“Wait a minute…was that a Doctor Who reference?” I often found myself wondering aloud while playing Muteki Corporation’s latest game: Dragon Fantasy Book II.
A follow-up to 2013’s Dragon Fantasy Book I, Dragon Fantasy Book II continues where its predecessor left off: Ogden and the gang have come together to travel around the world of Westeria to find some magical artifacts called Voidstones. Along the way, they encounter monsters, new allies, some old faces, and a few surprises. I could say that it’s your typical RPG affair, which in some ways it is, but mostly; it’s not.
While Dragon Fantasy Book II might be inspired by classic RPGs like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, the Dragon Fantasy series so far has excelled at getting away from those name-dropping conventions and instead, building a name for itself. This isn’t just an homage to your favorite RPGs of yesteryear, but an adventure that stands out on its own. That idea brings me to one of the things I love about Muteki Corporation’s love letter to your favorite games: Dragon Fantasy Book II (and Book I for that matter) doesn’t take itself too seriously. Sure, there may be a relatively serious event going on with dire consequences if our heroes fail, but I rarely felt that way unless the plot absolutely called for it. Most of the time I was chuckling at the candid battle dialogue or the jokes characters would exchange with each other. For instance, when Ogden, one of the game’s many protagonists, reads a letter from a lost ally, it’s a pretty seriously worded letter. However, instead of carrying on with this tone for the duration of that scene, the dialogue shifts to talking about how badly troll feet smell. That might sound like it would break one’s immersion immediately, but it doesn’t – the way these quips are set up makes them flow naturally with everything else in the game. You’ll laugh one second, then gasp in shock another, before chuckling just a second after that. You’ll probably look crazy in public but it all works so well. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the most important element of this game: the combat.
Pivotal to the Dragon Fantasy series is how things change going from one game to the next. Book I had an 8-bit or 16-bit (you could choose) graphical style that was accompanied by first-person combat a la Dragon Warrior. Book II however, changes things up by altering that 16-bit style, giving the character models and world more detail, resulting in a different experience. This switch also alters the combat. Instead of staying with the first-person battle system, Book II goes third person – allowing up to four party members, to face up to six monsters on the battlefield. What’s irksome about this change is the fact that it’s incredibly rough. When you collide with a monster in an environment, your characters will jump into a fighting stance. Said jump sometimes means one party member will hop their way under the status text for each character. For an enemy, more often than not, they would jump back incredibly far for no apparent reason or five other foes could jump in from off-screen. This jumping mechanic made the game even more frustrating when it would shift the positions of monsters. When a monster lunges at you, it could return to its starting position or land in a completely different area in the battlefield. There were more times than I could count where this happened and completely screwed up an AOE I had queued to take out the horde that stood before me.
During battle, enemies can join in at a moment’s notice. Instead of locking the battle down to the current participants, enemies in the surrounding area can waltz right in and join the bout as if they were there the whole time. None of these design choices for the battle system made sense to me, especially after how fun combat was in the original game.
When you’re not in battle, you’ll spend your time rummaging through people’s houses for materials and gold. This leads us to one of the interesting (yet underutilized) features in Dragon Fantasy Book II; crafting. By finding gold, iron, steel, and various other types of materials, players can craft weapons and armor to give to their party members. The reason I think it was underutilized was because I completely forgot about this element of gameplay until I was almost finished with the game. There was a part where I stumbled upon a crafting person who would let me make a few things, which I did. Although the items were decent, I never felt the need to craft any items again. Throughout the game’s 12-hour campaign, Dragon Fantasy never once necessitates that you go craft better gear – there’s never a real reason to take advantage of this feature because the things you get as a battle reward or find in a chest while exploring a dungeon work just fine.
Dragon Fantasy Book II also brings back the monster capturing mechanic that was briefly introduced in Chapter M of Dragon Fantasy Book I. This time, the feature has been fully realized, expanding from being a skill that only Woodsy can use to something that can be utilized by capture nets, purchasable from merchants or found in chests. I really liked this mechanic. When the game separates your characters into parties of two, capturing a monster tends to put things on an even playing field. When you’ve captured a monster, they’re given a name and added to your party. In the event that your party is full, they’re sent to a pub where you can shuffle them out or into your party as you please. Skill wise, the monsters aren’t that different with each featuring the same set of AOEs and basic hard-hitting attacks; yet some have better stats than others so it’s worth experimenting to find the best or even your favorite.
If you have a PS3, you’ll be happy to hear that Dragon Fantasy Book II is both a cross-buy and cross-save enabled game. Like most other cross-save games, the system works flawlessly; upon finding a save point, you can fling your progress to the cloud and retrieve it from the opposite platform. I used this a few times when I wanted to take the Dragon Fantasy experience to the big screen, but I found the game to be far more fun on my Vita due to the portability of the device.
After the credits rolled, I sat back and really considered what I had to say about this game. I was conflicted. Dragon Fantasy Book II has a good, humorous story, charming characters, a decent amount of replayability via bounties, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. That said, the flawed combat ultimately stopped me from going back and extending my stay.