A year ago Red Robin lost her memory after an accident. Slowly she begins to remember details of her past and the bloody betrayal of her family. Sounds intriguing doesn’t it?
Dragon Fin Soup is the creation of Grimm Bros, a new indie RPG game company made up of veteran developers. DFS completed a successful Kickstarter campaign back in April 2014 which meant that they were able to port to PSVita, PS3 and PS4.
The game is a blend of genres, part turn-based action RPG and part roguelike and is set in a procedurally generated fairy-tale-inspired world featuring a 2D top down camera. You play as Red Robin, she’s a bit like little Red Riding Hood but with alcohol problems, a lot of attitude and a helping of bad language.
The world of DFS is set on the back of a giant space turtle called Asura who swims the multiverse of space-time. If this reminds anyone of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld then you are not alone – Grimm Bros are big fans.
The artwork in this game has been done by Randis Albion and he is one seriously talented artist. When I first started playing this game I was in awe of it’s beauty. The voice-over guy that narrated over the top of the artwork I was much less impressed with. Thankfully there isn’t much voice acting in the game so you don’t have to put up with his weird faux-cinema voiceover for long. Strangely, once in-game all the characters look a bit washed out and blurry. This seems to be just an issue with the Vita version as on the PS4 it looks fine.
Good storylines are one of the main reasons I play RPG’s so out of Dragon Fin Soup’s three game modes – Story, Survival and Endless Labyrinth – story mode is where I started first. Unfortunately it didn’t take me long to become disappointed, the story is painfully slow to get going and even when it does it’s predictable and clichéd. There are many games that go down the route of having an amnesiac protagonist, so to make it feel more interesting the story needs to go somewhere new or at the very least have interesting characters. The story and characters in DFS just felt bland and like they were trying too hard to be funny. I quickly found myself not really caring.
You start in a small village, which acts as your base of operations during the game, and can pick up missions from Jin the friendly barkeep before heading out to explore the world. There is a mix of scripted events, story quests and procedurally generated missions. You’ll soon find, however, that the missions get overly repetitive quite quickly.
The controls feel really clunky, you can only move with the d-pad, the analog sticks are just used to change the direction your character is facing. You can move diagonally but using the d-pad feels very imprecise and, unfortunately, there’s no way to re-map controls.
After picking up my first item and heading into the inventory screen to see what it was I noticed that the descriptions are in a ridiculously tiny font. My eye sight is pretty good but even I had trouble with this.
Your health potions in the game are all bottles of alcohol – Robin is an alcoholic after all. Some of them have a negative side-effect of reducing your magic points by a certain percentage. For some reason every time I drank one a message popped up saying that my magic points had been reduced by 512 points regardless of what percentage the potion was supposed to reduce it by. The game seems to reduce your MP by the correct amount but it’s a bit odd to get the same message popping up every time you drink.
I also encountered numerous bugs while wandering around in dungeons, such as the game not properly registering what tile you should be on when pushed back by an enemy. Robin will look like she’s still on a square right next to an enemy but when you try to attack you are actually one tile back so just hit empty air. This can get really confusing when surrounded by many enemies.
There’s quite a good variety in the types of dungeons you’ll be exploring and each has it’s own unique look. You’ll come across forests, ice caves, abandoned mines, spider forests, deserts, haunted houses and many more. As the dungeons are procedurally generated, you’ll also sometimes come across dungeons which are very cluttered, overlapping items in the foreground make it really difficult to see where you are going and what you are about to step on. When making tactical retreats from enemies it is far too easy to get yourself stuck between a wall and a rock and be surrounded by enemies because you didn’t realise that there would be something in the way. There was even one instance I found where there was an unbreakable object right in front of a door so I couldn’t enter.
To make your journey through the Asura wilds slightly easier you can partner up with NPC’s for a small fee or collect pet familiars to fight along side you. You can have upto 2 pets active at any time. I found them really useful early in the game but after a while you’ll find that pets die far too quickly to be of any use. In the end I just started using them as cannon fodder, I felt a little bit guilty sending cute cats and sheep to their doom against ghosts and zombies though!
You can find spells which heal your pets but there’s not really enough information during battles about your party members’ health. You can only really see their health by looking at a small green bar above their heads (which isn’t always visible) so it’s difficult to know just how close to death they are. Also, when fighting, you can only see one enemy’s information at a time in the top left hand corner of the screen and you can’t pick which enemies stats you see. If using a ranged attack the enemy portrait and health stats don’t seem to come up at all unless they get right next to you.
One of the things that I was really looking forward to in DFS was the crafting system. Unfortunately the crafting and inventory UI is awful. To move items about you can either use the touch screen or click a series of buttons. However the touchable tiles in the inventory are tiny so it’s difficult to use and it feels really slow to navigate using just the buttons.
You also have really limited storage space, you can only carry 60 items on you and store 60 items in a chest. It makes sense to have limited space on your character but when you have a really in-depth crafting system with over 500 recipes it doesn’t make sense to only be able to store 60 items at home. I ended up filling up the chest and then dumping stacks of items all over the floor of my house. I was pleasantly surprised that they didn’t just disappear after leaving the area.
I like that you have to level up your crafting skill to be able to craft higher level recipes but because of issues with the controls and lack of storage I just ended up feeling like it was more hassle than it was worth.
The game also seems to constantly crash, on average I was having to reload for every 2 hours of gameplay. It’s particularly frustrating when it crashes just after you’ve cleared out a dungeon floor! I also had issues with one NPC who I was supposed to talk to to complete a quest, but unfortunately she didn’t seem to say anything to move the quest forward so I was effectively stopped from continuing the story.
The most rage inducing bug I experienced however was one where the game told me I didn’t have enough memory on my Vita as it was trying to save. I was a bit surprised by this as I knew I had a few GB to spare. After deleting an old game off my memory card just to make sure and then saving and reloading my game I came across the message every gamer dreads to see…save file corrupted. All progress on all game modes had been lost. Thankfully I’d made a backup save a day ago so only lost one day’s progress but I was definitely not a happy bunny…
After playing the story mode I found myself feeling quite negative and disappointed in the game. Thankfully the other modes are where the game begins to redeem itself.
In Survival Mode you begin at level 1 in the wilds of Asura with limited supplies, fighting challenging monsters, and trying to stay alive as long as possible. Death is permanent so if you die you have to start again from the beginning. You encounter waves of procedurally-generated dungeons filled with traps, monsters, and mini-games that increase in difficulty over time.
I found this to be the hardest mode in the game but once you start to find magic spells it becomes a lot easier. For a roguelike game DFS is not particularly difficult. You’ll come across magic much more frequently than in the story mode and it’s really fun to work out what combinations of spells work best. I died more in this mode than any other but death isn’t frustrating. When you die the game gives you a score based on how many kills you made, experience gained, gold found, bosses killed and the maximum combo you achieved. It definitely has that ‘just-one-more-go’ feel to it.
The Endless Labyrinth was my favourite mode, similar to the Survival mode you begin at level 1 and need to stay alive as long as possible. DFS starts to become really fun when you are no longer doing the dull repetitive story missions.
The Labyrinth really is endless and just continues to expand as you explore. You’ll come across various puzzles which if you solve you gain access to chests, some of which contain magic spells. You also have to kill bosses in order to get rid of magical barriers so that you can access the next part of the Labyrinth. I found it quite addictive to keep exploring and wandering deeper and deeper.
Endless Labyrinth and Survival mode can be quite fun but it doesn’t quite make up for the lackluster Story mode. I really wanted to love this game but even without all the bugs there are plenty of other issues with the game. The storyline is nowhere near as good as the brilliant artwork and the missions that you complete get repetitive very quickly. I’m very interested to see what games Grimm Bros creates next though. I think that the DFS universe has the potential for great games in the future and hopefully Grimm Bros will have learnt a lot of lessons from DFS.
So, should you buy DFS? Overall DFS is seriously buggy at the moment but thankfully Grimm Bros do seem to be listening to feedback from players and are already planning to implement patches to try to solve some of the issues. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they’re also looking into the problem of tiny writing on the item descriptions. I was expecting that to be something that we’d just have to live with so it’s great to hear it might get fixed. Unfortunately while the Endless Labyrinth and Survival mode are fun the dull Story mode, clunky controls and messy UI really let the game down. For anyone interested in trying a roguelike game for the first time then DFS might be a good place to start as it’s an easy introduction into the genre but I would have to recommend that they at least wait for the game to be patched before trying.