The retro gaming scene is incredibly hot right now. And if you like those games, that hotness is definitely a double-edged sword. There is a lot to play, but much of that probably isn’t worth playing. Add to that the risks inherent in games designed to be funny, and Dragon Fantasy is a game with little chance of being good. But you know the thing about having a one in a million shot? It means you still have a shot, and Dragon Fantasy makes the most of its shot.
As you may guess from its name, Dragon Fantasy pays homage to the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games of yesteryear. Like some of those games, its story is not incredibly complex – you play Ogden, a hero who defeated a dragon at the age of 16… and had his hair burned off in the process. 30 years later, he is the head of the queen’s personal guard, seen as an elder statesman whose days of action are behind him. When the prince is kidnapped, however, Ogden follows the evildoer through a portal and finds himself alone, injured, and lost many miles away from the castle, but still determined to carry out his mission. The developers wisely recognize that in a “funny” game, less is often more, so the story is played fairly straight rather than for laughs. It hits a number of the requisite clichés like the old woodsman who is clearly more than he seems and the village full of friendly pirates, but I never felt like I was simply playing RPG bingo.
If you have ever played the games Dragon Fantasy is mimicking, you’ll know exactly what kind of gameplay you have in store. You run around an overworld map looking for the next dungeon or town, randomly encountering enemies at just the right rate as you go. Ogden fights solo, and his enemies are thoughtful enough to do the same. Those enemies are the source of much of the game’s humor, which they bring through their designs, their attacks, and even their names. Most of the enemies are palette-swapped, like a set of werewolves, but their names made me literally laugh out loud the first time I ran into each set. Another enemy, Mr. Rock Monster, attacks by complaining about his wife, and when you run into her later, you understand why. Does it really make sense that Ogden loses HP when Mrs. Rock Monster “cries into her chardonnay?” Not really, but it gets old more slowly than if she simply “attacks.”
As you level up, Ogden learns both offensive and defensive spells to supplement his physical attacks, but his MP totals mean that he is generally best used as a barbarian who can heal himself when needed. It all works well, and the only nitpick I could level against the gameplay is that the text in battle indicates that “you” do some things, and “Ogden” does others. “You valiantly attack,” but “Ogden is hit for 9 damage.” I’ve intentionally mixed my references that same way in this review, so if it doesn’t bother you here, it probably won’t matter to Ogden in the game either. While I was playing, I wished that I could tell how effective equipment would be without buying it, but the developers have now patched the game and added that feature.
Visually, Dragon Fantasy does a great job paying tribute to classic RPGs. It’s not flashy, but it’s got just the right look in the overworld map, in town, and in battle. As I mentioned, the enemy designs are enjoyable, with the right level of humor, and given how often you see your enemies, that’s a good thing. The only thing I can think of as “wrong” with the game graphically is the boat you see in one of the towns – although it’s intended as a large ocean-going vessel, it’s the same size as Ogden. This may be a classic RPG in-joke that I don’t recognize, but it’s one I could have lived without.
Perhaps I shouldn’t say so, but I was surprised at how great the music is in this game. I expected the normal “take it or leave it” quality of iOS game music, but The Muteki Corporation really stepped it up in this area. My favorite track was the music that played in the first cave – it has a great echo that gives the perfect “I’m in a cave” feeling without losing the all-important “this is music, it should have rhythm” feeling. Listening to your own music while playing isn’t an option, but that’s really OK in this case.
It’s a rare game that doesn’t have a weak spot, and this game’s (non-fatal) flaw is the way it controls. iOS veterans are well acquainted with developers’ constant struggle to find a good d-pad/analog stick equivalent, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Dragon Fantasy goes for an approach similar to the one used in Chaos Rings: place your finger anywhere on the screen and drag in the direction you want to go. It works really well in Chaos Rings, but not so well here. I think the key difference is that Chaos Rings uses an analog stick and Dragon Fantasy (logically) uses a d-pad. As I played, I frequently found myself walking in a different direction than I intended to, because I had moved my finger too far from my virtual d-pad’s center point. When precision was needed, I took to making fairly short swipes, because they’d always move me in the direction I needed. I also felt like the game waits too long to allow you control again after transitions out of battle and between town and the world map. The controls aren’t terrible, and they don’t break the game; they’re just the weakest element of a game that’s quite good overall.
If you enjoy retro games on iOS, Dragon Fantasy is definitely worth your time. It has great music, good gameplay, and its only real issue is control. It’s only been out for a few weeks, but the developers are already releasing additional content, and they’re not done yet.