploratory skills, monsters also help in battle. In fact, they will do the lion’s share of the work, with the player character relegated largely to a supporting role. Combat is free-flowing action and here the simplicity is like Dragon Quest franchise insists on becomes an injury. Despite how influential allies are, players have almost no control over them, as they are guided by the AI. With either Erik or Mia (both play exactly the same and can be switched between in HQ), players will sit in the back seat and fire a slingshot using a series of pebbles. These ammo range from elemental damaging types to party happy to status effects. The hero character can engage in close combat, but they are ineffective compared to their allies, especially when facing enemies that are at or above their own level.
If an enemy’s elemental weakness is known and the necessary ammo is available, solid damage can be dealt. If it’s unknown, players will spend their time shooting off pebbles type after type until they land on the weakness, or simply hack away at the monster ineffectively until allies take it down. For the most part, the player’s job is to launch healing pebbles at their allies as they do the job.
There is no character progression for the siblings aside from leveling up which increases some stats, and the monsters themselves have a total of three moves. Medals can be acquired and equipped that further boost stats, but they add little in the way of new abilities.
Ultimately, this lack of customization along with overly simplistic combat makes for a very boring combat system. To compound the problem, while the world is a lot of fun to explore, that very exploration will result in a massively over-the-top party. Very little challenge is presented, even the final boss, and at no point is grinding required. In fact, it is difficult to avoid. Just by following the questlines and making sure they only head back to base when they have a full pile of treasure, players will encounter enough battles that combat encounters will become increasingly trivialized. For an action RPG, especially one with endless combat, the combat system is unforgivably boring. There are plenty of great action RPGs on the Switch, and if this is what gamers are interested in, they should look elsewhere.
If Dragon Quest Treasures didn’t insist on forcing players to engage in the bland combat, the experience would be much better. Fortunately, the world, exploration, and treasure hunting system are a lot of fun. Exploring every nook and cranny or messing around with each new landmark doesn’t get old throughout the game’s 55+ hour runtime (with completing most missions and extras), and the rush of discovering new treasures and watching your gang’s worth grow is satisfying and exciting. Despite its flaws, the ways in which Dragon Quest’s Treasures succeeds make up for them, if only slightly.
Dragon Quest Treasures is available now on Switch. Game Rant received a code for this review.