It must be tricky developing a traditional old school turn-based RPG for the modern age. The indie game scene is filled with traditional RPGs, be it a more traditional experience like Cthulhu Saves The World, or an interesting take on studying the genre such as Evoland—both games have a sense of humor. Dragon Fantasy Book I belongs in the former category, and it does a fine job providing a good sense of humor, even though it’s not worth playing through more than once.
I originally played Dragon Fantasy Book I when it was originally released on iOS devices with only one tale to be told. Now available on the PSN, Muteki has expanded the tale to encompass three different character’s perspectives: Ogden, Anders, and Jerald. There’s a fourth character, but it is largely (hilarious) bonus content. Ogden’s story is the meat of Dragon Fantasy’s world, and tells the tale of a former hero who must collect four pieces of armor in order to save a prince from the clutches of the Dark Knight. The kicker is that Ogden is balding and in his middle ages, though in all fairness he became bald after defeating a dragon at the age of 16. Ogden’s tale of abandoning retirement for adventure is an interesting take on the tropes of the genre. It also helps that the game has a sharp sense of humor, especially in the game’s battles.
The other two characters’ stories, however, provide mixed results. Anders’ tale is the weakest of the three. His tale coincides with Ogden’s. I thought at first that Anders’ tale would experience another adventure similar in length but in new locations. But suddenly after two dungeons Anders’ tale came to an anticlimactic close—just like that. Jerald’s tale is actually the most interesting. Jerald and his niece, Ramona, try to accumulate 20,000 pieces of gold so they can obtain the passports necessary for leaving behind their desert life. Jerald’s story is about as short as Anders’, and it does end on a cliffhanger; however, his ending is more satisfying.
Dragon Fantasy takes after Dragon Quest, and it definitely nails the look and feel. The original game only came with 8-bit graphics that absolutely looked like it belonged on the original Nintendo. The PSN version comes with upgraded graphics, which you can switch between in menu. The new graphics are reminiscent of Super Mario All-stars, in which Nintendo released upgraded versions Mario Bros. games with graphics suitable for a Super Nintendo. I thought this was a nice touch, considering the players can switch between them at any time. Muteki also upgraded the music in conjunction with the new graphics; however, the soundtrack was never noteworthy to begin with. Dragon Fantasy’s songs loop too quickly, and they just aren’t memorable. Still, the soundtrack at least sounds like it could have come from an NES game.
If you’ve played a turn-based RPG before—specifically Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior) —you’ll have no trouble getting into Dragon Fantasy Book I. For the uninitiated, Dragon Fantasy Book I is a traditional RPG that parodies and pays homage to old school RPG gameplay. You travel the world going to towns to stock up on items, weapons, and information. Then you visit dungeons to acquire the special pieces of armor, which will later be put to use. Battles occur randomly and are menu-driven in which you select attacks, items, and spells you want to use. You gain experience points upon defeating enemies, and you level up when you’ve accumulated the required amount. Should you face defeat at the hands of the enemy, you come back to life at the nearest church, which is also where you save your game, with all of your items and experience; however, you will lose half of your gold.
This game is designed for a specific audience, so if you don’t like turn-based RPGs with random battles then you’re not going to like this game—not even the game’s excellent sense of humor will change your mind. Still, players looking for a game that plays like Dragon Quest or Earthbound will feel right at home. That doesn’t mean it’s not without flaws, however. Dragon Fantasy is largely linear game with little room for exploration. From the battle system’s perspective this is fine. The original game was designed for one character, Ogden, and the linear leveling system accommodates his well-rounded nature. However, you won’t find much reason to explore this world. There are four main dungeons including the final dungeon. You won’t find any optional side quests or equipment either. Combined with the high random-battle rate, this makes the grind that much more noticeable.
The other problem is that the game’s battle system was largely designed for Ogden alone. Anders’ and Jerald’s sections include more characters in the party, but most of the game’s challenge came from playing as Ogden alone. Muteki didn’t design the other two character’s section with this in mind, and neither proves a challenge as a result. Ogden had to worry about status effects and enemy speed (which comes in handy for choosing when to heal and when to attack). These challenges aren’t as pertinent for Jerald and Anders, and I found myself just simply mashing the attack command. The other problem for Jerald and Anders’ section is that you can’t go back and reselect your characters command, even if you haven’t finished your turn.
Dragon Fantasy also has some organizational issues in the main menu outside of battles. The game doesn’t show your characters’ level until you save the game or level up in battle. The equipment sub-menu also shows your regular items, which means there’s more to scroll through. Still, these are just some minor nitpicks and won’t ruin the experience.
Ogden’s story will last about 2-4 hours without optional grinding. Thankfully Muteki attempted to flesh out the content with the other two character’s stories which obviously leads to the start of the sequel. Both quests may add 2-4 additional hours, but they don’t span the globe quite like Ogden’s tale—Anders’ tale is especially disappointing. To make up for the unsatisfying quests, Muteki included an optional side story that’s (probably) not canon, which takes place in a certain popular video game that I probably shouldn’t spoil…Oh all right, it takes place in Minecraft! Even though I’ve never played Minecraft, I’ve seen enough You Tube videos to enjoy the 8-bit rendition of the world while fighting the popular enemies in turn-based style. The game even alters its mechanics slightly to fit into the Minecraft world. So with all of the stories combined you could finish all of the main plot in about 6-10 hours, which is fine for an indie RPG; however, each individual story other than Ogden’s doesn’t really provide substantial, stand-alone quest typically found in an RPG.
Dragon Fantasy Book I emits 8-bit charm. Ogden is a perfect representation of the game—appropriately aged but still has some fight in him. It’s a shame that the other stories aren’t able to stand alone, and they provide some fluff on an otherwise short experience. The game is clearly aimed at those in love with the genre, but there’s no shortage of indie turn-based RPGs that harken to older times, and while Dragon Fantasy is funny it doesn’t necessarily stand out. That’s not to say I wish ill will on Muteki, as the sequel looks like it takes inspiration from Chrono Trigger, but the first game doesn’t provide enough of a reason to go through the grind more than once.