Dragon Fantasy Book II (PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita)
Developer/Publisher: Muteki Corporation
Released: September 10th, 2013
Games just aren’t made like they used to be, and for the most part that’s a very, very good thing. With major advances in hardware in the years since series such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest were first introduced, major strides have been made in how developers tell stories and how players experience them. Still, it’s always a refreshing change of pace when we hark back to those simpler times, and Muteki’s Dragon Fantasy series aim to do just that.
While the original game brought us back to the 8-bit era, Dragon Fantasy Book II takes the next logical step and gets a 16-bit overhaul. This SNES-inspired tale follows Ogden, the main protagonist in Book I, and his ragtag group of adventuring pals as they stop Bad People from doing Bad Things en route to Saving the World. The plot details aren’t very memorable, but that’s not exactly out of line considering the JRPG homage — all but a few played out the same way, after all.
Instead of a bloated and self-important story, the writing focuses on humor. From character dialogue and interactions to enemy encounters, puns and zingers are flung at you left and right. On top of that, there are references to nerd culture all over the place — from obscure TurboGrafx-16 games like Blazing Lazers to Ghostbusters quotes, if you’ve ever nerded out over anything then chances are good that Dragon Fantasy Book II has a goof somewhere, just for you.
The super-referential and punny humor won’t tickle everyone, but fans of 16-bit JRPGs will find plenty to love within the presentation. The pixel art is highly reminiscent of games from the era, while also receiving some nice modern touches; it’s neat to to see characters lit in different ways as they walk through a cave or a swamp. The music is wonderful, too, stirring up memories of past SNES adventures. Book II wears its retro dress quite nicely.
You do still have to play the game, of course, and this is where Book II stumbles a bit. Your party begins to be outnumbered fairly quickly in battle, and with the simplistic battle system it can make dungeon crawling seem more repetitive than it already is. Being outnumbered gets to the point that you’re constantly using herbs and spells to replenish your health between campfires, even against otherwise weak enemies. Enemy encounters are no longer random as they were in Book I, at least, although avoiding them is often difficult and can lead to further frustration. Fortunately, if you’re significantly more powerful than your enemies, you’ll simply take them out in one swing without any needed input; you’ll be on your way after a short animation.
The size of your party will vary based on the story situation, but there are ways to fill it if you’re under the four-member maximum. With either a spell or a net bought from a shop, you can capture enemies and have them fight for you. I suppose there’s only one way and it’s hardly groundbreaking, but it’s not unwelcome. Once-pesky enemies can be leveled up to help you make short work of those that used to be flies in your soup, and that’s always a good feeling. You can’t switch them on the fly if your party’s full up, unfortunately, and you can only do so from town.
There’s a crafting system as well, though it feels oddly implemented. It feels like there’s little reason to ever use it, as you can usually find good items in chests or buy them in shops with your plentiful cash. Finding crafting manuals with better recipes and crafting stations is also erratic; I only found the first and third manuals, after which I found no other stations in which to use the latter.
Side quests are plentiful, but they mostly serve to highlight more niggling issues with the way Book II is designed. For starters, they’re all either fetch quests — go get A Thing from a nearby Dangerous Dungeon — or bounties to capture or defeat enemies and are rarely worth the effort. The quests are tracked in a quest log, but it could stand to be more specific; it simply says to return to a town to collect your reward, and if you don’t remember who wanted you to slay an elf you’re stuck talking to every villager there until you figure it out.
I beat Book II in a little over 13 hours, which obviously pales compared to the 16-bit JRPGs of yore, and it certainly has its warts. However, the $14.99 price tag is more than fair, especially when you consider some of the production values. That price entitles you to both the PS3 and Vita versions of the game, with the ability to transfer your save between versions. Personally, I preferred to play the game on my Vita, as there’s something about portability that makes RPGs more fun for me. However, I’d recommend that you update to the latest patch immediately; the launch version was subject to crashing and had serious framerate issues.
It’s a neat little package that immediately appeals to those who lost themselves to any number of SNES classics, but Dragon Fantasy Book II relies a little too heavily on nostalgic callbacks and not enough on being a more cohesive experience. It’s a fun tale of underdog adventurers like so many JRPGs before it, but its issues keep it from being as memorable as it could be.