Dragon Fantasy Book II is a game with a lot of heart. Everything, from the sprites to the dialogue, has the feel of the creators’ presence. It pulls from great source material and has some interesting ideas. Unfortunately, it isn’t any good. Dragon Fantasy is less than standard; most of its mechanics are available in better form elsewhere and what does work is hampered with technical problems.
Dragon Fantasy Book II does not start off on a good foot; it is apparent immediately that the visuals are a mess. The ugly character sprites and environmental designs have a rough quality that is unappealing. The problem with the art isn’t that it’s 16-bit, since there are many 16-bit games that hold up visually. The problem is a garish use of colour and uninspired locations. The music stands out against the mosaic of aesthetic problems with Dragon Fantasy Book II. It won’t stand the test of time, but it is perfectly functional. The retro charm eventually wears off, but the compositions stand up, communicating a sense of place more effectively then the visuals.
The saying goes, “if you’re going to steal, steal from the best,” and Dragon Fantasy Book II seems to have taken it as gospel. Dragon Fantasy takes liberally from the pinnacle of SNES RPG design (games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI) to inform much of its own design: split parties, visual style, combat, menus… the list goes on. All of this is okay, as it gets a few laughs and preys upon nostalgia pretty hard, but because it wears its references on its sleeve, Dragon Fantasy never feels like its own thing. Combat like Chrono Trigger’s is inherently pretty fun, but in Dragon Fantasy the strategies never evolve beyond those used in the first few hours; what you see is what you get. Compared to its sources of inspiration, Dragon Fantasy feels like a cheap knock-off thanks to laggy menus and constant glitching.
Technical errors are a constant irritating problem that undermined whatever joy I was able to wring out of Dragon Fantasy Book II. Throughout the game, I encountered a number of minor graphical glitches and display errors. Character movement sticking and menus that took a second too long to be comfortable were a constant problem. Sometimes, for reasons that were never explicitly communicated, selecting a target in combat was done through a menu instead of the on-screen selector. When this happened, enemy names would be displayed incorrectly and I was able to select dead enemies as targets. Sure, the game auto-corrected my attack to a living enemy, but the mere existence of this strange phenomenon was confusing and annoying. On top of that, on five occasions, Dragon Fantasy just flat-out froze, requiring a PS3 reset. Muteki Corp. clearly loves their game and their fans, though, as there have been a number of patches since the game’s release and they continue to listen to feedback and fix issues.
When it comes to story, Dragon Fantasy Book II offers very little outside of homage and a few laughs. Kyle Miller wrote in his review of the first Dragon fantasy that “Ogden is thrust into bland situations with generic dialogue that violates the ‘scrap the first thing that comes to mind’ rule of narrative design.” This is carried into Book II and it continues to bore. There are a few fun characters and situations (who doesn’t like penguins?), but the bland writing and attempts at parody are a problem.
To be fair, parodies are a hard thing to make and the longer the parody keeps going, the harder it is to keep funny. Dragon Fantasy Book II proves that the solution to that problem isn’t to constantly barrage the player with jokes. There is almost no line of text that isn’t in some way trying to be funny. Game, meme and movie references completely saturate the experience and will test your patience. It is hard to stay engaged when the game screams jokes in your ear every few seconds, rendering the story meaningless. All this communicates to me is that Dragon Fantasy is nothing but a big joke, and like most long-winded jokes, it stops being fun part of the way through.
There is no joy in writing negative things about a game that has its heart in the right place, a game that is trying. It feels as heartless as kicking a puppy. The people at Muteki Corp. made a game they and their fans would enjoy and there is definitely an audience for it. Unfortunately for anyone else, Dragon Fantasy Book II is often broken, and when it does work, it never transcends being derivative.