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May 12, 2007 - This weekend I had the opportunity to play a few minutes of the first Square Enix game for the Nintendo Wii: Dragon Quest Swords. There were more than two dozen kiosks dedicated to Dragon Quest Swords at the Square Enix Party in Japan, and after a short wait in a very long line it wasn't that extensive a wait to get a bit of hands-on with the Wii adventure.

The demo began with a trek through the woods. All the action of Dragon Quest Swords is seen from the first-person viewpoint of the lead character, chosen at the start of the adventure (either male or female), and control is handled via the Wii Remote exclusively. By holding the B button down, the character will move through a rigid on-rails path through the forest. Enemies will leap in from off-screen or out from behind trees and boulders, preventing forward motion; when this happens, these enemies must be taken out before the game allows you to continue on.

In battle, the B button activates the shield -- the on-screen pointer turns into a wooden shield that will block attacks if players anticipate where the attacks are heading. So, if an archer fires an arrow at you from a distance, your character will have a premonition of where it will hit with a flashing icon before the arrow's fired. Hold the B button and point the remote to the location on the screen and the shield will block the attack. Sounds easy, but when three archers fire their arrows at the same time to three different spots on the screen, you'll need a quick hand to swipe the shield across your view to prevent getting hit.

Attacks are handled by the Wii Remote's motion. The game recognizes up/down, side-side, and diagonal attacks, and it did a good job reacting to those moves...but only if you were more exaggerated. Quick flicks of the wrist in the different directions seemed to confuse the game -- left-to-right swipes frequently turned into diagonal slashes in the completely opposite direction, for example. The game definitely likes the full range of motion. Why do you need specific swipe directions? Because the enemies will leap out in horizontal, vertical, and diagonal groups, and you'll get multiple hits if you swipe your sword across them properly.

Locking on is an important part of the sword combat, as you'll need to hit multiple enemies on the upper or side portions of the screen. The Wii Remote, by itself, wouldn't know what part of the screen you're trying to attack when you're swiping, so hitting the A button will plant a reticule on the screen where you clicked it. Once the target is on the screen, any swipe will slash to that spot. This comes in extremely handy when you've got five slimes in a row hovering at the bottom of the screen -- simply click on one of them and whack 'em sideways to wipe them out in a single shot.

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Familiar faces await you to show them what for with the Wii remote.

The game puts equal attention on offense and defense, so you'll have to block attacks from evil vomiting zombies before you can whack them with the remote. Some characters -- like the end boss -- have very Punch Out! like attack patterns where you'll have to block in succession; withstand the attacks and wear him out, and you can counter with attacks of your own.

There are also special attacks that you can perform. When you encounter an enemy that's doing nothing but blocking your swipes, hitting the 2 button on the Wii Remote will pull up a menu where you can select the more brutal attacks. To pull them off you'll need to follow the on-screen menu -- the one I tried was an attack where you had to hold the remote up to ready the strike, then slam the remote down as quickly and rapidly as possible to pull off the brutal assault. Since the demo only gives you enough power for one special attack, I didn't get to try the other one in the menu.

At certain points in the woods you'll have your choice of different paths to choose -- they're represented by arrows that you click on with the Wii Remote and A button. Treasure chests will also get underfoot while you progress along the path...again, clicking on the A button will open them up and reveal the goodies inside. Goodies that'll automatically get added to your inventory.

Square Enix limited attendee playtime to only a specific portion of the game's early part -- once players got to the final boss (the rock-like beast that was shown in the concept render movie during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2006) and defeated him, the hands-on demonstration ended and it was off to the rest of the show.

Overall, the demo offered a good amount of fun...but it's, in its current form, a simple design that's far from a game that's going to reach classic status on the Wii system. It definitely has merit as a Wii-specific design that uses many of the unique elements of the Wii remote, and had a lot of keen nods to the Dragon Quest series with its monster-infested forest. It also didn't look all that bad on the widescreen LCD displays at the show, running at a smooth and consistent 30 frames per second rate.

The game is scheduled to ship in Japan on July 12th. Check out the latest screens by clicking the links below.

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