RPGs were a sacred genre. At one time, it was the premiere way to show off the skills of artists across a multitude of senses. The graphical artist would create the fantastical environments, using pixels and sometimes even more traditional methods like watercolors. The composer would spend days with his mind buzzing, cranking out themes that would become iconic for generations to come. Often this music was born overnight, a product of stress and genius. Those skilled at designing the systems that needed to be in place to make the game fun or tactical or different took to creating how the game was played. These sort of games were often used to show off the newest and best technology of the time, a proud display of raw processing power. Many artists have followed in the footsteps left by these grand creators, while looking at the worlds they created as if it were in a museum for the future to admire.
Dragon Fantasy is a game that clearly admires the games of the past and wants to join them in blissful design, but it falls so far off the path its embarrassing.
To make things clear, this isn’t the sort of game that brings enjoyment for any with even the vaguest understand of good role-playing. However, in order to educate not only the gaming community, but also aspiring developers I cannot simply state that the game is bad and move on. Therefore, welcome to my exhibition of oddities in Dragon Fantasy, a parody role-playing game that’s more humorous in its awful design, than its intended jabs at the genre and arguably some of the best games of all time.
To start things off, let’s delve into the game’s presentation, the first thing that greets the player and sets the stage for the adventure to come. The opening screen is actually fairly pleasant, a green dragon in simple pixel art that’s nowhere near as bad as some NES title screens. The sprite work in all of Dragon Fantasy, while extremely basic by sprite standards, conveys enough that it gets the job done. The werewolves look like werewolves and the zombie enemy is actually quite cute. However, there is no innovation in the artwork to be found. It’s all basic hills, castles, and towns with trees everywhere. Sure it looks like an old-school RPG on the surface, but that’s where the comparison ends visually.
Animation is rarely complex in the SNES-era RPGs or even in the modern tributes to such. Mostly there is smart use of minimalist design for characters and monsters, while spells and attacks show off the flashy stuff. Dragon Fantasy on the other hand is real fond of mirroring images back and forth to simulate animation. Sure, technically by definition, it is animation. Yet, when I caught on how often that technique is used I felt cheated.
Moving on the second half of presentation brings us to the sound design. Sound effects in Dragon Fantasy are simple bleeps and bloops for most things like attacks and picking up items. In fact they are super similar to the early Dragon Quest games, a game this one pulls a lot from. It’s not the basic effects that become aggravating though, it’s the “music”. What’s being passed off as the music in Dragon Fantasy is a loop of a single measure or so. Players will be lucky to pick out more than four notes before they start over again, creating this drone of laziness that lacks the charm of being in a fantasy world. It got to the point that I played the game with the sound cranked completely down, safe from the maddening dribble oozing from the speakers.
To shy away from the presentation, let’s see how the game actually plays as an RPG. Players can pick one of four stories at the get go, three of which are original stories centered around fairly interesting characters at face value. The fourth is a trudge through a Minecraft server of all things in search of Notch’s hat. For starters, I took off on my journey through Chapter 1, starring Ogden, a retired soldier who’s hair was scorched bald by a dragon in his adventurin’ years. Actually not a bad start. The story is poorly written and so cliche that I won’t even go into the details, but at least the main character is kinda quirky enough to be unique.
Jumping into the wilderness in the game’s main song and dance, battles, I quickly found out the overarching problem. Battles are hard, but not in a fair way that the player can control after mastering the system. No, this is the sort of monster swatting that is akin to Sisyphus pushing his boulder. The amount of gold given in the early areas is pathetic, dying cuts the gold fund in half, and to survive the trek to the first dungeon the player has to grind to get decent equipment. Even after forty minutes of grinding, the first boss was almost impossible. Luckily, after the first quest or so, an item becomes available that lets Ogden instantly capture an enemy monster to be a party member. Cool, I thought as Ogden dredged through a swamp alone. After seeing the cute zombie, I decided that he would be my buddy and together we’d own this nightmare fantasy-scape. Catching was simple, use the item, get the critter. The game automatically named him Pookie, which I found funny and became hopeful for the game as a whole. After about twenty battles, I found out something that sunk my heart into my gut, only to remain through the rest of my time with the game.
Monster allies do not receive experience points.
MEANING, they don’t level up at all. Poor Pookie, as hopeful as I was to train him into the ultimate, adorable face-muncher, was forever stuck with twenty hit points. After learning of this, he became a distraction during battle. The bigger monsters would sometimes hit him, meaning Ogden would get an extra hit. Due to Pookie always starting at one hit point after dying in a fight, I never healed him, as it was a waste of magic points that I could use to heal the heartier Ogden. What could’ve been a memorable friend became a rotting meat-shield.
This sort of basic design doesn’t seem like the thing that would’ve slipped past any other studio. It makes the whole game a trudge through mud, slowly sinking and unable to gain traction. The story isn’t good enough to warrant the grind and the grind isn’t fun or even rewarding with how difficult and random each fight is. What irritates me most though is this.
The game I played was Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria on the 3DS. I thought the subtitle was just for show, until I did some research. Apparently, Dragon Fantasy started as an IOS game back in 2011. Since then it has appeared on the Vita, PS4, PS3, Android, PCs, Macs, the Wii U and probably a few more consoles, making the Volumes of Westeria an “improved” or “definitive” version of the game. Did no one tell the Muteki Corporation (the developers) about how terrible their game was? It just kept jumping to other platforms, meaning somewhere along the line they’re making enough money to warrant a port. Plus, it’s being sold for ten dollars! Ten dollars for the most cliche RPG I’ve played with broken mechanics and music that’s impossible to find enjoyment in.
I’ve played a lot of games worse than Dragon Fantasy, honestly. However, never have I played a terrible game that supposed to be an upgraded version of a prior, poor experience. I would’ve looked past a lot of Dragon Fantasy‘s flaws if the writing had been exceptionally funny or the music was catchy, but there’s just nothing redeeming here. I promised that I tried to give this game an honest play, I made it to finding the second or third armor piece left behind by the legendary hero or whatever. Every second was irritating. Each battle lacked strategy, and boiled down to dumb luck. It’s a classic RPG with all the makings of a memorable experience, but the execution is so lacking that it became an insult to the genre.
There is some sliver of hope though. There is a sequel being developed in a 16-bit style with a battle system akin to Chrono Trigger. Could Dragon Fantasy‘s schmuck-filled world be enjoyable in a whole new game? That’s up to the Muteki Corporation and their willingness to look at their published work in an honest light. Mistakes are okay to make in any artistic medium, but there comes a time to accept these mistakes and learn from them. I would like to see more classic style RPGs developed, but they have to have the passion of creating fictional worlds behind it. The music has to come from the soul, not a looped measure. The art has to have a uniqueness about it, one that the artist can say took imagination and effort. The game’s systems have to be tested from many angles, to ensure quality.
Unfortunately, Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria will remain as a stain on the digital marketplace to be avoided in lieu of better experiences.