By: Brian Gunn
Developer Grimm Bros’ Dragon Fin Soup is an ambitious attempt to meld roguelikes with traditional RPG storytelling. The story of Red Robin may charm you, but the gameplay systems themselves will do the opposite.
Sometimes, less is more, and this is a title that should have recognized that. Dragon Fin Soup wants to be a roguelike for both consoles and PC, and it has stretched itself too thin trying to please everyone. The genre is traditionally PC centric, but the UI is often frustrating. Clicking with a mouse to attack an enemy will regularly find the game thinking you want to move to a title adjacent to the enemy instead, and get you hit in the process.
Gamepad controls movement better, however there are many menus to navigate and item or ability hotkeys to place, and these quickly become a chore once the inventory started filling up. The game can be controlled with keyboard only as well but often makes diagonal movement awkward compared to the other methods.
Ultimately, I found myself going with a Frankenstein style mashup of using keyboard only in combat and the mouse for menu navigation. Even after this, the menus and UI are needlessly complicated and require too much fiddling with for simple actions.
I actually quite like the art style present here, though it will be a matter of personal taste. Dragon Fin Soup is an ugly but cute style game, similar to a bulldog. It has characters and enemies that are exaggerated and cartoonish, and everything appears a bit run down and grotesque.
This appears to be the mood the game is going for, however; it stars a drunken Red Riding Hood, after all. There are some issues with the game’s visuals often being too busy though, obscuring things too much for a tactical RPG. Still, the art style and look of the game are its strongest aspect.
There’s not too much to note audio wise. There’s no real voice acting save for a few battle style grunts here and there. Music is pleasant if not a bit generic, though I do like the main theme quite a bit, feeling like a cross between an Irish ditty and a more typical epic adventure song. Sound effects are effective, particularly for dramatic effect when the game opens with a rain-soaked flashback.
Roguelikes are typically games that don’t feature stories given how they often have permadeath as a mechanic. Dragon Fin Soup is one of the few to attempt it, and it turns out to be possibly the most interesting aspect of the game.
Red Robin is a bit of a mix between Robin Hood and Red Riding Hood, a generally decent hero with a bit of a selfish streak. In this case, she likes to drink quite a bit, possibly in an attempt to forget the generic amnesiac heroine storyline she was saddled with.
While the game does have an overarching serious plot, including the typical opening dealing with races that fought and warred with each other, it often bogs things down. Dragon Fin Soup is at its best when it is being a bit breezier, lampooning RPG and fairy tale clichés. Even though some of the serious moments hit home later on, it makes for an odd tonal mismatch most of the time.
There’s a bit of an odd loop the game seems to set you on, where it tasks Red Robin with a handful of minor quests, then a story quest. The minor ones seem to be required and feel very much like filler. They don’t have much of a plot and seem to be randomly generated.
They’re also generally not very compelling, often requiring just killing a handful of enemies and then returning to the central hub. The story quests tend to be more fun and in depth, and it’s kind of a shame they block them off with the minor filler quests.
Gameplay itself is similar to a lot of other roguelikes. It’s turn-based and the maps are split into tiles, with actions like moving forward or attacking taking up a turn. Red Robin starts off with a basic melee attack as well as a shotgun for staying at range and bombs she can drop.
Over time you’ll be able to add many tweaks, from replacing the shotgun with a pistol perhaps, or dual wielding melee weapons. You’ll also be able to recruit pets and some allies, often for money. Enemy encounters are a little on the bland side fairly often, though the game does allow for variety like bonus attack damage against enemies you sneak up on.
There are alternate modes as well that play out more like traditional roguelikes. In the story if you die, you just need to reload, but in these modes you’ve got one shot. Unfortunately, Dragon Fin Soup is not all that interesting mechanically.
There’s a huge variety of loot and crafting materials that feel like they should have been streamlined. Only a few enemies are very fun to fight. It attempts to be a sort of introduction to the genre, but thanks to the cumbersome UI, I generally just wanted to revisit better attempts at bringing roguelikes to the masses like Dungeons of Dredmor.
While Dragon Fin Soup has lovely art direction and its heart in the right place, it ultimately falls flat. There are many superior alternatives, especially for PC players. It may find more of a home on Sony’s platforms, where it has no real traditional competitors, but even they deserve better.