Review by Iyamtebist
"While Dragon Fantasy sucessfully averts the flaws of the 8-bit era, it stil sucumbs to a completely different set of problems."
For a while now, there has been a popular trend in gaming pertaining to the revival of old school games. This trend involves companies creating games in a retro style in an attempt to appeal to older gamers. In some cases, these games are made with the same limitations as older games in an attempt to feel more like a game of that time period. There are generally two schools of thoughts when it comes to these games, the first of which is the type that loves these games due to it reminding them of the old days. The other view, however, is that this trend is an excuse to make cheap games that exist only to make a quick buck off the nostalgia of older gamers.
Dragon Fantasy can technically fit that description, as the game was made with the limitations of the 8-bit era in mind, but on the other hand, it is a game that is much less archaic and poorly balanced than RPGs of that era. The game itself is intended as the first game in a series of RPGs with each game being based around JRPGs of a certain era, with Dragon Fantasy Book 1 representing the 8-Bit era. This already puts some heavy limitations on the game, as JRPGs did not become the huge sweeping epics that they are known as today until the 16-bit era. Back then they had little plot and focused on a simple objective that you are given at the beginning of the game; which you slowly built up to by solving issues in each town until you reach the big bad himself.
In Dragon Fantasy, things are slightly different. While the formula is technically the same, the difference is that the game does not try to take itself seriously. Yes this game is another parody RPG of 8-bit RPGs not unlike that Breath of Death VII. However, unlike Breath of Death, this game has more of a sense of urgency to it. What I mean by this is that, while Dragon Fantasy is focused mostly on humor, its plot is generally more compelling and relates more to the familiar aspects of 8-bit JRPGs, even if the plot itself is not the same.
Dragon Fantasy stars Ogden, a knight whom has previously saved the world from darkness and has gone on to marry the princess he rescued. The game takes place many years later after Ogden has retired and had two kids. Unfortunately the kingdom is invaded by the Dark Knight who kidnaps one of Ogden's sons and places a curse on the town. This forces Ogden to come out of retirement, seek out the legendary equipment, and save the world. The main plot is really formulaic, as I have previously stated. On the other hand, the game is mainly humor focused, so naturally, it would be parodying the story and not playing it straight.
One of the best things about Dragon Fantasy's humor is the great variety ways in which the humor is told. The humor comes, not only from the cut-scenes and NPC dialogue, but also from other aspects such as item descriptions and even the battle menus. Unlike most menu based RPGs, every enemy in the game has their own unique, humorous, phrase that signifies their entrance, attacks, and deaths. This gives even random battles their own unique charm, and shows amazing attention to detail that a lot of RPGs do not have.
Graphically, Dragon Fantasy is predictably unimpressive. The characters all have the basic animation style of 8 bit RPGs, and the towns and over-world maps all have that same pixelated appearance we are all familiar with as well. Battles are displayed in a manner similar to Dragon Quest 1, where a small square forms in the middle of the screen showing the enemies and menu commands. This itself, while not really impressive, is still better than a blank, black, background, and there are at least different backgrounds depending on where the battle is taking place. Enemies are represented by still sprites and the attack animations are rather unremarkable as well. The game itself gives you the option to switch to actual 8-bit graphics, but there really is not that much of a difference other than the menus being colored black instead of blue, and there being fewer colors. The graphics were clearly done in an attempt to make the game feel authentic as a retro title, which it succeeds at doing. Just do not expect any amazing graphics from Dragon Fantasy.
The sound effects are all really well done and greatly enhance the experience, especially in battles where occasional critical hit sounds very satisfying. The music, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. Like with the graphics, the game has the option to switch the music to an 8-bit format. The major difference here is that you are going to have the music set to the 8-bit option the entire time, not because it enhances the retro feel, but because the normal songs all sound like cacophonous parade music that quickly becomes hard on the ears. When switched to the 8-bit option, the music is much more pleasant to listen to and sounds much more varied, and while it is not award winning by any means, it still gets the job done well.
One thing that should be noted is that Dragon Fantasy is a game that is divided into four chapters, each of which is played from the perspective of a different character and has their own mechanics. In order to give a more accurate summary of the game-play experience; I will need to go over each chapter individually. The first chapter of the game is the one with the most emphasis and length to it. Chapter one is also by far the best chapter of the four. You play as Ogden, the previously mentioned retired knight, in his quest to save his kingdom. The battles are done in the style of Dragon Quest 1, which means only one playable character and one monster are on the screen at a time. This type of approach is really risky and is something that will always turn out either really good or really bad. The reason for this is that there needs to be a much bigger emphasis on balancing than in a game with multiple party members because, if it is not properly balanced, the game will be based almost entirely around level grinding due to the lack of options, which does not make for a pleasant experience.
Thankfully, Dragon Fantasy chapter one handled it the right way. The battles in Dragon Fantasy are based on knowing what to do in each situation instead of just levels and equipment. That is not to say there is no grinding at all, but what little grinding is, is usually for gold instead of levels, and it is generally only ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Chapter one is balanced in a way that the grinding does not become a nuisance, yet still feels satisfying once you have gotten everything you needed, and does not feel like it was made to artificially extend the length. The one unfortunate thing I will say about chapter one is that the boss battles in the game all come down to simply attacking and healing due to the bosses being immune to major status ailments.
Overall what makes chapter one the best is that it keeps a decent pace and length, and makes you feel like you have accomplished something at the end. The same cannot be said for the next chapter. Chapter two is told from the perspective of Ogden's son Anders, AKA Ogden's son that was not kidnapped. When starting out, this chapter looks like it could be interesting. The mechanics now have changed to where you have more than one party member, and can recruit soldiers in a system which, at first, looks similar to Dragon Quest 3.
Unfortunately this chapter ends abruptly after less than an hour at an unexpected and inappropriate spot. What makes chapter two even more disappointing is the potential it chapter had. At first I was led to believe that, over the course of the game, new character classes would be added and you could use them in a quest that adds to the overall back-story of the game. Instead you get a chapter that ends, chronologically, less than halfway through chapter one and adds nothing to the plot. Chapter two is easily the worst chapter in the game.
Thankfully in chapter three, things start to pick up again. Chapter three, while still a bit short, at least has a feeling of accomplishment and progression, and is fun to go through, which is a lot more than can be said about chapter two. Chapter three stars a new character named Jerald, whom was not introduced in any of the previous chapters. Jerald is a thief who is dropped off at Jobsport, away from where the first two chapters took place, after stowing away on a ship that just departed at the end of chapter two. Jerald's objective for this chapter is to get 20,000 gold in order to bribe the corrupt guards so that he and his niece, Ramona, can get passports and escape to a place without a corrupt king. The story of Chapter three is actually quite compelling and is the most well told out of the three.
The game-play of chapter three can best be compared Torneko's chapter in Dragon Quest 4, or Taloon's if you are going by the names in the original NES localization. If you are unfamiliar, both are based around getting a certain amount of money instead of fighting demons and monsters. You are given three objectives that involve stealing something that can be sold for a lot of money, each of which will lead you to a different dungeon. While the game does give you the option to go to any of the three dungeons at the start, the game basically intends for you to clear these dungeons in a certain order, and the game makes sure of that due to the enemies being too strong for you to skip ahead. The game also has a nifty feature which allows Jerald to pickpocket gold from NPCs. While this is not critical to the game, it is something interesting that adds to the theme of the chapter.
The humor is still very well done; including many references to chapter one and humor relating to the rivalries between thieves, pirates, and bandits, whom the thieves are quick to assure you are all completely different people. The battle mechanics of chapter three were unfortunately rather underwhelming. The reason for this is that both playable characters possess overpowered special attacks that cost no MP, meaning that just about every random battle comes down to using those abilities. Regardless of this, chapter three was still both a fun and interesting chapter and is the second best chapter in the game.
Finally we have chapter four, the intermission chapter that stars the woodsman who aided Ogden in the first chapter. This chapter takes place after the events of the first three chapters and has the main characters from the first three chapters trapped on an island that greatly resembles Minecraft. Now there is not much as I can really say here as I happen to be one of the few people to have not played Minecraft, so I, unfortunately, did not get the references. Regardless, the humor is still there and done is still in done ways that are funny, even if you do not get the references.
Unfortunately chapter four tried to experiment with different mechanics that were implemented really poorly. The first noticeable difference is that you do not buy weapons in this chapter; instead you craft weapons from materials you find. This becomes a nuisance very quickly because there are not enough materials to make a weapon, armor, shield, and helmet for everyone, due to the fact that many of the most materials are in limited supply and can only be found at certain points in the chapter's only dungeon.
The second problem with this chapter is its, poorly implemented, Pokemon style system where you can capture and recruit monsters. The reason this system is a failure is because you cannot remove equipped weapons or armor from characters in any of the chapters of Dragon Fantasy, unless you equip something else. While this is not too much of a problem in the previous chapters, it is a huge problem in chapter four because you cannot remove equipment from monsters. This means that the only way to get equipment for new monsters is to create it yourself, but the materials are so limited that it becomes way too tedious to be worth doing, so that eliminates any chance of you using other monsters, thus defeating the point of even having the system in the first place.
So I might be asked if chapter four has all these game-play issues, then why is it still a better chapter than chapter two? The reason for this is that, like chapter two, chapter four only lasts about an hour, which is not long enough for the mechanics to severely hurt the game. In addition, chapter four is generally more interesting, has its own unique feel, and actually adds to the story by as well. While chapter four had an interesting concept, it is unfortunate that the game ended on a low note.
An unfortunate flaw, that applies to all four chapters, is that Muteki made the inexcusable mistake of not allowing you to redo a previous character's attack selection after you picked it. Normally, in these types of games if you want a character to use magic but accidentally select attack, you would be able to go back to his turn selection and pick the magic attack. In this game however, if you mistakenly pick something you don't want to, then you are out of luck and are forced to proceed with it anyway. This can be especially bad if you accidentally select attack when you are in desperate need of healing. Regardless of whether or not older RPGs were guilty of this, it is unacceptable to have something like this in a modern day game.
Dragon Fantasy is a decent game but, unfortunately, it is nothing more than that. It is limited by both the restraints that Muteki put on themselves, the poor execution of chapters two and four, and the lack of content due to the game only lasting ten hours between all four chapters. However the brilliantly written humor, likeable characters, and the game-play of chapters one and three are enough to make the game worthwhile. While I would not say that the other two were good, they could have been a lot worse and I still managed to get at least a bit of fun out of them. If you are looking for a good RPG that you can get for a low price, there are plenty of better RPGs available on the Playstation store that cost the same as or even less than Dragon Fantasy. However, if you are interested in this specific type of game then this would not be a bad choice.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 07/02/13, Updated 08/05/14
Game Release: Dragon Fantasy Book I (US, 04/16/13)
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