Review: ‘Dragon Fantasy: Book 2’on September 19, 2013 at 8:00 am
This review is based on review code of the game. While the version I describe is the one released for purchase, Muteki has submitted a patch and is waiting for Sony to push it through. This patch fixes the stuttering that occurs during auto-saving, some of the problems I mention with menu navigation, among some other minor fixes.
I’m having a difficult time coming up with an introduction for this review. Is it because I’m having an off day, or does “Dragon Fantasy: Book 2” just not instill me with any sort of creative mojo? I don’t know, but this game didn’t give me all of the soft and warm nostalgia fuzzies that I was expecting from it.
Is it a bad game? No, far from it. I enjoyed my time with it, but I’m not entirely sure Muteki knew what game they were trying to make. Let’s take a look at what we’re dealing with.
You want the good news or the bad news first? Too bad, I’m starting with the bad news.
On the surface, “Book 2” wants you to think it’s a Super Nintendo JRPG. I would forgive someone if they asked me, “What SNES game is this?” Beneath the old school JRPG aesthetics lies an awful truth: it’s not anywhere near as polished as the games it blatantly draws inspiration from.
If you’re going to copy something, especially games as old as 16-bit JRPGs, you REALLY need to make your product shine. It has to be as good, if not better than that very thing you’re mimicking. (Look at “Penny Arcade 4” for a perfect example.) There is no excuse for some of the poor design choices this game made, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
The most obvious game “Book 2” copies is “Chrono Trigger”. The way battles are initiated and play out is nearly identical to that classic. However, they’re not nearly as sharp. In fact, battles are a bit clunky.
Navigating the battle menu feels like you’re flailing around uncontrollably in an ice rink. There isn’t enough audio feedback to let you know you’ve made a selection, and those same selections are made REALLY quickly. You’ll find yourself mashing the button to scroll the battle text, then suddenly realize you’ve already made decisions for half your team in the next turn. Granted, as long as you haven’t finished making selections for your whole party, you can always change any selections you’ve made. I shouldn’t have to do that because I didn’t even realize I was choosing actions, though.
Targeting enemies is a mess and it can be difficult to see which ones you’re going to hit. This made even worse when enemies are hiding inside of random walls, which happens frequently, or attacking you from off-screen. Clearly, Muteki knew this was an issue because if there is an enemy off-screen, you get a helpful menu that pops up that lets you scroll through all of the enemies and select which one you want to attack. It’s unfortunate that this is the ONLY time you can use the menu option, because it’s better in some ways!
See, this menu actually gives you detailed information about the health of the monsters. Why do you get this information when you can’t see them but not when you can? It doesn’t make any sense. Of course, this menu has its problems too, since it also shows you all of the enemies you’ve killed in the current battle. It’s not uncommon to have battles with upwards of 10 enemies and the menu doesn’t prioritize ones that are alive over ones that are dead. They’re seemingly assigned at random in the menu and you have to sort through them yourself.
This brings me to the monster catching element of the game, which I didn’t care for.
See, it’s very similar to “Pokémon”. You weaken a monster, then you throw a Capture Net at it, and you might wrangle it into submission and add it to your team. Sounds neat, right? Well, it isn’t.
Since you have no idea how much health monsters have, you don’t know if you’re close to killing them or not. At least, not without some trial and error. This is made even more frustrating once you first accidentally come across the targeting menu that let’s you see enemy health! That would be so useful for this!
Even worse, is that when you’ve finally added a few monsters to your traveling circus of destruction, you find out that they kind of suck. They’re inferior to the proper party members the game offers you. Hell, even though our heroes spend a vast portion of the game split up, they’re always better off not using monsters. You’ll spend most of the time babysitting them and draining your resources to keep them healed up, and the only thing they have to offer are some VERY weak attacks.
Oh, and keeping them in your party also means you’re going to earn less experience points, since the game splits them up amongst your entire party. So, if you have fewer party members, they’re going to level up a lot faster. This means that they’re also going to get stronger faster and this makes monsters even more obsolete to have around. They make the game harder, which is counter-intuitive.