Dew Prism is Square's latest action RPG, and before its release, it promised to be an excellent one. Integral members of the development team responsible for Square's hit RPG Xenogears were involved in Dew Prism's development, and a playable demo of the game included with Seiken Densetsu: Legend of Mana hinted that the finished product could rank among the action RPG elite. Unfortunately, potential is often unfulfilled, and Dew Prism is no exception; it turns out to be a disappointingly average action RPG.
In Dew Prism, you get to choose between 2 main characters to play as. Rue is a white-haired warrior who pursues the power of the Dew Prism in order to resurrect his sister Claire, who died saving his life from a mysterious man with a giant claw for a right hand. Rue is the typical hero in terms of his personality; he's quiet, polite, and pure-hearted.
Mint is a red-haired sorceress who, like Rue, wants the Dew Prism so she can right a wrong. Her goal is a bit more selfish, however. Mint's younger sister Maya has usurped her throne, and Mint is determined to return the throne to its rightful owner.
In spite of the just goal of her quest, Mint's no saint. She's manipulative, deceitful, and conniving, and throughout the game, RPG fans will get to see her work her dubious charms on the denizens of Dew Prism. Despite the fact that Mint's personality traits probably aren't what you would look for in an ideal girlfriend, they make playing as her a lot of fun.
As a matter of fact, Mint's rambunctious personality is just about the only thing in Dew Prism's storyline that kept me interested. Dew Prism's plot (from both Rue's side and Mint's side) is generally a complete snore of a pedestrian find-the-all-powerful-artifact quest. The event-based parts of the plot show little imagination, and character development is minimal. The interaction between some of the characters (the villains Belle and Duke, in particular) is quite entertaining, but these moments are few and far between, and you have to sit through more substantial periods of dull interaction with irritating characters (Elena and Primadoll, in particular) to get to them.
From a gameplay standpoint, Rue and Mint's quests are nearly identical, with only one playable area unique to each quest. However, since Rue and Mint differ drastically in their abilities, the puzzles that they solve within the areas that they share differ somewhat. As should be obvious from above, their storylines differ significantly, though they do revolve around the central goal of seeking the Dew Prism.
Dew Prism's gameplay is mostly fairly standard action RPG fare, and it's generally quite well executed. Rue and Mint run around hacking and slashing enemies of varying strengths and speeds. The difficulty balance is strong, and defeating bosses takes solid strategy but is never ridiculously difficult. Like most action RPGs, items can be found, and better weapons can be purchased in a shop.
Some features of Dew Prism's gameplay set it apart from the rest of the action RPG field, though. The most significant of these is that Rue and Mint have distinctly different abilities, and, as a result, your strategy of play will likely be very different between the two characters. Rue uses the Arc Edge, an axe-like weapon, as his primary form of attack. He has 2 different strengths of attack with the Arc Edge. Most importantly, he can transform into nearly any enemy (other than bosses) that he has defeated and use their abilities to his advantage. Rue can hold up to 4 monster forms at a time, and each of them is immediately and infinitely accessible.
Mint's primary form of attack is a pair of metal rings. Unlike Rue, she doesn't have multiple strengths of attack with her primary weapon. She also can't transform like Rue does. However, Mint does bring something of her own to the table, and that something is magic. Mint can utilize seven different types of magic in Dew Prism, and each type of magic can have up to seven different forms for her to use. She starts with only two types of magic and two forms of each type, but she rapidly gains increased magic abilities as her quest progresses.
Another one of Dew Prism's iconoclastic gameplay features is the fact that it doesn't use a traditional experience point system. There are no experience points or experience levels in Dew Prism. Instead, Rue and Mint increase their hit points through taking damage; the more damage they take, the more hit points they gain. Magic points are increased in a similar manner, but through magic use instead of damage received.
Dew Prism does have some significant flaws in its execution, though. Outside of certain rooms in towns, the camera is completely controlled by the computer, and, throughout most of the game, the scope of the camera is too small. In other words, the scale of the screen is big enough so that enemies aren't visible onscreen until they're about 2 steps away from you. This presents the obvious problem of giving you an unrealistically small amount of time to react to an enemy's presence. In addition, the camera often rests in bad angles, so gamers will get a poor view of the action from their vantage point.
The limited scope of the camera is an even bigger problem when you fight bosses. It's extremely difficult to keep the camera on several of the bosses in Dew Prism. Because the bosses are bigger, faster, and stronger than the regular enemies, this flaw sometimes proves to be ridiculously frustrating during the boss fights.
Another execution flaw that Dew Prism holds is in its automatic targeting system. In Dew Prism, when enemies are near you, you don't have to face them to hit them, because the computer will automatically direct your character to face the enemy nearest you. This is fine when you are fighting one enemy, and even proves to helpful when you are pinned in a location with a bad camera angle.
However, this system proves to be more trouble than it's worth when you fight multiple enemies simultaneously. Because the computer automatically targets the enemies for you, you can't choose which enemy you want to attack. This flaw is most bothersome during some of the boss fights in which objects that can be attacked are placed in the background.
Like Square's Brave Fencer Musashi, Dew Prism features a healthy dose of the "Ninja Gaiden Syndrome". As a matter of fact, the Ninja Gaiden Syndrome is a bit more prevalent in Dew Prism than in BFM. For more information on this irritating phenomenon, refer to my Brave Fencer Musashi review.
Despite pretty strong gameplay execution overall, Dew Prism features some problems in its gameplay design. There's only one town in the entire game, so gamers who like substantial non-combat interaction in their RPGs are going to be disappointed. Also, in-game item use doesn't exist in Dew Prism. You can find items, but the only thing that you can do with them (other than the items that allow you to continue when you die) is sell them or give them to someone in order to trigger an event.
Also, Dew Prism is just too inconsistent in its overall flow. It seems like every the game starts to get good, it'll force you to play through an extremely irritating area. For example, after I cleared the first two areas of the game (both of which were constructed well), Belle stole a tiara that I had found in an ancient ark. In other words, things were starting to get interesting. However, the next area of play was the pastel-drenched Mel's Atelier, easily one of the most irritating areas to play through in any video game. Forcing the player to go through this area at this specific time causes Dew Prism to lose nearly all of its previous momentum. Unfortunately, Dew Prism never recovers from this.
Control was extremely promising in Dew Prism's demo, but in the final game, it's by far the game's biggest weakness. Directional movement is actually very responsive, in general. Your characters respond immediately to directional pad movements, and they move quickly through the lush environments of the game.
However, the jump control is inexcusable. Jump control seemed very strong in Dew Prism's demo; however, the demo didn't require the precise jumps that the final game does. The jumping is extremely unresponsive in the full game to the point of the player having nearly no control over the distance of his or her jumps.
Compounding the problem of the unresponsive jumping is the fact that collision detection is inaccurate. With objects in the background, the collision detection isn't great, but that weakness pales in comparison to the fact that collision detection with edges of cliffs and ledges is terrible. Gamers should expect to fall off a lot of ledges in this game. As a matter of fact, the poor collision detection and jump control are perhaps the primary factors in why certain areas of the game (the aforementioned Mel's Atelier, for example) are so frustrating and irritating to play through.
In contrast with its control, Dew Prism's graphics are its strongest department. The polygonal backgrounds hold a respectable amount of detail and are mostly well colored; in some places, they're slightly reminiscent of the beautiful backgrounds in Brave Fencer Musashiden. The polygonal characters are unfortunately also quite reminiscent of those of BFM, though. They are somewhat lacking in detail and get a bit blocky when they animate. The spell effects, while not spectacular, are solid.
The most impressive thing about Dew Prism's visual presentation is the animation of the characters. The characters aren't fully realistically proportioned, but they certainly move like they are real. The fluidity and realism of the character movements (especially those of the 2 leads) is spectacular and deserves to be fully commended. It's perhaps the best in-game character animation that this reviewer has ever seen.
Dew Prism doesn't fare quite as well in the sound department. The sound effects are very strong, but they're the best that Dew Prism's sound department has to offer. There's no voice acting in Dew Prism, and the soundtrack is extremely inconsistent.
Dew Prism's soundtrack certainly has its high points. The highlight of these is the Corona Forest theme that accompanies the first playable dungeon area in the game. Its mellow yet haunting clarinet-driven melody recalls to mind the amazing abandoned mine theme from Ys I. The Corona Town theme is similarly strong.
However, some of the songs in the soundtrack are nearly intolerable. The theme that plays outside of Maya's Tower is terribly grating, and there's no doubt that the repetitive background music of the infamous Mel's Atelier area contributes to the location's annoyance factor. In addition, the boss themes are among the weakest that RPGs have to offer.
The sound quality of the music also tends to vary wildly. It also seems to vary directly with the composition quality of the music. For example, the Corona Town and Corona Forest themes sound almost as if they were played with real instruments, while the aforementioned Maya's Tower theme and boss themes sound blatantly synthesized.
Terrible control and uninspired gameplay make Dew Prism a very average action RPG. It's still got its merits, but this one isn't highly recommended unless you've got nothing else to play.
A US release is expected sometime in the year 2000.