Everyone who cares about shonen manga and anime agrees that Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai has gotten a raw deal outside Japan. Running in Shonen Jump from 1989 to 1996, Adventure of Dai is as influential in defining the shonen genre as series like Dragon Ball and Fist of the North Star. However, partially due to Dragon Quest’s more limited popularity outside of Japan, the series had little opportunity to flourish. The Adventure of Dai manga only became available in English last year. The 2020 anime series has faired somewhat better, simulcasting on Crunchyroll and dubbed in English in November.
This is all to say that it is WEIRD that the upcoming Infinity Strash: Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai game is getting an international release, let alone one that features an option to play with English voice acting! Square Enix will release the action RPG launches digitally worldwide on September 28 on current and last-gen consoles and Steam. The game developer also believed in the title enough to allow the press to experience a middle section of the game in an hour-long, hands-on demo during this year’s Anime Expo.
This demo allowed players to take control of Dai, Pop, and Maam to face off against the Dark Army’s Undead Legion Hyunckle, experience a gauntlet mode, and also battle the half-hot half-cold monstrosity, Flazzard, by skipping forward a few stages. In the game’s main mode, which seems to cover the first major saga of the series, players assemble their party before battle, add equippable modifiers based on select manga panels to boost stats like Attack and Crit Hit Chance, and make other playstyle considerations.
The action in this RPG is like Final Fantasy VII Remake’s combat style, where you’re switching between party members to primarily use special attacks tied to a cool down, as an AI takes control of the unused characters. Each character had a unique enough feel — Dai being a close-range all-arounder, Pop a mid-range mage, and Maam a healer and long-distance gunner — for the demo to give the impression that a deep level of customization will be available in the full version of the game. This is especially true considering those aforementioned stat modifiers can have some wild effects, like tremendously boosting magical damage in exchange for significantly reducing a character’s magical defense. While only ten or so of these modifiers were available for the demo, with more unlocked in the main game by playing the gauntlet mode, these mechanics imply that a character like Pop could be turned into a complete glass cannon just as easily as he could be spec-ed into a bulky, magical turret.
There are a lot of thoughtful ideas present in the demo that show that developers considered what players want out of an action RPG. For instance, Pop’s unique ability allows him to reduce the cooldown on his special attacks while remaining stationary and unguarded, and this adds an even greater sense of risk and reward rooted deeply in the game’s core mechanics. Unfortunately, the devil’s in the details, though, and the demo doesn’t come together as a cohesive whole.
While it could be that I couldn’t get the feel of it, the window to dodge attacks and land a counter-hit wasn’t very intuitive. Additionally, mobs are complete pushovers, while bosses are big, spongy walls. The three I fought in the demo, two in the main campaign and one in the gauntlet mode, all had generous shield meters that needed to be broken before you could seriously chip away at their HP bar, a la recent Musou/Warriors titles. This made boss fights feel more like a slog than a rush of shonen-style action in the source material.
Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai‘s story also isn’t presented in the best light here. While the campaign follows the anime’s events, cutscenes appear to be stills from the anime run through a film grain and stay on screen for multiple lines of dialogue. As these cutscenes are lengthier, the end experience feels more like watching a slideshow interspersed with action RPG levels rather than a solid series transition into the gaming medium.
Even if Infinity Strash: Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts, it still captures the charm of the anime and the iconic turn-based RPGs. Enemies like Slimes and Drackies are some of the greatest monster designs ever penned, and it’s charming to see them on screen. It’s also still hilarious to see the Dark Army that Dai and his companions face off against consist of generals like, a pretty cool crocodile man, an edgy teenager, and Dai’s deadbeat dad.
While this demo has a lot to love, it doesn’t feel like the title will rise above the middling reputation of most licensed games. Still, though, if this is how younger people discover the quietly seminal Adventure of Dai series, or the joyous Dragon Quest franchise more broadly, Infinity Strash: Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai is bringing a net good into the world and that deserves praise and celebration.