There’s a pretty good chance that Dragon Fantasy has just about the most generic name of any RPG. But at least the title gives you a good idea of what to expect. Dragon Fantasy is unabashedly influenced by the 8 and 16-bit Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games, not only with its retro-style presentation, but its gameplay as well. It’s not perfect, and the controls definitely could use some work, but it’s an enjoyable, nostalgia-filled experience that’s brought to life with some clever and funny writing.
The cliche RPG hero is an angsty, spiky haired kid who doesn’t play well with others. But Dragon Fantasy’s hero is nothing like that. He doesn’t even have hair. So when the Dark Knight kidnaps the prince and infects the queen with a sickness, it’s not a knight in shining armor that comes to the rescue, it’s Ogden and his bushy red beard. The story itself is relatively generic, involving a quest to find some powerful armor necessary for battling the Dark Knight, but the witty, self referential writing makes it an enjoyable journey.
Dungeon explorer extraordinaire.
Along the way, Ogden will meet all manner of quirky characters, from a strange hermit to a woman with a fetish for ghosts. But the enemies are the most enjoyable part. Though many of the creatures are fairly standard RPG fare, like skeletons and bats, it’s the text descriptions that will make you laugh out loud. Each creature has its own unique attacks and way of dying, all of which is described through snappy lines of text. There are rock wives that cry into their chardonnay and ghost miners that walk towards the light. And thankfully there are quite a few different enemies to battle, so the jokes don’t really have the chance to grow old.
The tongue in cheek story and clever writing are what help to mask the fact that Dragon Fantasy is a bog standard RPG. If you ever played an RPG from the early to mid ’90s you’ll know exactly what to expect. The battles are turn-based and random, you’ll be able to contract status effects like poison and silence, your time is divided between venturing into dungeons and exploring small towns, you can buy weapons and level up to learn new magical spells. It’s all the kind of stuff fans of the genre are used to.
Round one. Fight!
It’s a decent, if not all together unique gameplay package, but there are definitely a few issues that will make things frustrating at times. The controls, which have you pulling in the direction you want Ogden to move, aren’t very accurate, making it difficult to go precisely where you want to on the first try. The AI also appears to have some problems. We experienced everything from townsfolk blocking our way out of buildings to enemies that did nothing but cast a sleeping spell continuously.
And then there are the battles. Far too often attacks will miss, which can make the battles longer than they need to be. Missing once or twice in a short battle is reasonable, but when you miss five or six times in a row it becomes an annoyance. And since the battles are always one-on-one they’re also devoid of much strategy. You will have a large number of spells at your command by the end, but most every battle boils down to the old ‘attack, attack, heal’ rhythm games like Dragon Quest are known for.
And that’s exactly who this game is meant for: those who are already fans of classic Japanese RPGs. Aspects like fixed save points and forced level grinding will likely frustrate new players, but they’re just par for the course for genre veterans. And if those players can get past the controls and a few gameplay quirks, they’ll find a solid and enjoyable experience packed with great writing, a sense of humor, and one of the best retro soundtracks in recent memory.