The thing that ruins 3D Dot Game Heroes.

3D Dot Game Heroes is a mostly-fun game, but I don’t know if I can finish it. This game is a callback to 8-bit RPGs, which is pretty spot-on because I can’t remember being this unbelievably pissed off at a game since the NES days.

The overworld is fine; lots of fun nooks and crannies to explore, lots of different monsters, lots of hidden goodies. The dungeons are fine too; mostly key-and-lock affairs with some mild puzzling involved — about on par with the original Legend of Zelda. Lots of fun NPCs, each with its own colorful reference or callback, and each with its own pointless fetch quest.

I have some complaints about the way these fetch quests and some of their associated mini-games are implemented, but you don’t get to hear about them. They are nothing compared to the thing that really ruins this otherwise great game: the boss fights.

Bosses in this game are hard. And I don’t mean “figure out the trick” hard. I mean “attacks that knock off 1/4 of your health” hard. I mean “100 hits to kill” hard. These are the kind of bosses you’d expect to see in a game that refills your life meter every time you insert a quarter.

A few of the bosses have handy little patterns you can exploit. I managed to get the dragon boss into a routine where I’d run up and hit him, then retreat so his shockwave attack wouldn’t hit me, then follow him back and hit him again. I did this something like thirty times in a row before he finally exploded. I was told I should have upgraded my sword, and maybe I should have, but the monsters in the dungeon were all going down in two or three hits.

The sword system is partly to blame for this. At full health you have this gigantic planet-destroying sword. I mean cartoonishly gigantic. As long as you haven’t taken a hit, your sword can easily stab anything on the screen from anywhere on the screen. It can go through walls. You can spin attack to kill everything at once. Once you sustain damage, though, you’re downgraded to this dinky nothing sword that is less than 1/10 as powerful.

I see why this works well in most of the game world, but it doesn’t translate to the boss fights. Boss fights are trivial with your souped-up god sword, so each boss has some cheap way of inflicting damage; the snake boss is super-fast and turns on a dime, the golem boss gets a homing laser, the squid boss fills the screen with rotating tentacles, etc. However, the bosses’ health meters seem to be balanced with the super-sword in mind. If you take damage it is now not only harder to hit the boss, but you have to hit him twice as much to win.

By the way, their health meters aren’t displayed onscreen, so you have no idea how close you are to victory.

It’s amazing how much good will the bosses of this game have destroyed, considering what a small part of the game they are. But they are barriers. You can’t win the game without fighting them all, yeah? The minigames and missable vanity items I can live with; that’s all cruft. I just want to see the ending of the game, and unfortunately that means reloading the boss fight every time I take a cheap hit within the first ten seconds.

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