It’s never a good sign when you spend most of the time playing a game wishing you were playing something else. When it does just enough to evoke fond memories of a past adventure, but fails to capture what made it so memorable in the first place. When it feels like a worse version of something that already exists.
I spent most of my time with Infinity Strash: Dragon Quest The Adventure of Dai—an adaptation of the Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai anime—wishing I was playing Dragon Quest Heroes.
When Square and Koei Tecmo partnered for Heroes, they combined the best parts of Dragon Quest and Warriors into a fantastic action RPG: exciting, easy to pick up end play yet still offering plenty of depth, and surprisingly eloquent in its storytelling. A couple of years later, Dragon Quest Heroes II kicked everything up a notch, and set a high bar for what a Dragon Quest action game can feel like.
As another Dragon Quest action RPG, Infinity Strash bears a superficial similarity that makes comparison inevitable. Unfortunately, it’s not a favourable one: mechanically shallow, lacking in finesse, and with a narrative that falls flat at every turn. Infinity Strash feels less like a Dragon Quest spinoff and more like one of those dime-a-dozen anime tie-in games… which is exactly what it is, I guess.
At its best, Infinity Strash is fine—a serviceable if unremarkable action game. The small handful of characters are sufficiently distinct in their fighting styles, with some creative twists on the archetypal RPG classes that Adventure of Dai‘s cast represents. Maam is particularly enjoyable: a gun-toting pseudo-mage who juggles big damage and healing with a need to find safe moments to reload her weapon. Combat largely follows the “mash buttons and dodge when you see a big swing coming” mould, but that can still be fun.
But Infinity Strash is rarely at its best. Clumsy movement and unreliable dodges make melee combat a messy affair with no room for finesse or intricate play—you can either play aggressive and accept that you’re going to eat a lot of attacks that you’ve visibly dodged, or play a lot of hit and run. Ranged characters fare a little better, but they still mostly involve just running around taking pot shots. Outside of a handful of boss fights that mix things up a bit with their attacks, enemies do little to make fighting them interesting.
In place of the sprawling sense of adventure that’s defined Dragon Quest for nigh on 40 years, Infinity Strash employs a dull, linear, level-based story structure that feels more like something out of a mobile game. Pick a chapter, pick a stage, kill all the slimes and whatnots, watch a cutscene, then do it again. The levels themselves are small and unremarkable—arenas to fight in rather than fields and dungeons to explore and discover.
Sadly, that’s true of the Temple of Recollection, too, despite the promise of a replayable dungeon crawl with a light roguelike touch. Separate from the main story, the Temple of Recollection drops you into a series of encounters with various bonus objectives, semi-random upgrades, and a fresh start from level 1 for each attempt. Spoils earned can help strengthen your characters in the main story, but the deeper you go, the higher the risks. In practice, it’s a rather forgettable mode, held back by the shortcomings of the main game’s combat design and lacking both worthwhile rewards and the controlled chaos that makes a good roguelike fun.
RPG elements are light touch in Infinity Strash, too. Characters grow gradually stronger and learn a small handful of abilities through levelling up, but most of the build customisation is tied to limited mostly to the collection of “Bond Memories” that serve as equipment. There’s a decent number of them, each of which affects stats in various ways, but too often, the effects feel inconsequential. An RPG doesn’t need to have the stat complexity or customisation of Dark Souls to be worthwhile—something as simple as buying a new sword and seeing bigger damage numbers can do the trick, but Infinity Strash struggles to capture even that little feeling of getting stronger. You can power up those bond memories by grinding specific materials or collecting multiple copies of the same to combine, and… yeah, there’s a bit too much of a mobile gacha game feeling here, even without microtransactions or lucky draw systems.
Bond memories are also where—in a truly bizarre fashion—Infinity Strash does most of its retelling of the Adventure of Dai anime. Each one represents a moment from the show, with a screengrab and a few lines of narration visible in an equipment screen that doubles as a gallery. But when most are earned as random drops after battle, the result is a complete lack of cohesion that robs these moments of any emotional heft they might have. For the diehard Adventure of Dai fan, they might evoke a brief response, as they remind you of scenes from the anime, but divorced of context; for everyone else, they’re just random snippets of a story rendered meaningless by this disjointed delivery.
The main plot of Infinity Strash struggles in a similar fashion. It’s a loose retelling of Adventure of Dai, but with the pacing thrown entirely out the window. Lengthy cutscenes will languish in minor details while major plot points are skimmed through or skipped over entirely, only to reappear later as bond memories. Characters show up with no introduction and disappear just as suddenly, and the plot progression is erratic. To experience the story of Dai through Infinity Strash is like trying to watch the anime while skipping half the episodes. And yet, somehow, the cutscenes still feel disproportionately drawn out and lengthy, especially compared to the brevity of each level.
The result is a game that’s hard to recommend, even to the most committed Dragon Quest fan. It’s a fairly generic action game at best, with moments of fun and some interesting ideas held back by clunky combat, bland level design, messy storytelling—despite having plenty of great source material to work with—and no real sense of adventure. But hey, at least it did enough to spark an itch to play a good Dragon Quest action game, right? If you need me, I’ll be over here, mowing down thousands of slimes in Dragon Quest Heroes.