Review by FeralBerserker
Casual Gamers Need Not Apply
Dungeon Explorer: WoAA is a game that, at first, seems like a terrible waste of money. I was not very impressed with the game's mechanics and the fact that you are forced to rely on AI companions to help you through the many quests; however, I later came to appreciate the title as I progressed further into the game and unlocked multiplayer mode. At times I was very frustrated with several aspects of the game and I felt compelled to smash not only the UMD, but my entire PSP into oblivion in a fit of frustrated rage. Despite the frustration I often-times felt in singe player mode, I must say that multiplayer really redeemed this title for me.
The game starts of very, very slowly, perhaps a little too slow. The plot seems generic at best, and the mechanics appear to be ripped out of the playstation one era. The AI controlled companions have the intelligence of a five year old, and you would need an army of them to rival the help that a single human player can provide. That pretty much sums up my initial opinion of the game. Despite all of this, I pressed on to discover a game that holds countless hours of fun and a pretty nice character development system, which is the very heart of the game. Ultimately, I would have to say that this game is no good unless you plan on playing it multiplayer with a friend (or a couple of them, up to three players total). When I look to buy a game the first thing I check for is multiplayer capabilities, and as such I will be splitting this review into a single player and a multiplayer section, to help anyone with similar desires as me.
The core of Dungeon Explorer: WoAA is character development. You can choose your gender (which has little effect on your character aside from appearance), your race and class. There are three races, all of which look radically different and will have quite an impact on the way your attributes develop. There are six main classes, and six advanced classes, which you can switch between at any time (once you reach a certain point in the game). Most of the classes are very different from each other, ranging from the standard fighter with swords to quick assassins who can use even kama and scythes. Beyond the three basic options of customizing your character, you will also be able to choose from a total of twenty-eight different weapon types. While some of the weapons are very similar to one another, others are quite unique and unexpected. I was very surprised to see boomerangs, kama, scythes, harps, javelins and many more weapons that are often down-played in most games. Between twelve different classes you may be thinking, "Yeah, how many different weapons can each class use?" Well that varies depending on class, ranging from two to eight different weapon options per class. Where in some dungeons you may want the wide strokes of a greatsword as a knight, in others you may throw a javelin in your hands to kill some chumps from afar. Each weapon has four different special moves to further you options for becoming a unique combatant. Each class also has unique special moves, which when combined with the other options provides for countless ways to build an individual character. Depending on how much time you spend roaming dungeons and building your character (either in singleplayer or multiplayer) these options can provide you with pretty nice replayability.
There are several different dungeons in this title, each of them varying greatly in appearance and acquired booty. While they may seem generic at times, some of the dungeon floors are actually pretty pleasant to look at. Each dungeon carries with it an element that the enemies specialize in, and a fairly original floor layout. This provides you with a very different feeling in each dungeon. Where some may have man-made rooms and corridors, others may be honey-combed caves, winding this way and that. Also, as you progress further through the dungeons their appearance will change so that you are provided with some variety of scenery to look at while dicing your foes into pieces or turning them into pin cushions.
The game flow in single player is quite simple, really. You grab a quest in town, form a party of up to four (including yourself), and then hit the dungeons to hack enemies into little bitty pieces. Upon completion of the quest you will be teleported back to town and you will repeat the process. While there are many many quests to be taken, it only provides the illusion of options. I say this because you are usually forced to take all the quests available before unlocking the special quests, which are designed to take you further through the plot.
The plot starts off pretty slowly, and slightly different depending on which of the three available races you choose to play as. I would compare it to the plot of an RPG from the early to mid-nineties, with simple dialogue and ideas that are not so complex, as well as a fair amount of childish humor that can be mildly entertaining. It is not too involving, but provides a player with several core features to get them interested. As the game progresses further along the plot seems to get quite a bit better, which I think is sad since most people will already be to the point of pressing the start button to skip any and all dialogue. In the grand scheme of things I urge you to follow the plot, as it comprises very little of the time you will spend playing the game.
The beginning quests, regardless of race, are all pretty much the same but take place in a different location. You will be doing menial tasks in order to learn how to play the game and get familiar with the interface. After a handful of quests you will reach a location referred to as The Rift. In my opinion, this is where the game really starts. The plot becomes more involving, dungeons become more expansive, and character development is stepped up quite a few notches. Before you reach the rift you may feel inadequate as a character, but I chalk this up to the fact that your character hasn't had the experience to be refined into a unique killing machine.
As mentioned before, I thought single player was a bit lack-luster. It takes quite a while to begin obtaining good loot from dungeons, as well as filling out your character's equipment and arts slots. In addition, class changing and any good equipment customization will not be available until you get your hands pretty dirty. As you progress further into the game you will unlock advanced classes, which are very impressive when compared to the standard classes, as well as many more weapon types to use. Weapon proficiency and class progression takes quite a while and you do not have a visible gauge to check your progress, so it can sometimes be a big waste of time. While some classes and weapons take longer to rank up there is usually (but not always) a good reason for it.
I think the main flaw with single player is that you're forced to rely on the game's programmed AI, which really is terrible when compared to a human. You may notice the rescue quests are especially frustrating. After spending ten to fifteen minutes clearing a dungeon you get to the boss only to watch the character you're rescuing senselessly commit suicide and force you to fail your mission. Despite not having any attacks, or any ability to defend themselves, they will still run right up to the boss and get hit continually by his attacks, while offering absolutely no assistance whatsoever. You can order them around with a handful of team commands, but these rarely seem to help any considerable amount. I'm not quite sure how these characters get so deep into a dungeon when they are incapable of combat, but regardless you will watch them die time and time again because of their complete disregard for their own safety. When they die you will instantly fail your mission, with no option of reviving them and completing the battle. Sometimes you may find it easier to complete quests all by yourself than with three AI companions.
The only other thing I would complain excessively about is their poorly programmed item belt, which I think is directly related to the control configuration (which cannot be remedied). When you switch through items on your item belt there will be a second or two of "latency" before you can use the desired item. While this may seem trivial, a second or two really makes quite a difference in many of the situations that you or your AI allies can get into. Also if you are forced to use a feature of the game called the party field, you will have to wait for your AI companions to OK your usage of the party field. While I assumed they would quickly OK such a thing (since their survival relies on your own) it is not the case. A few times I have failed missions simply because my companions would not OK my request to be revived. Of course you can always use items for such a thing, but yet again it comes back to the inadequate item belt (which is a nice concept, but poorly executed in Dungeon Explorer: WoAA).
While I do enjoy the plot I am not entirely satisfied with single player mode. I would sum it up as something you are forced to work through in order to enjoy the multiplayer experience. If you do not plan on playing multiplayer I would recommend not playing at all, unless you are a hardcore gaming fanatic.
Multiplayer mode is pretty basic and mindless. You will not gain experience or be able to carry out quests, but instead can freely travel through the dungeons (which are unlocked through singleplayer mode) and acquire very nice rare items as well as plenty of weapon and class experience. Getting the rare finds and the class/weapon progression will help ease the pain of singleplayer to boot. Most items acquired can be traded freely between players, and far exceed the greatness of anything you will acquire in singleplayer mode. While early in the game this may not seem true, you will see the obvious benefits as you progress further into the dungeons and begin acquiring equipment and items regularly.
Not gaining experience may be a drawback to some, but I actually enjoyed it, as I prefer to level on the inside. You can spend countless hours farming for equipment or further developing your class and weapon ranks. Nothing quite like being an advanced class when you're nearing level twenty. There is very little about multiplayer that I found frustrating, aside from not being able to play the game's quests and progress through the plot. Only when you get further into the game and begin acquiring extremely rare and powerful things in multiplayer will you be frustrated. This stems from the fact that player 2 may pick up a very nice piece of equipment they can't use, but will be unable to give to player 1 (who is drooling all over his buddy's PSP) because it is too rare to trade. This doesn't mean you can't trade equipment, you just can't trade some of it. Obviously, as the equipment you find is better than in singleplayer, it will also be worth far more money. This allows you to accumulate massive amounts of gold in order to use in singleplayer to help your pathetic AI companions pull a little bit of weight.
A few times in the game you will not be able to progress further in the dungeons in multiplayer mode until you progress further in singleplayer mode. While this made me a little sad, it wasn't really that bad. I would gladly say that it surpasses the multiplayer capabilities of many of the handheld titles that are released (titles that advertise multiplayer, but really provide very little of it). If you're sick of crawling through dungeons by yourself, or with inadequate AI companions, I highly recommend Dungeon Explorer: WoAA to you, as it will provide countless hours of multiplayer entertainment wherever you and your friend happen to have your PSPs.
Gameplay - The gameplay of Dungeon Explorer: WoAA can be very repetitive, but unexpectedly enjoyable. Though mechanics can be frustrating, I feel the game provides a player with enough options to look past this. Obviously, as it's a hack-and-slash/dungeon crawler, repetition is to be expected. I rate the gameplay as a 7 (Good, some flaws but not enough to make it unplayable).
Story - The story is pretty simple, and it's a hard thing for me to rate, really. Once again, I'd compare it to the plot of RPGs in the mid nineties. Since I like that, I'd say the story gets a 7 as well.
Graphics/Sound - I turned the music off, so I have no input on that. The sound effects were good enough though; nothing special, nothing overly annoying. Graphics... well, I don't care much about graphics, but they're better than a PS1. Kind of cartoony, but not really childish. I'd call them "par" for the PSP. I'd rate graphics and sound as a 6 (Fair, there are games that are better, games that are worse).
Play Time/Replayability - Play Time and Replayability really vary depending on if you play multiplayer or not. Either you'll have a lot of play time or a decent chance to play again without using the same character. I was pleasantly surprised, as it's for a handheld system. I'd rate this as an 8 (Great, lots of play time if you enjoy the game).
Final Recommendation - The bottom line, to me, is that multiplayer really makes this game. If you don't play multiplayer, you probably wouldn't enjoy it half as much. I'd give it a 7 though since my bro and I got into multiplayer pretty hardcore (a few problems, but worth the time to play). Of course, if I couldn't play multiplayer I'd probably give it a 5 (playable, nothing really special about it).
Product Release: Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts (US, 02/15/08)
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