Review by LordShibas
No Need To Siege These Dungeons
Amidst a sea of mediocre PSP hack and slash dungeon crawlers, Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts rears its head to vie for our time and money. Is it a journey worth taking, or not?
I found Dungeon Explorer to be a fairly mediocre romp in pretty much every way. If you are REALLY craving a new PSP dungeon crawler, then I would say this is a game that you should pick up. However, there are several better alternatives on the PSP alone that almost make this game seem like last weeks news even before it gets going.
Dungeon Explorer really doesnt mess with the dungeon crawling formula at all. You will be questing, trying to get loot, and trying to improve your character as you do in any dungeon crawler, but Dungeon Explorer is plagued by some un-forgivable flaws and gameplay elements that will make you want to play something else and forget about this game all together.
The game actually starts out on a high note. You have quite a few character classes to choose from, six total: Fighter, Monk, Shaman, Hunter, Thief, and Bishop. You can also choose the characters gender, you will get to customize you character a good bit and even change colors on most areas of the character. You can also distribute a few extra skill points as well. I chose the class of Hunter, since I have not been a bow wielder since my time with Guild Wars.
The game then takes you through a tutorial type area where you are hunting in a dungeon with a few companions. They pretty much have your back, so its hard to die in this area. You will learn about your skills and your Weapon Arts as well. They will teach you how to do basic stuff like smash open crates and how to use items.
After this is over, you will go to the main town and get a little bit of story as well. The story is cliche and 100% forgettable due to the constant name and location name dropping and poorly written and translated text. Half the time I had to read the dialogue a few times to even understand what they were trying to say. The town has a few things that you will need. The main thing is the guild hall, which is where you will be getting your quests from. You can only have one quest at a time, and it costs money to take a quest (two things that bugged me about the questing system).
Then you will come to your first quest. The guild leader will tell you to go out and partake in a town quest to meet all of the people and get acquainted with the blacksmith and whatnot. After this, you finally get a quest to hunt monsters and off you go. There are some issues that surface when you finally get to this part of the game, if you have not noticed them by now, but I will comment on these in the Gameplay section. So off we go to see how this simple hack and slash game scores.
Graphically, Dungeon Explorer is a mixed bag. The close up character models and the real time cut scenes actually look pretty good, but when you are questing in the dungeon its often hard to see whats going on and the action can get a little choppy if there are multiple enemies on the screen and you start using skills. Id say this game looks slightly better than the first Untold Legends game, thats a pretty good comparison.
Some of the areas and dungeons look okay, but they are usually dark and its hard to make out any detail on them, and you will be concentrating on the action and exploring anyway.
Music and Sounds 4/10
I seriously do not remember a single music track from this game. Its that forgettable. In fact, its more ambient music than anything, and it carries over into all areas of the game, from the town to the dungeon.
The sound effects sound okay, but they still sound pretty generic. Standard hack and slash sounds for the most part. There is also not a hint of voice work in the game. You get some annoying grunts when you acknowledge people, thats about it.
The story is poorly translated and not very interesting at all. In fact, I really had a hard time following it. I just kind of zoned out through the story parts of the game and then would check my quest log to see what I had to do next. Most of the story elements are trips to the castle to speak with the people there, but later on you will be traveling to the Rift, which ends up being a key story plot, but by then you will not even care.
Dungeon Explorer is pretty mediocre in most aspects, and the gameplay is no different, however it really suffers due to a few things that the game does terribly wrong. First off, why can I not pause my game? This is a portable game for crying out loud. When you pull up your main menu, things keep going on behind the menu, even if you are in a dungeon fighting a boss.
It wouldnt be so bad if the menus were not a total nightmare to navigate through. The menu system is put together in a clumsy fashion, and finding what you need will take some getting used to in the menus. Having an equipment menu sorted by body section doesnt seem bad on paper, but there are about 7-9 options, and you will often get confused searching through them.
My next major gripe with this game is: Why is my Hunter so inaccurate? When firing off arrows at nearby enemies, I often found my Hunter shooting in the wrong direction due to the auto-aiming being terrible. There is also no lock-on to speak of, so you will often be shooting your arrows at nothing while you are getting attacked. Luckily the early on monsters are slower than molasses, and you can get used to your inaccuracy a little bit.
When you finally get to the point where you want to use some skills and Weapon arts, you will have no trouble getting them to work. The interface for skills and arts is nice. The square button will fire out your active skill, which builds up its level every time you use it. When using a Weapon Art, you hold down the R button and a little circle comes up, which you can control. Position it over the enemy and press one of two pre-set buttons to throw out a Weapon Art (advanced skill). I actually thought the Weapon Art implementation was a clever idea. However, you will run out of Mana in seconds, and I mean that too. Your Mana depletes really fast, and not only that, but it takes a long time to recharge too. So there will be periods of time where youll just have your character sitting there, trying to re-gain Mana, or your can use a Mana potion, which you will use quite often in this game.
You can boost a stat for Mana regeneration when you level, but I found it better to use my skill points elsewhere. One cool thing about the skill point/leveling up system in Dungeon Explorer that I enjoyed is that you actually seem to notice the changes in your character. For instance, after only a few levels of putting skill points into speed and dexterity, I could notice that my Hunter was shooting her bow much faster than before, now whether the arrows were going in the right direction or not is another story
Dungeon Explorer employs a team based system from time to time. You will have a few other computer controlled characters with you who you will be able to give orders to through a simple quick bar on the right. You can have them attack, follow you, or have them specifically go after a monster generator. The computer controlled characters seemed okay, and I found most of them to be pretty handy, since they do most of the work for you. Lots of times I sat in the back, with my crappy bow and watched them mop up the enemies. Ah whatever, I get the experience points anyway.
Speaking of the monster generators, Dungeon Explorer has them, much like Gauntlet. Basically they will just spawn enemy after enemy until you destroy them. You dont come across them as frequently as you do in Gauntlet. Its more of a mini challenge when you come across one, since its more intense than the standard fighting.
Theres also a belt menu on the right side of the HUD which allows you to quickly switch and use items. I found this to be a nice feature and would like to see it in more games. Instead of dragging and dropping items to quick slots, you can simply cycle through each one to get what you want.
Another gripe I had with the game is that you can only save in your quarters in town. So when you make progress in a dungeon, you cant easily save your game in case you come across a tough enemy.
Money is also very hard to come by in Dungeon Explorer. Monsters dont drop it, and you can only get it from doing quests and finding treasure chests. Most of the time when you see a weapon or piece of equipment you want, its off to the dungeon to find and sell what you can. This gets really annoying.
Underneath all of this, the gameplay is passable, dont think that its broken beyond playing because it is not. I just pointed out some stupid things about the game that needed to be addressed. The main issue with the gameplay is that its just all been done before, and most of it has been done much better.
Longevity and Re-playability 6/10
I was not able to sit through this entire game, but Ive heard there are quite a few dungeons to get through and a 40 hour or so adventure if you can stomach it. The six different character classes also make the game playable again.
I just found the issues with this game too much to keep me from going on, but if you end up liking this game, there is quite a bit of game here for you. The constant skill and level grinding may discourage you, but hey I see people on the Flyff servers with level 90 characters, so Im sure some people out there will enjoy the skill grinding in Dungeon Explorer.
My review score 4/10
Product Release: Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts (US, 02/15/08)
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