You’ll have to forgive my lack of concept/cover art image followed by a snarky comment in italics. My virus-laden, decade-old laptop isn’t cooperating this morning. Ya know, kind of like the game’s programming that distracts from most of the otherwise fun, retro experience.
I sang praises over book 1 of Dragon Fantasy. It incorporated my loves and loathes from the NES-era of turn-based RPGs, all the while being fresh and funny. By the time I got around to playing it, most of the complaints I’d read about online had been fixed or greatly reduced. I was able to forgive what issues still remained; they didn’t detract from the overall experience for me and sometimes they added some humor. While playing Book 2, the few issues I did come across were way more aggravating. Somewhere past the halfway point my game decided it liked to crash. Yes, it was a mere inconvenience, as the game will “Continue” from the last screen you entered (my experience, anyway) without losing much progress. But it shouldn’t have happened as often as it did. Upon reaching the final dungeon in this installment, my game kept crashing and prompting me to send an error report. I was scratching my head, wondering why it was happening in the exact spot over and over. Then I realized I was soloing Ogden when the game was trying to get him to have a conversation with the teammates I dumped at the Inn so I’d get the “Riding Solo” trophy. Huh.
You’d think that’d be something they would’ve thought about beforehand, seeing as how you’re permitted to Drop Off or Pick Up party members at whim. Anyway, I had to backtrack, pick up the party members I didn’t want to drag along but had to (which is fine, but don’t give me the illusion otherwise and have the game crash as a consequence) and complete that specific zone before dumping them back off at the Inn so the supporting cast and stupid captured monsters can get drunk while Ogden slays the final boss alone.
Yeah, monster capturing. I hate it and I hate how all kinds of RPGs (even Kingdom Hearts, for God’s sake!) think it is a necessary feature we all want. It’s old news, guys. It’s already been done. And it’s called Pokemon. Stop it already! Personally, I’m not crazy about it, especially when all the enemies I managed to capture had the same generic moves with only a few unique abilities. These abilities were usually something a main playable plot character already had anyway, like Anders’ elemental magic spells. I briefly considered unlocking all the trophies for Book 2 like I did for Book 1, but when I saw I’d have to capture 50 unique monsters I remembered why I don’t farm trophies and got over that notion real quick.
Book 1 of Dragon Fantasy was created with 8-bit graphics which could be enhanced to look and sound slightly less old. Book 2 is a 16-bit SNES homage and looks much different. The character models running around the screen aren’t the teeny 8-bit sprites I was expecting. Monster designs are similar with some variations. You’ve still got the staple rock monsters and skeletons trying to kill you. Except now they won’t be hounding you on the world map while you’re trying to get from point A to point B. That’s right, random battles are now a thing of the past! I’m not going to pretend to miss them in the slightest. The other change along these lines that I find to be an improvement is how they handled encountering lower-level mobs. One of my RPG pet peeves is wasting time fighting low-level enemies while backtracking familiar territory for side quests or what have you. Book 2 agrees with me. When encountering laughably weak monsters, Ogden will jump in the middle of the screen, flash his sword, and with a “SMAAAAASH!” the pesky pathetic mobs go flying off screen. The battle is over and you can move on with your life. Since random encounters are gone you can try running from groups of enemies on the map, but I never had much luck with that. No, instead they would follow me until I stumbled upon the next monster party taking place on a narrow pathway I had no hopes of circling around. Then I’d get to fight both groups at once. Joy.
Thankfully, this game is nowhere near as difficult as its predecessor. Even without capturing monsters to make a full party due to neglect or laziness, I still didn’t have as difficult a time merely surviving as in Book 1. This installment’s hours are filled with more content and less grinding. I was never forced to stop and clear out a dungeon’s enemies multiple times to gain levels and money for gear like with Ogden’s quest in Book 1. Again, I’m not complaining.
The story is fleshing out now that the obligatory introductions are out of the way. The storytelling is much improved over Book 1. This time around, the journey starts with a full party who get separated, instead of the awkward fragmented method used in Book 1. You still get to select whose side of the story to experience in whichever order you wish. Then everything comes full circle at the climax and you’re treated to what actually feels like a final boss fight! The first Book really missed that RPG staple. The dialogue and narration are as corny as ever, while still managing to convey the “Ragtag bunch coming together to save the world” RPG storyline we’ve all come to know.
I find a lot of the humor to be getting stale. I still laughed out loud, but not nearly as often as before. The in-battle dialogue and descriptions are a hindrance to the faster-paced combat style it feels like they were trying to achieve. The animations either go ahead while the dialogue boxes struggles to keep up with my intense button mashing, OR the characters onscreen act like they’re frozen in time while the box is empty and skips a few beats. Or something. Yes, “Clambake gives Ogden food poisoning,” can be chuckle-inducing the first few times, but after that it isn’t funny anymore and dealing with the disjointed flow of battle makes me wish they’d given up entirely on those on-going gag.
More annoying hiccups real quick; character navigation freezing up after exiting menus or entering a new screen haven’t disappeared! After getting out of menus, wiggling the stick or pressing on the D-pad usually just decides not to work for a few seconds. Or you’ll be able to move horizontally and not vertically, or vice versa. Not a game changer, but something you’d think they would’ve figured out since the last game. I don’t remember if this was an issue last time, but while shopping or using items in my inventory, my collection liked to hide just long enough for me to wonder where the hell it went. The only way I could get them to reappear was to exit and reenter the menu.
In terms of more quality gameplay hours spent outside of grinding, DFB2 also incorporated a coliseum and side quests! It would’ve been nice to be able to do more rounds in the Coliseum as Ogden. I’m hoping that’s to come in Book 3. The side quests were a welcome addition after I’d done a few. At first I was like, “Side quests? SIGH.” But they’re not too bad. Item retrievals are sparkling on the ground and hard to miss. These are super easy and are usually in zones you have to traverse for plot purposes anyway. The bounty and capture side quests can be misleading. I had to google a couple of them because the quest description in the menu doesn’t always jive with what the NPC said. And who really commits what quest-giving NPCs say to memory? So yeah, there’s some misleading quests that say “slay” when they mean “capture.” If you don’t get the notification that the bounty was complete and you can go get your reward, you’ll know you did it wrong. Speaking of, the game thankfully tells you which town the person occupies, but it’s up to your memory to find them. For me, well, that usually meant a couple of minutes speaking to each person in town until I found the right one.
I’m torn about this game because I feel the improvements they made are overshadowed by the improvements they still need to make. DFB1 was comfortable in what it was striving to be and did it rather well. Book 2 is a bit confused about its place in the world. I’m hoping the series will either continue to evolve into a less-glitchy, clever breath of fresh air, or even go back to its roots. I’d be fine with one or the other, as long as they don’t stick with the middle-ground uncertainty displayed here.