Welcome to the retro revolution. There seems to be a trend recently to return to the RPG roots and fulfill a nostalgic itch that still lingers. Dragon Fantasy Book 1 is one of those games. Originally an IOS game, Dragon Fantasy lands on the Playstation Vita and Playstation 3 with a handful of improvements to bring in old and new players alike.
The drawing power of Dragon Fantasy comes from it’s 8 and “12” bit graphics. Although the IOS version only had an 8 bit mode, the Vita/PS3 version comes with an interchangeable 12 bit mode. Although both modes are appealing in their own ways, the choice of which to use is almost 100 percent personal taste. In 8 bit mode, the colors stand out the most. It’s easy to forget how much color was used in NES era RPG’s, but the oranges bring you right back. The character sprites are all well-done pixel art and the overworld, although rather plain, is also beautiful in its simplicity.
The 12 bit enhanced graphics do away with the colors, and replace them with a polished, shaded, true to life colored world. Improvements like adding roofs to houses and redrawing every piece of artwork (even the creatures) help to bring you into the world. Although the 12 bit mode may look all around better, quickly switching between 8 and 12 bit modes show a bit of a blur in the 12 bit in comparison to the crisp 8 bit pixels.
As Book 1 has 3 very separate chapters (and an intermission) that play differently. It’s easiest to split them up into individual chunks for review purposes.
Chapter 1: Ogden’s Adventure
Ogden’s heroing days are far past him. He saved his princess when he was 16 and has since been growing old as her personal guard ever since. But, when The Dark Knight appears and steals away the Queens son, Ogden sets out on a new adventure to bring the prince back and save the kingdom.
Ogden’s chapter is the longest in the game and for good reason. Ogden is an awesome hero who always has a quick quip against anyone who gets in his way. This humor is really what sets Dragon Fantasy apart from other similar games in the retro revolution. It doesn’t take itself, or it’s creatures, seriously at all. The whole journey is filled with silly monster names, with funny attacks, who die in funny ways. For example, Mrs. Rock Monster rolls up looking quite angry, she asks if she looks fat and attacks, when she is defeated she turns into rock dust. You get a game that openly tries to make you laugh, but does it so well so often, that the charm lasts until the end of the final chapter (which is actually the intermission.)
Those silly monsters with silly attacks still need to be slain though. This is where Dragon Fantasy faults a bit, especially in Chapter 1. The first person turn based combat, while very true to its source material, falls flat in this chapter. Chapter 1 sees Ogden usually pressing the “X” button to continuously attack, while every once in a while using some healing magic. I found that in some ways, the game didn’t want you to use your powerful magic attacks. After every battle it was necessary to heal at least once, using up a small amount of MP. If you ran out of MP while adventuring, you would surely die before you could return to town. This wouldn’t be a problem if you could just buy potions and mp potions (called potato juice) but the economy in the game forces you to spend all the money you collect on new equipment to survive the next set of baddies. So, in Chapter 1 Ogden uses his basic attack function a lot, but he’s not very good at it. Attacks seem to have a 50/50 chance of hitting (although this should be fixed in an update soon along with a fix for a freezing issue on the PS3 version that I didn’t encounter). In the end, the press X strategy becomes a bit of a drag. The back and forth X pressing ends and restarts every 20 feet until you reach a creature you haven’t seen before, where you can once again enjoy the witty attacks and descriptions.
While the combat in Chapter 1 brings down the experience, the 5 hours long campaign is just the right length to make you feel like you’ve become a powerful warrior by the end game, without becoming boring along the way. The moment-to-moment humor makes the combat feel less tedious and almost like it was used as a genre convention to showcase the laughs along the way.
Chapter 2: Anders’ Adventure
Prince Anders wasn’t taken like his brother when The Dark Knight attacked and Ogden went off on his journey. But, that didn’t stop him from going off on his own short adventure for seemingly no reason other than to set up Chapter 3, and beyond.
Anders’ chapter is short, but enjoyable. The main addition to the core gameplay of Chapter 1 is multiple character combat. Over the course of the short quest, the player can gain 3 other companions to help beat the chapter’s single large dungeon. These companions all have unmentioned classes that treat them as either magic users or fighters and allow them to only wear certain equipment.
An added battle tower is included in the Vita/PS3 version that gives out equipment and monster fights to level up the characters quicker. This adds some length to the short chapter, but is also fun to explore in and of itself.
The main draw of this chapter is the fact that it takes place in the same area as the first third of the Chapter 1. Allowing the player to discover some secrets about Book 1 as a whole. Chapter 2 feels like it is a tad tacked on, but at the same time is the perfect connection between Chapter 1 and 3.
Chapter 3: Jerald’s Adventure
Jerald, a well-known thief, and his cousin Ramona are sick of living in the desert. They want to move south toward the stark coldness instead. To do that, they’re going to need to find 20,000 gold in order to get some illegal passports and move on. Jerald and Ramona decide to go to the thieves guild and do some jobs to raise the money.
The combat in Chapter 3 is the best in the game. You always have two characters who quickly gain strong attacks that don’t use mp. Adding these attacks make the combat much more fun while adding complexity to the battle system as a whole. Simultaneously, this chapter adds fights with multiple creatures at once. This makes Ramona’s attacks that poison/hurt all the enemies, mixed with Jerald’s big attacks, a blast to use, while also showing how much better Book 2’s combat can be in the future.
By the end of the story, it’s hard not to be excited for Book 2. It brings all three chapters together and pushes it forward toward an interesting sequel that promises to be bigger and better then the first.
Intermission M: A Minecraft Story
This little story takes place after the rest of the game and is 100% a love letter to Minecraft. Story wise, this is all pretty silly, it’s up to you to get Notch’s hat back so he can get his game/world creating powers back.
The most interesting part of this intermission is the ability to capture Minecraft inspired creatures and then equip and use them in combat. This chapter ends up playing a lot like Chapter 2 after you’ve captured your creatures, with only single monster fights and 4 characters to control and battle with. The Minecraft references were never meant for me (as I’ve never played the game) but, capturing any creature and seeing their attacks really drew me in and I found myself spending more time doing so than I would have imagined. The humor is also still here, and although this intermission felt short. It was a fun ride.
After all the stories are completed, I found that Dragon Fantasy Book 1 is a great collection of different ideas. Even if some of the ideas don’t work out completely, I spent all of my free time for the last 5 days diving into the Dragon Fantasy world. Not because I had to, but because it was funny, entertaining, and all together a package that isn’t worth missing out on.