By: Matthew Striplen
From the studio that brought you Rambo: The Video Game and the Heavy Fire series, Teyon, along with Mechanic Arms, present the dungeon crawling JRPG, Excave. This game is actually the first installment in a trilogy and the first of which to make its way west from Japan.
Players choose either a male or female hero to control, but this can switched at any time in the menu. Each gender has specific weapons and armor it can use, though the gaming cliché of slow, powerful men, and fast, weak women rears its ugly head.
Certain weapons, such as mid-size swords, are unisex, but the majority are gender specific. The male specializes in heavy melee weaponry, such as great swords and axes, while the female may use a bow or lighter blades.
Since each character possesses very different equipment, they each handle uniquely, which may or may not be a good thing. Depending on the weapon, the male sometimes hits so slowly that enemies recover quickly enough to break a combo. Even if the combo is just a tradition triple strike, doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Both characters can make use of various shields.
The female’s bow is borderline unusable. The aiming mechanism, or lack thereof, reduces aiming to guesswork. The light blades fair far better, however, arguably better than any of the male’s swords. As stated, despite the speed of the strikes, each one inflicts a small amount of damage.
Gameplay is split between the dungeon itself and a menu of sorts. This menu allows players to buy/sell equipment, manage said equipment, and repair or appraise broken items. Each hero can only carry 16 items, so the storage boxes become very important.
This can pose a problem in the dungeon, especially in later levels, where survival depends on bringing large amounts of items into the arena. Additionally, players lack the ability to compare new equipment with existing ones in the dungeon, forcing you drop something in the hopes the new item will be better. Needless to say, luck will not always be on your side.
Both characters have two slots for equipping weapon and other items. Since Excave lacks a pause function, items must be switched out in real time. This poses a big problem, despite the two options for changing the setup. As seen above, items are in view at all times on the touchscreen, which is definitely a plus. Players can drag and drop items with the stylus, or use the d-pad and Y button. Both methods require abandoning either the circle pad or buttons, which makes quick changes in the heat of battle near impossible. The style of Excave requires lightning fast changes, as weapons frequently break without warning.
Leaving the arena requires holding the X button for three seconds, which presents even more problems. If the player is overwhelmed by enemies, the only chance of survival is to stand perfectly still, drop your defenses and hope you don’t die before teleporting out. Uh, yeah, good luck with that…
Speaking of standing still, weapons and items can only be used standing still. Luckily, Excave allows the hero to pivot to face different directions, but lateral movement is prohibited.
Graphically, this game isn’t particularly special, and the enemies actively stand out for their poor design. Nearly every enemy in the first level consists of a different colored blob. Later on, disembodied reptilian heads and bats show themselves, but the interest is quickly lost.
Bosses tend to be larger, more powerful versions of the most common enemy. That being said, battling monsters is more fun if you pretend they’re your exes — and there’s the ex-girlfriend joke from the caption! The dungeon itself is devoid of any decorations. Additionally, the heroes themselves look like generic anime warriors.
Despite the rest of Excave‘s faults, the soundtrack is awesome! The main theme in the dungeon drives hard, plus the loop rate is surprisingly good. Many of the tracks seem to be inspired by the great Game Boy Advance series, Golden Sun. Major props to the composer.
Unfortunately, there are too many flaws in Excave to warrant a high rating. The terrible control scheme and lackluster graphic design ruin the entire experience. At its core, this game feels like a watered down version of previous JRPGs, without bringing anything new to the table. Despite an excellent soundtrack, if you’re looking for a good JRPG, you may want to look elsewhere.