What happens when Doc Brown and Lucca decide to grant one aspiring, rock obsessed developer’s dream of creating an RPG homage to the SNES generation of games? We get Dragon Fantasy Book II, and without the potential radiation poisoning or screwing up the space-time continuum.
Book II is the sequel to Dragon Fantasy Book I which can be found on PSN, and pays homage to the NES era of RPGs. This is important to point out because the series is based around the different gaming eras, and thusly plays like an entirely different game. Whereas Book I played and felt like a NES Dragon Quest game, Book II plays and feels like the SNES classic Chrono Trigger, along with similar graphics, expressions and combat features.
Unlike in the past where there were technical and creative leaps expected in a series because of an eventual new, and more powerful system, this was a design choice from the start. The graphics are SNES era for a creative reason and not because of a lack of technical skill or budgeting. This kind of creativity is refreshing from the indie market and allows a gamer to step back and evaluate priorities: graphics, gameplay or story?
Being an RPG the story is at the forefront and while the game’s design tries to stay faithful to that retro approach, the story throws it out the window and sets it on fire. The game does not take itself seriously, or even attempts to. It takes all the drab, seriousness and makes it light-hearted, while poking fun at anything about the genre it can to make it an enjoyable, relaxing game. While the name of the series is a play-on words of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, it is in name only. The story reads more like Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis wrote the script, infusing a Ghostbusters-esque style of humor. There is even a long quote from the first movie for those crafty enough to find it in the game.
This will be the divisive part about the game and series. For those people who need a serious story and can’t break from that belief will find this a hard game to appreciate. Conversely, for gamers who just like anything from the genre or can accept something not trying to stick to the current mold will have a lot of fun. The storyline won’t win an award for changing someone’s moral, ethical or sociological viewpoint, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.
The music is a mixed bag which is a shame since the first game’s musical score was not as good as well. The boss battles had excellent music, and part of me wanted the fights to last longer so I could hear the tune keep on playing forever. Outside of boss battles the music was not remarkable or memorable though. It wasn’t bad music but in a week it is not something that will be remembered like a Streets of Rage soundtrack for example. However, it is obvious they put in a lot of effort to have some of the soundtrack sound like famous SNES games like Final Fantasy VI. In one area the music sounds like you’re in Zozo from FFVI, which was creative and stuck with their overall retro theme.
Combat is a nice splice between Chrono Trigger with a little bit of Earthbound mixed in. From the ninja quick jump attacks, to the casual walking up and swinging, it instantly looks and feels like Chrono Trigger. When using skills the area of effect from the game is also used allowing you to attack single targets, a wide circular field or a straight line. One of the biggest problems with RPGs is the annoying weakling fights. Earthbound was one of the only games to solve that problem by just letting the player auto-win the fight instantly when the enemies’ levels were too weak. Book II adds in that nice touch with its own “Hulk” flavor.
All the monsters in the game are stock but with a new-age retro twist. This is part of the charm of the series. Every RPG gamer knows the loveable looking slime monsters that greet you in battle in Dragon Quest. How about changing that slime into a rock? How about Mrs. Rock or Rock Man or a rock with a football helmet? Book II takes that retro convention of using the same enemy model and switching out colours and names but makes it sillier. A rock with a Mega Man helmet? Sounds good to me. Some people might not appreciate that old school style of enemy creation but it fits perfectly with the creator’s overarching creative vision.
Sadly the major fault with Book 2 is there is very little depth to the game. It is a once you see it, now it is over type of game. There are some side quests and locations to find but for a non-linear game it doesn’t have much to do. Capturing monsters is fun but they are not as good as the main characters, and quickly become archaic once their new, better versions show up later in the game.
Overall Dragon Fantasy Book II is a fun game. It is short, funny, and helps infuse some fresh blood into the retro style game market. It proves SNES era games can still be successful and fun in a market of multi-million dollar budgets and movie quality CGI. For the price of a movie ticket gamers won’t be sorry and will have a wacky time.