By: Mike Chen
Retro-style tribute games have been successful as of late, with Retro City Rampage and the Mega Man revivals bringing back pixels and sprites instead of 3D models. Indie developer Muteki now brings us Dragon Fantasy: Book I, a loving tribute/gentle mocking of old-school RPGs like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Of course, without a solid game under the hood, a tribute like this becomes a one-trick pony after a few minutes. Has Muteki built a throwback game that will satisfy veteran RPGers? Let’s take a look.
Old-school RPGs were heavily menu driven, and that’s the experience you’ll get here. Movement is done in strictly up/down/left/right movements, and I found myself leaning towards using the good ol’ directional pad rather than the analog stick. Outside of that, everything from combat to dialog is menu driven, so there’s not a lot that can go wrong there.
If this sounds awful to you, then there’s no reason for you to go old-school. But if you long for a simpler time, it’s just like you remember.
Dragon Fantasy looks and sounds exactly like it was ripped out of the 8- or 16-bit world (you can choose which version you prefer). With that in mind, everything has to be put into that context, and so the quality of the game’s assets depend on how things are implemented within those limitations.
From background tiles to character two-frame animations and up-close monster views, it’s clear that there was a lot of love poured into this project. However, if you’re not nostalgic or a fan of old-school RPGs, there will be a big “meh” factor involved.
One area, though, that Final Fantasy always stood apart was the music. Similarly, the Legend Of Zelda series, among others, demonstrated that chip-era tunes could be atmospheric, lively, and downright classic despite it sounding like blips and bloops. Unfortunately, Dragon Fantasy‘s music isn’t particularly memorable, and considering the heavy volume of fighting (probably a good 10-20 seconds of movement time between random encounters), you’ll be hearing a LOT of the world map song, the battle song, and the victory song, all in just snippets that can literally be seconds.
Though, seeing that there’s no voice acting involved, you can go really old school and mute the TV while putting on your own music — though instead of firing up a CD while playing Sega Genesis, you’ll probably rifle through the infinite playlist on your smartphone.
Dragon Fantasy plays like your standard old-school RPG. That means while there’s an overlying story arc, achieving each step along the way involves a lot of fighting, dungeons, and fetch quests. Of course, it’s dressed up in a fanciful way, and if you’re a long-time RPG player, you’ll see many nods to classic genre tropes.
In Dragon Fantasy, you play a veteran hero named Ogden. There’s a dark plague throughout the land, and you must collect magical items to do away with the evil. Along the way, you’ll collect weapons and armor, build up your magic ability, deposit money to a banker in a business suit, fight an Obligatory Orc (actual name), and enjoy all sorts of RPG goodness — including level grinding. Oh yes, you will level grind, particularly whenever you open up a new area and find that the collection of enemies kicks the bejesus out of you.
Fortunately, level grinding is quick, as combat is completely menu-driven — you select between attacking, using magic, using items, or fleeing. There aren’t sweeping animations to start or stop a battle, and enemies do little more than shake or have 2-3 frames of animation. This means that battles can finish quickly and leveling up can be done rather expediently.
This first chapter focuses solely on Ogden, and the story itself feels like a mix of the original Dragon Quest and Monkey Island-style anachronistic humor (e.g. the aforementioned banker, knights who complain about peeling potatoes, a domestic dispute between Mr. Rock Monster and Mrs. Rock Monster). This keeps the tone light while Dragon Fantasy lovingly mocks Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and others. It’s a neat, tidy game without being overly long (Book II and Book III are down the road), which is ultimately enjoyable without being groundbreaking.
For longtime fans of RPGs, Dragon Fantasy: Book I offers an original story built upon a time-tested system. This trip down memory lane isn’t for everyone and there’s nothing particularly new here, but what works definitely works and it provides hours of throwback entertainment.