Reviewed: Noember 26, 2004
Released: October 26, 2004
Fantasy is a genre that everyone loves at some point in their lives. When youíre a kid, fantasy means the ultimate exploration of your imagination, and there is nothing more that kids love than exploring and using imagination. Some of us who are lucky (despite what some may tell you) never quite grow out of this. This is why the fantasy genre exists, and why video games in general are so fun. If you love fantasy, and you love video games, you probably enjoy role-playing games. RPGís are the ultimate big kidsí video games. For the adult in you, there is the serious, deep and involved gameplay that allows this genre to go beyond the usual button-mashing games. For the kid in you, there is magic, adventure, and heartening heroism that the real world just doesnít offer.
The Nightmare of Druaga: Fushigino Dungeon is a perfect example. In this dungeon crawler of an RPG, there is plenty for both adult and child to enjoy, including memorable character designs, a rich setting and old-school gameplay reminiscent of NES games such as Gauntlet. The question is whether it does a good job with these base elements or not, however.
In The Nightmare of Druaga, you will be playing as Gil (short for Gilgamesh), a young prince who narrowly saved his kingdom from the Lord of Darkness, Druaga, a few years ago. With the help of the goddess Ishtar, a beautiful priestess named Ki, and the armor and weapons bestowed unto him, Gil managed to defeat Druaga, and restore his empire to its previous glory. Gil and Ki fell in love, and now are to be wed. Before the festivities take place, a mysterious sorceress kidnaps Ki speaking of some purpose she has yet to fulfill. Gil once again must save his empire, his lady, and get to the bottom of the mystery that threatens all that he holds dear. A pretty cool sounding story, Iíd say, even if a bit generic.
As Prince Gil, you will be given a measly set of armor, a sword, gauntlets, boots, and a helmet, that somehow were enough to protect Gil in his first encounter with Druaga. As you move through level after level of dungeons, you find treasure chests with different weapons and gear, each with different strengths and weaknesses. These weapons can be combined at a blacksmithís, to make stronger, faster, and generally better weapons. Despite the fact that Gil is a prince, he still has to pay a rather hefty amount for weapons and gear to be combined, and gold is really not all that easy to come across. Sure, you can sell items and weapons, but you will want to have some to combine as well.
There is also another aspect to this game that will make it absolutely necessary for you to have all you can possibly have in your inventory: offerings. You see, in the dungeons, you are guided by the light of the goddess Ishtar. However, Ishtar gets all pissy for no particular reason, and will gradually deplete your light source down to nothing unless you offer items in her name. What a goddess could possibly want with a leather whip, I canít say.
So letís say you get rather far in your quest, and youíve built up quite an inventory of items. You encounter an enemy that is too powerful for you (and they do show up rather early in the game, too.) You are out of the one item that allows you to escape dungeons to the safety of your kingdom, the feather. You then die. Itís a good thing that you saved not all that long ago, right? Wrong! You see, the developers of this game thought that it would be cute to frustrate players to the point of madness by making sure that if you do become incapacitated in a dungeon, you lose all of your weapons, armor, gear, and items, as well as half of your gold. Imagine, all of that progress, gone. Now, maybe in the old days, these types of challenges could be forgiven. Perhaps a game didnít have the capacity to save your progress when you got a game over, or something of that nature.
In my opinion however, nowadays, we have memory cards and saving capacities for a reason. I donít enjoy playing games, finding rare items, going a very long way, only to be back at square one after hours of hard work. I thought I would be clever, and simply reset the game. This doesnít work either. After you reset, Ishtar herself shows up, gives Gil a stern lecture about ďdisrupting the flow of timeĒ and makes him promise to never do it again. As cute and humorous as this little touch is, it loses its charm when you realize just how screwed you are when you get back to the game. I donít care if this adds to the challenge or the strategy this game has to offer, or if itís there for old school gaming charm. Itís frustrating. Very frustrating.
To be fair, there is also a way to keep some of your items. Itís called inscribing. When you inscribe something, even if you become incapacitated in the dungeons, the inscribed item will stay with you. You can also buy ingots, which allows you to store your money while you fight through the dungeons, and therefore, keep it in safe keeping. Mind you, that this is all very expensive to do, and even Prince Gil will have a hard time obtaining these luxuries. And at the beginning of the game you can inscribe one item. One. Later, you can inscribe more, but that all depends on whether you can put up with the frustrations of losing so much gameplay in the process.
The Nightmare of Druaga has some very charming graphics, the likes of which I would like to see in more RPGís. The characters are of an anime design, which gives the whole game a nice whimsical feel, which fantasy games should of course have. Itís sort of like a Nippon Ichi game (a la Phantom Brave), only in 3-D. Obviously, if cute is not your thing, Nightmare of Druaga might not be either.
I was disappointed, however, with the lack of emotion and expression in the charactersĎ faces and bodies. Sure, Prince Gil can look cute. His design sort of makes him that way by default. But when it comes to expressing how heís feeling, thereís quite literally nothing to see. Some people might enjoy the old school feel of this, considering that back in the day, sprites could express about as much emotion as Al Gore, but with the unique character designs and refined gameplay of Druaga, lack of detail in areas like facial mapping does more damage than good. I mean, the relationship between Gil and Ki is one of chaste courtship, so emotions are kept at an almost businesslike relationship, but still, the two are presumably in love. Gil should be a bit, oh, I donít know, distressed that his fiancť has been kidnapped by an evil sorceress who wants to do god knows what with her. I do understand the whole ďknight in shining armor, remaining calm and vigilant, as any real hero should,Ē approach, but Gilís lack of emotional expression, even with that blanket excuse, is disappointing.
As far as the backgrounds go, they are less than exciting, but fit the dungeon crawl gaming this game offers. Dungeons are dark, foreboding, and for what they lack in detail, they at least make up for in atmosphere. The light/darkness effects I mentioned in gameplay are implemented nicely, too. Enemies are less inspired than those of a Final Fantasy game, but they are much more simplified, in their defense. Besides, every RPG needs a blob for an enemy. Itís a rule. I think.
In any case, graphics in The Nightmare of Druaga leave a lot to be desired, but I would still love to see a full scale RPG done in the basic anime style of this game more often. It make a game feel a bit more whimsical, but no less serious, and is always a good design choice.
The sound of this game is disappointingly forgettable. Iím not sure why, but it seems that the problem I encounter the most in games that are otherwise above average, is that the sound is always more or less background noise. Itís really too bad. With such a sweeping fantasy concept, you would think that perhaps a sweeping fantasy type soundtrack would be in order. However, sound is, unfortunately, the most forgotten about aspect of many a game, and this is no exception. The Nightmare of Druaga should sound like an adventure, not mediocre game with a mediocre soundtrack to fill up space. While the gameplay is much slower than a swashbuckling action adventure, and much more methodical than hack-ĎnĎ-slashers like Diablo, the atmosphere is still one that warrants a soundtrack much more inspired than these C-grade tunes. Itís not that the soundtrack is bad necessarily. Itís just seriously lacking. Mediocre is better than horrendous, but still.
Then there is that little issue of voice acting. What is that, you say? Thatís when a talented young actor uses their ability to voice emotional expression for an animated character in, for example, a video game. Voice acting is not, for example, a series of beeps resembling Morse code. However, in The Nightmare of Druaga, that is exactly what passes as a voice. Now, donít get me wrong. Voice acting doesnít need to be in every video game. There can still be thought and word bubbles with text, and depending on the production value of the game as well as the overall feel of it, I can be more than satisfied with nothing else. Iím not that picky. All I ask is that a game not subject me to continuous beeping noises whenever a character speaks. Again, this is staying true to the old school feel of the game, but as with the graphics, when the game attempts to stick with the nostalgia of days passed, and polish it with style of the present, there are things that should stay and things that should leave. High-pitched beeps passing as voices are probably one that should go.
Donít get the wrong idea here. The Nightmare of Druaga isnít downright horrible when in comes to sound; itís just kind of there. You wonít find yourself scrambling for the mute button or anything like that. Though you will probably find yourself suffering a case of amnesia when it comes to the sounds of this game.
Considering the skill you have or donít have when it comes to the strategic elements of this game, the value of The Nightmare of Druaga really varies. Patience is definitely a virtue here. While I enjoyed the gameplay overall, I was at times too frustrated to enjoy myself when playing through the same dungeon yet again, due to a single mistake that cost me all the progress I had made. This game takes dedication, and I would sincerely warn the casual gamer away from picking this one up.
However, if you appreciate a good challenge and some serious old school gameplay, I would recommend The Nightmare of Druaga as a full and relatively deep dungeon crawl in the classic sense of the term. Besides, there are quite a few side quests, items to unearth and weapons to combine for different effects, and the storyline is quite satisfying and never takes too much of a back seat to the gameplay. Letís just say that this game is an acquired taste, and its value depends on that fact.
The Nightmare of Druaga definitely has high points to brag about. With a fun and immersive storyline and world that fantasy fans will appreciate, an irresistibly charming presentation, and gameplay that will make some gamers long for their youth, this game is a success on many fronts. However, many gamers are not that patient. (I am admittedly, one of them). We like to feel secure in our hard work, and losing progress we have made is a major turn off, especially if we canít point the blame to anyone other than ourselves for the screw up.
We are spoiled, but then again, these arenít the days of NES - saving progress as the game progresses is no longer a rare luxury. We are products of our generation, in video games as in much else. As much as I want to adore this game, I can only like it. Others will feel differently, but not enough Iím afraid, to make The Nightmare of Druaga a game above solid mediocrity.