Dragon Fantasy Book II

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.

 

Advertisements

Dragon Fantasy Book 1

DFB1Logo

It’s Dragon Quest! It’s Final Fantasy! No, it’s Dragon Fantasy!

I’m still coming down from the high of playing another fun indie gem. I’ll bet you thought my next post would be about The Last of Us. As hubby and I are playing the game through together (playing Naughty Dog’s games together has become one of our things) and we just finished a week of  “camping,” we unfortunately haven’t had as much time to play as we’d like. I did sneak my PS Vita along for the vacation and was able to sink a few hours into Dragon Fantasy.

Dragon Fantasy was made for people like me. I love old school RPGs. The lengthy dungeons and difficulty have a certain nostalgic charm to them. I also love media that is not shy about poking fun at itself. And boy, does Dragon Fantasy poke fun at itself and the genre. I knew I would enjoy this game when I fought Mr. and Mrs. Rock Monster on the world map. I won’t spoil the narration, but suffice it to say the silly one-liners and dialogue will have you chuckling.

I played the Playstation 3/Vita version of this game. It includes features such as trophies, cross-saving, and enhanced graphics and music.  This means you can swap between 8-bit NES or 16-bit SNES styles on the fly. I had a hard time deciding which I liked better. It really just depended on my mood. Although I think I like the battle theme in 8-bit style better.

Dragon Fantasy is also the only game I’ve ever earned 100% of the trophies for (I hope that gives you a general idea of how much I generally care about trophies). When I looked at the trophy list it wasn’t long or difficult, and I was also looking for a little more life out of this game since it is rather short, so I mopped up the leftover trophies after my first playthrough of all four chapters. I didn’t get a platinum trophy, but I wouldn’t really feel like I earned it because getting all the trophies in this game was really easy.

Dragon Fantasy is divided into four different chapters, so I’ll give a brief overview and opinion on each chapter.

Chapter 1: Dragon Fantasy- This is Ogden’s story. Being the longest of the four chapters, it is hard not to think of this as the main plot with the others offering supplemental information that fleshes out the story. Ogden is past his prime, having served the Queen of Westeria for many years. He is bald, thanks to losing his hair fighting a dragon when he was 16. No word on why his hair never grew back. Or how the dragon managed to miss his ginger beard. Anyway, instead of being smart and retiring, he lets “Woodsman” talk him into going on an adventure to gather legendary armor so he can battle the nefarious Dark Knight who completely embarrassed him in the scripted loss at the start of the game.

Not only is Ogden’s chapter the longest, but it is also the hardest. My advice is to enter this chapter with the following mindset: You NEED to grind and you NEED to heal. A lot. Like, between each encounter. I tried doing a “speed run” because I’m an idiot and saved over my Ogden game before I decided to go back and “read” all the books for the trophy. Doing a “speed run” without taking time to grind for a couple of good pieces of gear between dungeons wasn’t really happening. I ended up pausing to grind just like the first time I played this chapter. It is a fact of old school JRPGs anyway, only lightened by the fact that this is a short game so you won’t spend 30 hours of your life doing it.

Ogden is completely alone during his entire chapter. This means you have one character to rely on for healing and damage, thus the main reason his chapter is the hardest. My only issue with this was when I got screwed while fighting Obligatory Orcs. More than once the orc literally pummeled me to death while I was taking a nap. Then I got to trek all the way back to the volcano from the nearest town and do it all over again. In Dragon Fantasy, when you die you res at your last save (in a church) without losing any progress. The catch is you lose half of your money. Losing money was a big deal for me in about the first 3/4s of Ogden’s chapter.  So, you end up debating whether you want to take the hit in your wallet or lose any levels you gained and/or treasure chests you already opened.

Chapter 2: The Heir Unapparent- This chapter follows Prince Anders. His brother, Prince Marlon, is kidnapped in the beginning of the game. Anders is lucky enough to get booted back into the castle and escape via a secret passageway with a soldier named Chest Manstrong. I know, he has the best name ever. As you can see, this chapter starts off with multiple party members! If you play your cards right, you can have a full party to adventure with. Beware, Casty the caster has a retardedly low MP pool when you first recruit her. Remember the Final Fantasy days when Ethers were stupidly expensive and only restored a trifle amount of MP? The creators of Dragon Fantasy remember too. Ethers are cleverly disguised as Potato Juice in this game. Because of how scant her MP pool and spell list are, I equipped Casty with a Hammer and demoted her to heal bitch when needed. Anders gets a ton of cool offensive spells anyway.

I liked this chapter due to the multiple party members addition and how open it was compared to Ogden’s story. I actually sidestepped Derwent and Lakehaven the first time I played and went straight for the Trials. Maybe not the smartest thing to do, but I did it and survived just fine. I am a fan of using magic, and thanks to Anders’ awesome magic spells and having more than one party member I was able to use magic for more than just healing. Trust me… Ogden’s MP pool will be conserved for healing.

Chapter 3: Operation Desert Plunder- Ah, Jerald. He is one of those “thieves with a good heart stealing for the right reasons” kinda characters. In Jerald’s case, you spend his chapter going on missions to earn enough money to purchase passports for himself and his niece, Ramona. She is also a playable party member. This chapter builds on the awesomeness of Chapter 2. Here, you have multiple party members. Except now you also fight more than one monster per encounter.  And SKILLS! Like Steal! I am a loot whore and love stealing items from enemies. In fact, when I began Jerald’s chapter, I wandered around the world map without really knowing what I was doing. I entered a dungeon alone (bad idea in these types of games) and I was even able to sustain myself with the Herbs stolen from the monsters. Stealing has about as high a success rate as you would imagine, but I still somehow managed to never run out of herbs.

As with Anders’ chapter, this is pretty free roaming. Once you go to the thieves’ guild you can choose in which order you want to tackle your dungeon lootfests. Or you can do what I did and spend half an hour looting the innocent townsfolk of their money. Didn’t take me long to get that trophy. The other skills besides Steal were lackluster at best.

Intermission M: Minecraft homage/parody thing! This is a humorous side-story in which you get to recruit monsters and experience some Minecraft parodying. Unfortunately I can’t appreciate this as much as other people. I’ve never played Minecraft. I’ve only watched other people play and seen very creative bits on Youtube and such. I won’t say much about this except if you like Minecraft play it now!

A few general observations about the game. The miss rate is pretty obnoxious. From what I’ve read, it was even worse before it was patched. Missing an enemy with your weapon 2-3 times in a row is not unheard of. The monsters do have this same miss rate, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. I played Dragon Fantasy on both the PS3 and Vita. Moreso on the Vita. There was one instance when my character wasn’t moving and I thought my game froze on me. After pressing a ton of buttons I didn’t lose my progress. I didn’t really like how the joystick on the Vita worked with the game. I found my character moving in directions that confused me. Otherwise, it is a relatively seamless experience.

I purchased Dragon Fantasy for $9.99 on the PSN. This includes both a PS3 and Vita version of the game. I checked the iOS store and saw it for $7.99 there. I’m on the fence about recommending this game for full price. If you’re not a retro RPG enthusiast, you’re probably better off waiting for this game to go on sale. I went trophy grinding and I’d still say I didn’t spend more than 12 hours playing this game. I enjoyed it more on the Vita because, let’s face it, grinding for money and experience is more tolerable when done in short bursts nowadays. But if you’re dying for a nostalgic NES or SNES RPG and can’t settle on a game you’ve already played, Dragon Fantasy should hold you over and give you some laughs to  boot.