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Old 03-17-2012, 12:24 PM   #1 (permalink)
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One-Hour Retrospective: Dragon Crystal for Game Gear

You don't have to play classic games with caveats like, "It starts slow, but after the first 20 hours it really starts to get interesting!" With few exceptions, you can play an older game for a few minutes and get an accurate sense of its worth. With that rule in mind, One-Hour Retrospectives are exactly as they sound: We'll play a classic game (like those on Virtual Console) for an hour and report back on how it goes. And if we should have given it another 19 hours before it became interesting, well, that's where you come in to keep us honest.

I don't know what idiot at Namco decided that publishing Nightmare of Druaga in the U.S. was a good idea -- though clearly they didn't put much effort into it, since they didn't even bother to change its Japanese title "Fushigi No Dungeon" to the English "Mystery Dungeon" -- but I sure am glad they did. I was probably the only person in America crazy enough to buy a dungeon crawler based on the Tower of Druaga license, but it was the game that caused the roguelike genre to "click" for me. It's not a genre for everyone, though, and I'm sure most people who drop three bucks on the first Game Gear RPG for 3DS Virtual Console -- Dragon Crystal -- will find it inscrutable and unenjoyable. But that's not fair to the game. It's simply playing by the rules of a genre that, in its day, was almost entirely relegated to mainframe computers and university VAX systems.



I don't know what possessed Sega to create a roguelike for its 8-bit handheld, but here you go. Dragon Crystal (which also exists in a hard-to-come-by Master System version) does an admirable job of, well, doing its job. A surprising number of features from Rogue and Nethack made it into this humble little handheld dungeon crawler. Maps and item attributes are randomized, forcing you to explore mazes with a very limited line-of-sight in search of gear, food, and exits. Moreover, the randomization means you need to use-ID gear with every playthrough, because the Bronze Pot that turned out to be a healing potion in one run may come up as a stamina-draining poison in the next.

Obviously, given its technical limitations and the fact that it's designed to work around two buttons rather than entire keyboard, Dragon Crystal lacks the stunning variety and depth of Nethack and its kin. But you have to give it credit -- it's a respectable effort. It has some fairly interesting enemy designs. Frogs that can deal poison status (which prevents health regeneration) show up early. A few floors later you begin encountering metal spheres that deal insane damage but are worth tons of experience; the thing is, they won't bother you unless you attack them first, so it becomes a question of how eager you are to risk death for a level-up. Then there are the land sharks, which are less hilarious than their Saturday Night Live precedent might suggest: They pop out of the ground to attack you and deplete your food stores, making them incredibly dangerous.

Dragon Crystal even demonstrates a bit of mercy by letting players continue, something unusual in the roguelike space, though after my third death it was a hard game over. (Apparently you can buy continues with the money you collect.) And then there's the question of your dragon companion, which follows along beside you and grows as you level up. Mine turned from an egg into a baby but never really participated in combat before I died for good, so I'm not entirely clear on its purpose.

In any case, Dragon Crystal is easily the strongest of the Game Gear debut titles to hit Virtual Console this week, although it's also the most acquired taste. At the very least, it's the only one I wanted to keep playing after an hour. But then again, I've grown to be quite the masochist over the past few years.



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  great game.
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Old 03-17-2012, 03:45 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: One-Hour Retrospective: Dragon Crystal for Game Gear

I'm surprised to see Dragon Crystal! It's not the most glowing review but it's something.

Retro Uprising - Arcade - Dragon Crystal
Retro Uprising - Arcade - Dragon Crystal
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