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Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Hudson
Developer: Hudson
Genre: Action RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 02/12/08
Japan 11/15/07
Official Site: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 55%
Sound: 80%
Gameplay: 87%
Control: 75%
Story: 50%
Overall: 70%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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What's your point?
 
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Watch out for the giant cartoon axe!
 
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Drowning in poison goo.
 
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Yeah, um...could you appraise the value of this game?
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John McCarroll
Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts
03/08/08
Patrick Gann

The original Dungeon Explorer, by today's standards, is a boring generic dungeon-crawling RPG. The TG-16 version of the game was put on Wii's Virtual Console recently, and Hudson seems ready to revive the franchise with some new games. Thus came the simultaneous release of "Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of the Ancient Arts" for DS and PSP. But don't be fooled: despite having the same name, the games are very different. This isn't a Pokémon color-esque difference: the PSP version has different classes from the DS game, and they take place in different times in places with a different plot in general. This review, of course, is for the DS version.

Story

The game opens with a cut scene of an elderly goblin telling a story about evil Necromancers to the young goblin spawn around a campfire. Another narrator also gives the backdrop of the current setting; in the country of Westria, an ancient and evil god named "Breed" is sealed. It seems that someone is planning to bring him back, and it will be up to adventurers like you to halt the resurrection process. Ready, set, go! And the game begins.

You begin in the town of Sord, where a mercenary captain gives you the basic information, the lay of the land, that sort of thing. After some opening "tutorial" quests, you enter a temple and learn one of a variety of special attacks; after that, the real journey begins.

Though there is no such thing as character development in a game of this sort, there is still a fair amount of dialogue. The various NPCs that offer you quests and tell you more about the world of Westria are actually fairly interesting. They help to paint a somewhat standard medieval fantasy world, but there are a few twists. Goblins that have chosen the path of good over evil, generals who follow the will of their superiors over conscience, men who do evil things in an attempt to rectify past wrongs: okay, they may be unoriginal, but they still work well for a game of this nature.

Of course, I don't need to defend this game's plot-based merits; you and I both know that it has very few merits in the first place, and that's not where this game tries to sell itself anyway. The same can be said of another aspect of this game...

Graphics

The graphics in this game are functional. They serve the purpose of letting you know what you're looking at, and that's about it. Outside of maybe the world map (which is well-illustrated, but sparse), there is nothing in this game I would call "beautiful." Much of it, indeed, I am happy to call "ugly." The rest is somewhere in between. The screen shots speak for themselves; if you want eye candy, you've picked up the wrong game.

Sound

I was pleasantly surprised by Dungeon Explorer's soundtrack. Contrasting with the harsh pixelated visuals of the game are some lovely melodies, some of which seem to surpass the usual fuzzy-synth sound that I expect to hear from a DS. From epic battle music to airy, enigmatic piano tunes, this dungeon-crawler at least got one part right.

The "voice acting" in Dungeon Explorer comprises of some generic grunts, groans, and exclamations made to replace actual speech during bits of dialogue. Like the graphics, these are "functional," but they do bring a bit of charm with them: especially in the case of the goblins. I appreciated this little touch to bring something special to the game (it certainly needs something special to help, right?)

Control

Now, while I said the DS and PSP versions of the game are totally different, I do confess that the basic control mechanics are essentially the same. How do I know this? Consider the obvious: there is zero touch screen compatibility in this game. In fact, you even have the option to switch the top and bottom screens, as it makes precious little difference which screen goes where. This certainly hurts the case that the game was made with the DS in mind.

That said, the control scheme for this game is pretty intuitive, and the D-pad functions well on its own for character movement. Menu navigation is a little disconcerting, but one gets used to it after playing the game for awhile.

Gameplay

This is the make-or-break point. I'm generally not fond of dungeon crawlers, and as a rule, if a game has the name "Dungeon" in it, I'm probably not going to like it. I've played my fair share of dungeon crawling Action RPGs, and I've disliked most of them. Yet for some reason, some inexplicable reason, I thought that Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts was incredibly fun to play. I never would've guessed how much I would enjoy a game that, on the surface, seemed so bland.

There's little original about the game. You begin by choosing one of a number of classes (basically the warrior/rogue/mage paradigm with some variation) and move from there. Leveling up grants you points you can assign to one of four different statistics. What you can or cannot equip varies on what your class is, as well as your current level and statistics. You can, optionally, be accompanied by a pet robot that later gains the ability to evolve into one extremely powerful and helpful tag-along. Items and spells are used by assigning them to an on-screen battle palette. None of this should sound original, but put together just right on a handheld, and it can still be tons of fun.

The pace, learning curve, and difficulty also drew me into the game. You have no difficulty option: it comes just as it is. And that "as it is" turns out to be fairly challenging at certain points in the game. There is little strategy involved when it comes to actual combat and placement. The keys to success are item management, proper spell/ability usage, and a little bit of button mashing to top it off.

The variation in character classes and abilities gives the game excellent replay value. This is especially important since the single player campaign is fairly short (I'd say between five and ten hours). Multiplayer capabilities do exist, but of course, you'll need to have another friend with the game to enjoy this. I would recommend it though, since multiplayer certainly brings out the best in this niche genre.

Overall

On the surface, Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts can give nothing more than the title implies. The question I had to ask myself after playing the game: is that a bad thing? Not necessarily; with proper execution, a little bit of fun, if pointless, dungeon-crawling button-mashing can really bring some joy to a gamer's life. Granted, Dungeon Explorer lacks some of that proper execution, particularly with the graphics and the storytelling, but overall, it's not a bad game. If you want to add something fun and lighthearted to your DS library, don't pass up Hudson's handheld treat.



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© 2008 Hudson. All rights reserved.


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