By: Mike Chen
Dragon Fantasy‘s first episode (deemed Book I) was a fun retro romp that hearkened back to 8-bit Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy games. Ogden is back and Book II is now available, and we’ve leaped forward on console generations. No, not PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but to the land of 16-bit — more specifically, Dragon Fantasy Book II was modeled on SNES games (sorry, old school Phantasy Star and Shining Force fans).
Dragon Fantasy Book II takes its control scheme from old-school RPGs, which means that it’s menus, menus and more menus. This gets the job done, though, and a lot of it is streamlined in a way that’s particularly effective at keeping pace and organization. In particular, each town provides plenty of side-quest opportunities, and this is made much easier with a modern quest tracker in the primary menu. This makes it simple to keep track of things, and it’s something I wish developers employed during the true 16-bit era.
GRAPHICS & SOUND (4/5)
Everything’s 16-bit with Dragon Fantasy Book II, but it’s probably the prettiest and best-sounding 16-bit game ever made. The sprites pop but remain comfortably familiar. The ship sailing around the world takes place in familiar Mode 7-style scaling and rotation. Enemies are colorful and animated, so while everything is decidedly retro, it feels fitting and advanced at the same time.
The semi-symphonic score actually sounds a little too advanced. The SNES audio chipset was far ahead of the original 8-bit NES, yet this game’s soundtrack feels more fitting for PlayStation or Dreamcast-era titles. It’s not that the music is bad, it just breaks the overall retro vibe of the game.
RPGs are often defined by two things: their combat system and their story. Book I’s combat system was a system of first-person, menu-driven combat, mirroring the original Dragon Warrior. Book II does away with random encounters and instead has enemies in proximity fighting in turn-based battles on the map (mirroring Chrono Trigger).
Range is now a factor, as enemies can move around the frozen map, and nearby enemies are also a threat. However, Ogden and his party now have more mobile attacks, such as a spinning sword slash similar to A Link To The Past-era Link. The targeting system shows the coverage of these special attacks, though enemies will have their turn before you attack.
One big difference from Book I is the fact that Ogden can fight with a party of up to four characters, and not just standard party fare, but a new monster-capture mechanic using nets. These monsters can stay in your party indefinitely, even getting names and leveling up with the rest of your group.
As for the story? It’s both sprawling and funny (and at times confusing), and I think that’s part of the issue. It’s got a traditional epic fantasy tale involving magic stones and the fate of the land, but the moment-to-moment interactions are almost purely comedic. Cities and characters are filled with pop culture/video game inside jokes. They’re good for a laugh, but it winds up pulling you out of the moment. It also creates a bit of a disparate feel, and sometimes it seems like Dragon Fantasy can’t decide what type of tone it wants to set.
Dragon Fantasy Book II makes notable design improvements over its predecessor, probably by design since its aping a more advanced game. Old-school RPGs aren’t for everyone, but for those that look back fondly it’s a fun playthrough with solid mechanics — as long as the mix of epic fantasy and Monkey Island-style humor doesn’t take you out of the moment.