The first chapter of Dragon Fantasy centers around Ogden, an aging knight who attempts to chase after a dark knight after he attacks the castle and steals the prince Ogden intends to protect. He shortly thereafter learns that he needs to track down hidden pieces of armor to defeat the Dark Knight by himself.
While it’s somewhat interesting to play an RPG with one party member, there’s very little that felt particularly special outside of that. In the first chapter, each fight is one on one, with Ogden choosing to attack, use magic, use items, or run away each turn, and then attacking either before or after his opponent depending on their speed. You get more magic as you level up, too.
It’s workmanlike, but it’s fast enough to make grinding more tolerable. It’s also handy that if you die, you return to the last church you’ve visited (combination save points and respawn points) with all of your experience and items, but only half your gold. It’s better than losing all your experience when you miss one too many times in a row (which is more common than you might expect, missing attacks will typically happen multiple times to both Ogden and his opponents in an extended encounter).
Later chapters incorporate other party members, the ability to capture enemy monsters, and allow you to fight multiple enemies at a time. I like how fast it feels that you choose your entire party’s attacks before your party and your enemies attack each other based on speed, but combat isn’t too dramatically different here either.
So it’s a very simple RPG. One would expect however, that if combat wasn’t anything special, and the story was pretty archetypical, that the writing or characters would make up for it. Dragon Fantasy has a perpetually snarky, silly tone, which would be fine if that wasn’t all there was. Enemies like Mr. Rock Monster and Mrs. Rock Monster attack you, and their attacks reference each other. Mr. Rock Monster might hurt Ogden by trying to explain the lipstick on his collar whereas Mrs. Rock Monster might yell at Ogden about the dishes. These are cute the first time, but at one point, in the middle of all my grinding, I just started mashing through the text. It is kind of cute that even palette swapped monsters have their own attacks and their own death description, but when even monsters are silly, it just kind of feels like nothing matters.
This extends to characters, too. Because of the tone, all of the characters tend to sound the same. A number of characters will tell you to do something or even just tell you something, then basically end whatever they said with what’s effectively a “just kidding!” in the same line you talk to them or after you’ve fetched whatever object they asked you to fetch. Because everything felt like a joke, I never really got invested in any of the characters. With a series like Disgaea, the characters feel different from each other there are also moments where the game will stop being zany for a moment to let their characters grow. Dragon Fantasy just has characters constantly being silly and it made it hard to care. Some stuff amused me, but because of the constant silliness I never really cared about what was going on. I didn’t care about Ogden or the mysterious spellcasting woodsman or… anyone.
Dragon Fantasy rides on the supposition that the player will have some nostalgia for the sorts of Super Nintendo RPGs that it imitates. I don’t have that nostalgia. I wonder if I would have gotten more enjoyment out of it if I grew up with the likes of Dragon Quest IV and V and other 16-bit RPGs. It just felt like I could get everything I could get out of Dragon Fantasy from one of the games it references, and I would actually care because one of those games wouldn’t constantly be trying to get me to laugh. The story might actually have some weight.
Food for Thought:
1. There is a patch on its way to the Vita version which will fix the frequently-missing attacks and inexcusable lack of a run button. Those changes will hopefully make me like the game more.
2. I’m not sure if this was a deliberate nod to older RPGs, but there are a lot of grammatical issues in Dragon Fantasy, including one in the first line of the game.
3. There’s a strange flickering on some tiles as you walk. It’s not sprite flickering, but it’s like the brightness on certain tiles changes as you walk. Unfortunately, I couldn’t screencap it.
4. I personally preferred the game in its 8-bit style because of the way the music was arranged. However, when the patch arrives that allows you to toggle visuals and music independently of each other, I’ll probably use the enhanced spritework with the 8-bit soundtrack.