The same way that Dragon Fantasy Book I was a tribute to the 8-bit JRPGs of yesteryear, Dragon Fantasy Book II takes classic 16-Bit RPGs and blends them into a retro smoothie that entertains its target audience, though not without some caveats. Most notably, it boasts several technical problems that, sadly, drag the experience down. Despite being a game that looks as though it could have run on the SNES, its performance is dodgy at best on the PS3.
The game will regularly need to pause when you enter a new area and, whether you’re in battle or just running through an environmental effect, you’ll often experience slowdown when things get busy on-screen. These problems aren’t made any better by the Book II’s occasional bouts of buggy-ness. You can probably count on experiencing something unfortunate at some point, whether it be the game freezing or, in my case, having to fight the same boss battle twice because I stumbled back into said baddie’s area and the game (assumedly) hadn’t registered my first win.
These issue set aside however, Dragon Fantasy Book II is a lot of fun. When it starts off you’re playing as Ogden, the returning protagonist from Book One. An over-the-hill and out of retirement knight, he starts the game woken by a psychic message from a supposed princess. From there, the game launches the player on a quest to stop a big bad from doing evil stuff. It’s a plot that RPG fans have seen countless times before, but the overall goals of your quest tend to be on the peripheral of the game’s attention. They’re excuses for the adventure to be happening and little more.
Rather the game’s focus is referencing nerd culture and gently jabbing at RPG tropes wherever it can. You won’t need a honed eye to pick out allusions to H.P Lovecraft and Dr. Who, for instance. There’s also no shortage of more subtle moments to reward players who invest in exploration. Overall, the tone is very clearly geared toward humor and it has fun with its RPG and geek heritage. This isn’t to say the game’s playfulness excuses all of the story’s flaws. It could have done a better job of filling in the blanks for players who missed Book I, for instance. That said, its energy and drive to be entertaining is enough to hold its flaws at bay.
The game’s combat should feel immediately familiar to anyone who’s played an RPG on the Super Nintendo. No small part of this is owing to the fact that Book II basically cherry picks bits and pieces of gameplay from some of the most famous RPGs ever made. The core of its battle system is probably drawn most directly from Chrono Trigger. When you enter a dungeon you can see enemies and even avoid them at times. When you come into contact with one however, your party will enter into a turn-based battle where you’ll trade attacks and skills until you or your opponents are killed.
The game also incorporates a monster capturing system, a la Dragon Quest V, that allows you to add enemies to your party. It’s a nifty feature to have, but it’s not as useful as you’d want as the main cast will generally be more effective than your monster allies. It’s nice to have the option and it comes in handy during an extended bit where the main cast is split up, but it’s more of an ancillary feature than anything else.
Other parts of the game will also be less than appreciated. Book II boasts ship combat sequences, for instance, that are clearly well-intentioned but also never amount to much besides a boring diversion from the main experiences. Likewise, the game’s Bounty system falls short of its potential. Wherever you go in the game you’ll encounter people with problems that need solving. If you agree to help them you’ll be given a side quest that in turn can earn you cash and items in reward. On paper it’s a smart way to expand on the game’s content. In practice however, it never really amounts to more than busy work and fetch quests.
The game’s combat, while solid in mechanical terms, can also at times be a bit too easy. You’ll face the occasional baddie that might take a moment or two to wear down but, all-in-all, most encounters, boss battles included, are a breeze. In turn, retro fans hoping for something to kick in their teeth like the good old days might walk away a tad disappointed.
Perhaps the one element of the game that can’t be criticized is its presentation. Muteki has flawlessly recreated the look and sounds of 16-Bit era. You could play alongside any of the old classics and it wouldn’t look out of place. The music too, while perhaps not as immediately iconic and memorable as the titles it’s mimicking, is generally well done and always fits the mood. It’s worth mentioning that the pixelated visuals suffer from some stretching if played on a big screen TV, but if you’re playing on a smaller set or the Vita, you shouldn’t find anything to complain about.
In many ways Dragon Fantasy Book II is an ambitious undertaking, aiming to revisit and recreate one of the most beloved periods in console role-playing games. The fact that it’s not entirely successful is disappointing, to be sure, but nonetheless, Book II remains an entertaining experience that retro gamers and RPG devotees would be hard pressed to dislike. It has an inherent charm that helps lift it above the mire of its issues and, at the end of the day, it manages to be a fun game with a lot to enjoy. It might not stand as tall as the classics it emulates, but it’s hard to fault it for getting lost in the shade of giants.
Bottom Line: Technical flaws and narrative shortcomings aside, Dragon Fantasy Book II is a fun, retro-inspired RPG that hits the notes it needs to.
Recommendation: Plain and simple, this was made for hardcore and old school RPG fans.[rating=3.0]
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.
Game: Dragon Fantasy Book II
Developer: Muteki Corporation
Publisher: Muteki Corporation
Platform(s): PS3, PS Vita