Review by Iyamtebist
Reviewed: 11/18/13 | Updated: 04/16/14
An ultimately fun yet flawed tribute to 16-bit JRPGs.
While I was playing through Dragon Fantasy Book 2 and thinking about what I would say for the review, I found myself thinking about a certain subject that has come up in a lot of previous reviews. That subject is whether to rate the game based on only the objective elements I have observed from it, or to rate it based on my enjoyment. Despite the fact that I make it a point to avoid basing a review on only objectivity for many different reasons, I still end up thinking heavily about how much the various flaws of a game should affect my review. However, just about every time a game has obvious flaws that are easy for me to overlook, I do not force myself to say that they lessened the experience for me. Dragon Fantasy Book 2 is not an exception to this pattern.
Dragon Fantasy Book 2, or simply Dragon Fantasy 2 as I will refer to it from now on, is a game where the flaws are obvious to anyone who plays it. It is quite obvious to most people that Dragon Fantasy 2 is a game that, when compared to the classic 16-bit JRPGs it was inspired by, will not even compare. It is a game where it is easy to see that it relies more on copying the elements of those games instead of trying to create new things itself. To some, it might even be considered a cash grab based on the nostalgia of older gamers. However, while these things may be true to somewhat of an extent, this does not mean Dragon Fantasy 2 is a bad game, nor does it mean it is not worth your time
Dragon Fantasy 2 is not supposed to rival games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and Earthbound. It is, instead, a game focused on drawing elements from those games while simply being mixed with the characters and world from the first game in order to create a simple yet fun experience. Ultimately, the question in determining a games quality lies more so in whether it accomplishes what it sets out to do, and despite the fact that there are a few hiccups, Dragon Fantasy 2 has too much soul to it to simply be labeled as cash grab. I did not realize this at first. When I first went in to Dragon Fantasy 2, I thought that it was aspiring to be an epic that reaches the same scope as something like Final Fantasy VI. The reason I was under this impression was due to the fact that the first Dragon Fantasy was a much better balanced and well made game than the average NES or Famicom RPG. In hindsight, it was foolish to think so seeing as how Dragon Fantasy 1 was better balanced simply due to what is available today and that 8-bit JRPGs were rarely games that reached the scopes of their 16-bit successors. When I realized that Dragon Fantasy 2 was intended to be a simple game, I started to have a lot more fun with it, and, if you can accept this school of thought, then I can easily recommend this game.
Im a Man, Im Forty!
While it is not completely necessary to understand the events of Book 1 to follow the plot of Book 2, it is recommended if you want to have the best appreciation for the games writing and humor. To summarize what the first game was about, it was about a retired, forty year old Knight named Ogden, whom the creator Adam Ripon based off his father, and was forced out of retirement to save his kingdom from the Dark Lord. Yeah that is pretty much the gist of the story of the first game, or at least what you need to know. However, the Dark Lord that Ogden slew in Book 1 was not the only powerful demon in the land. In fact, the game starts where Ogden and his party from the previous game and are trying to find a voidstone, a powerful stone that is used to seal demons. Ogden and his crew leave the Kingdom of Westeria, where the first game took place, in order to travel to the land of Tundaria to locate the stone.
Unfortunately Tundarian imperial jerks are currently blockading Westerian ships. Note that imperial jerks is the actual, in game, terminology for the imperial soldiers. As a result, the party tries to travel there by other means, but Ogdens party is eventually split up, which requires them to find their own way to reach Tundaria and reunite. I should make a special note that I have more so summarized a few of the events that happen in the first couple of hours in the game as opposed to just what happens in the intro. The reason for this is to show that the storyline in Dragon Fantasy 2 is a lot more involved than in Book 1. In the first game, the plot was so thin that it was practically nonexistent, which was alright seeing as how the game had a large focus on humor.
While Dragon Fantasy 2 does have more of a focus on plot than its predecessor, it does not mean that the humor is absent. In fact, it is likely easier to appreciate the games humor now that the games characters are more developed and interesting. To some, it may feel like there is less of a focus on humor than the first game, but that is more so due to the fact that there was less plot in the first game, which meant that there was not a divide between story and humor. In Dragon Fantasy 2, the humor exists to compliment the plot as opposed to being entirely based off of it. That is not to say that Dragon Fantasy 2 is a serious game though. In fact, it is still pretty lighthearted, but it surprisingly starts to get rather serious towards the end of the game, which is something the first game never did. As funny as the humor in games like the first Dragon Fantasy, Breath of Death, and Cthulhu Saves the World is, it requires much more effort to make a game where you can connect to the world as opposed to simply laughing at it, and I am impressed that Muteki has managed to create a game that does both and still retains the feel of the original game.
The game does still retain its various forms of humor. Enemies in the game still have creative names and humorous ways that they attack, although unfortunately it is harder to see the latter due to the way the battles are designed. NPCs still have funny dialogue, bookcases still have funny readings, items still have funny descriptions, etc. There are also plenty of clever references to other games that are told subtly instead of being made obvious. For example, when it was revealed that Ramonas mother was able to survive being possessed by a powerful demon that normally kills its hosts, a response given by one of the characters is, moms are tough, a subtle nod to the infamous line in Final Fantasy XIII. Speaking of which, if someone from Muteki is reading this, I highly suggest titling the third game in the series Ogden Returns: Dragon Fantasy Book 3.
One really cannot ask for too much in terms of technical quality from an indie title. The most you can usually ask for is to look good in an artistic sense. As with many indie RPGs, Dragon Fantasy 2 goes with a retro aesthetic. I say retro in quotes because sometimes it seems more like an excuse to not go with a good art style and to just use the easiest one they can think of. Seeing as how Dragon Fantasy 2 is based on 16-bit RPGs, it would have been interesting see a well drawn art style similar to Chrono Trigger or Terranigma. To their credit, however, they at least knew to make the sprites bigger than the ones used in Final Fantasy IV-VI. What is also worth noting is the way enemies are encountered. You both encounter and fight enemies on the same screen, without a battle transition, in a manner very similar to that of Chrono Trigger. Considering that most turn based RPGs even today do not do that, Dragon Fantasy 2 does deserve quite a bit of credit. Aside from that, though, Dragon Fantasy 2 is rather unimpressive in the graphical department.
Unlike the previous game, Dragon Fantasy 2s soundtrack does not follow a gimmick of trying to mimic the sound system of games from the era it is based on. A major issue I had with the first game was the fact that the music was clearly composed with an 8-bit chip tune style in mind. The reason this was apparent was due to the fact that the arranged versions were made incredibly half heartedly and got annoying to hear incredibly quickly. Thankfully, the only aspect that Dragon Fantasy 2s musical score copies from the 16-bit era is the inexplicable fact that every JRPG on the Super Nintendo, regardless of quality, somehow has an utterly amazing soundtrack. In short, Dragon Fantasy 2s music is simply amazing.
The soundtrack in Dragon Fantasy 2 has a wide variety of songs in various styles, all of which are catchy and memorable in their own way. The games battle theme is heroic sounding and fits the main theme of the game, the boss music has a rocking beat and makes every boss battle feel intense, the final boss theme is surprisingly soft which fits the mysterious nature of the boss. I cannot think of a single song in this game I did not like. It is a shame that the soundtrack does not seem to be available anywhere on the internet.
If You Are Going To Rip Something Off, You Might As Well Rip Off the Best
So it is obvious at this point that Dragon Fantasy does copy a lot of elements of game-play from the 16-bit era of JRPGs. On one hand, you could jeer Dragon Fantasy 2 for being unoriginal, uncreative and simply brush it off as an attempt to cash in on the nostalgia of other gamers. On the other hand, originality is not the only aspect of a good game. Dragon Fantasy 2 is far from an original game; hell the title alone should be enough to give that away. This does not mean that Dragon Fantasy 2 is not a fun experience. In fact, despite Dragon Fantasy 2 being a bit light on content and making a few mistakes in terms of design, I would be lying if I said I did not have a lot of fun with it.
As previously stated, Dragon Fantasy 2s battles are instigated, in a similar manner to Chrono trigger, where each enemy has a fixed spot on screen and you will do battle, with them in the same spot you encountered them, without a transition to a different screen. Also similar to Chrono Trigger is the fact that positioning, in battle, has an important impact seeing as how a lot of moves have an area of effect. This means that, in addition to the targeted enemy, other enemies within the range of the attack you are using will also take damage. Using these multi-targeting attacks is the key to taking out enemies in a timely and efficient manner. Admittedly, there is not much more involved with random battles other than a few exceptions later in the game.
While some may see this as a bad thing, I myself think it is nice to see a game that focuses more on simplicity as opposed to trying to over complicate things. It generally feels satisfying to take out enemies in a quick and efficient manner, and that is what battles in turn based RPGs are generally about. Battles are about resource management and efficiency due to the fact that normal enemies are rarely powerful enough to be dangerous on their own., and making them dangerous requires very good balancing in order for it not to occur as a result of poor design.
What is also nice about random battles is the fact that enemies do not re-spawn unless you leave the dungeon. This is especially convenient because it allows you to explore more of the dungeon to look for treasures, as opposed to discouraging exploration with random encounters. Another nice addition to the game is that, similar to Earthbound, if you come across a group of really weak enemies that the game detects are way bellow your level; you will instantly kill them and still gain the experience. Unfortunately this mechanic, while it is a nice addition in and of itself, is not implemented as well as in Earthbound. In Earthbound, there were a lot of factors to this instant kill that had a significant impact on the game-play. Some examples of these being that the direction you approach enemies in increases the chance you have of getting the kill, and the fact that defeating the boss of an area causes enemies in that area to run away from you. Due to the way that Dragon Fantasy 2s encounters occur, there are no factors applied to this other than raw stats, and as a result, this instant kill rarely ever happens.
Boss battles in the game are also a bit too easy due to the fact that some of the moves your characters are given are downright abusive. The biggest example I can think of is the focus ability. This ability doubles the percentage of damage that your next attack will deal next round. The problem is that you can use focus multiple times before attacking and the amount of damage will go up to 3200% by just casting it five times. This is normally enough to kill a boss in one hit. I eventually ended up avoiding focus on purpose just to make the battles last longer, but even then the boss battles still only came down to the typical damage and healing strategy that most RPGs are made of.
The game also includes a monster system similar to that of Dragon Quest V and Pokemon. The monster recruitment is similar to that of Dragon Quest V in that the monsters themselves function in battle the same way that human party members do, in addition to having their own stat gains and equipment draw. The problem with the system in both of these games is that a majority of monsters are simply not all that useful in battle and most players will likely ignore this feature and stick with the human party members the game provides you with. The reason monsters are so useless is because they tend to have terrible stats, limited equipment draw, and no unique moves. On the other hand, it is at least easier to recruit monsters seeing as how you recruit them Pokemon style by weakening them and then using either an item or spell to capture them. This system is much more convenient than in Dragon Quest V where monsters simply have a random chance of being recruited, after battle, at an incredibly low rate.
The game also has a crafting system that you can use in addition to simply buying and finding items. However, this system does not have a lot of depth either. It is basically used by combining materials, which you are guaranteed to find if you fully explore every dungeon, in order to create stronger weapons. As a result, it really does not change the game that much seeing as how you will just create items with what you happen to find.
Another addition to the game that really does not add much is the questing system. This questing system works the same way that every other questing system works; you talk to an NPC who wants you to either kill or capture a specific monster, or find an item in a dungeon. One thing I will give Dragon Fantasy 2 credit for is that the quests can be done quickly and never become too tedious seeing as how monsters easy to locate, are very weak, and that capturing monsters is made easy with the deluxe capture nets that always succeed in capturing monsters. The item fetch quests usually end up being rather difficult seeing as how the item is represented by a white sparkle that is oftentimes hard to see and easy to pass by.
What is interesting about the quest system is that there are dungeons that only exist for these quests and are not part of the main story. It is makes things interesting to find a dungeon just for the sake of exploration instead of because the plot demands it. Most of these quests, though, feel rather tacked on and do not contribute to the overall game. While I did not have anything against the quests themselves, I did not feel that they added anything either and it would have been better had the game had more interesting side content.
One glaring aspect of the game that needs to be mentioned is the glitches. When the game was first released, a lot of critics panned it for its numerous game breaking glitches. Since then, there have been two patches released to fix these glitches. Despite this, I still have encountered many faults with the game in terms of overall polish that are simply unprofessional. A majority of these were graphical or collision glitches that were incredibly jarring. At one point it was possible to pass through a spot, where a wall was supposed to be, which allowed me to go outside of the intended area of the dungeon. While none of the glitches I have encountered really affected my experience with the game, it is still quite obvious based on what I have experienced and the reaction to the initial release that the game did not have enough testing done before its release.
Dragon Fantasy Book 2s flaws are obvious. Almost anyone who plays the game will be able to notice and pinpoint the various aspects of Dragon Fantasy 2 that hold it back. However, these aspects are generally easy to overlook seeing as how the core game-play, storyline, and presentation are all still really well executed. Dragon Fantasy 2 does not compare to all time greats such as Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, or Final Fantasy VI, nor does it compete with modern day JRPGs such as Xenoblade, The Last Story, or even Final Fantasy XIII-2, but it really never intended to compete with those games. It, instead, tried to be a simple RPG that took notes from those games to create a simple yet fun experience. Despite Dragon Fantasy 2s flaws, it did indeed succeed at being a good game, but at the same time it did not really accomplish much else. Sometimes, however, accomplishing much else is not really necessary.
Product Release: Dragon Fantasy Book II (US, 09/10/13)
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