Have you ever wondered who it was that constructed the well-made dungeons that a seemingly intelligence-challenged monster resides in? Just ask The Architect, the main character of Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground, developed by Global A Entertainment and released in North America by XSEED Games. The Architect has purchased a large plot of land in a town plagued by monster attacks and hopes to not only win acclaim with the townspeople but to attract the Wandering Demon, a legendary monster seeking to inhabit only the most labyrinthine dungeon, by building that very dungeon. It’s a tantalizing notion for a player; conceptualize their own dungeon to hunt monsters in. The important question, though, is, “Does Dungeon Maker turn that dream into an entertaining game?” The answer is yes… and no.
For those looking for a binding tale of suspense and peril during the Architect’s quest for glory, it’s not to be found in Dungeon Maker. What story there is exists simply to frame the quests that players will receive. All the quests are very basic, both in their introduction and their execution, such as, “Find a bone ring for the museum,” which leaves players hunting for Skeletons in their dungeon. There’s really not much in the way of character development, and all twelve or so of the city’s inhabitants are incredibly one-dimensional. While it’s clear that this wasn’t the key point that the developer wanted to exhibit, it’s clear early on that little effort went into the story. Even with the subpar story, however, XSEED has provided a localization with little in the way of flaws, though it lacks in pizzazz, probably due to the original script.
While the developers didn’t seem to spend a lot of time with the story, creation of the dungeons themselves is not only easy to do, but is easily the most entertaining part of the game. Players end up creating a twenty-level dungeon, with each floor being assigned a rating based on its twists, turns, amount and types of rooms, even how the corridors are decorated. Dungeon Maker allows PSP owners to make just about any corridors that they want, giving them straight, L-shaped, T-shaped, and +shaped corridors, as well as small rooms with 1, 2, or 4 doors, and rooms of varying sizes above that. These rooms can then be modified even further into altars, guest rooms, staircase rooms and the like, while the corridors can be given different facades to appeal to different types of monsters, which is the main reason for modifying corridors after their creation.
The creation itself is very easy to do, as players simply need to move to a wall and press the triangle button, opening the room menu. Players then choose the type of room or corridor they want, its orientation, and the room appears right away in that spot. Modifying the corridors and rooms is not quite as simple, as it requires players to venture into the menu and select Architecture. Via this method, players are also able to remove rooms and corridors, though players shouldn’t look to recycle upper levels below, as monsters want a dungeon that’s as physically large as possible. Dungeon creation, overall, is very fluid, though there are a few hitches when it comes to removing and replacing parts.
However, once a dungeon is constructed, the Architect must spend a night at home to allow monsters to populate it. During this down-time between days, the Architect can buy and sell goods and magic, obtain quests from townsfolk, and eat a hearty meal, which modifies his stats. He’s also able to obtain rewards from the town leadership by slaying a certain number or type of monster. Time in town is essentially there to sell goods, get quests, and save, since there is little in the way of story or interaction with NPCs.
The issue with Dungeon Maker’s fun is that when you return to your dungeon, the gameplay takes a turn downward. While the Architect has access to quite a few weapons, spells, and items, everything feels incredibly repetitive. The movements are slow and jerky, and it feels as if the numbers just happen to be getting bigger the further you get into the game. The controls in general feel a bit unresponsive as well. Most of the time, it’s best for players not to engage in combos, but to wait for the first animation to finish, then begin another, as combos slow down the player’s strikes and makes him much more vulnerable. Quite possibly the largest strike against Dungeon Maker’s gameplay is its best feature – your dungeon. Traveling through the same dungeon, over and over, day after day, becomes incredibly boring. Even with different monsters spawning, players will know exactly where their treasure rooms are, where bosses would spawn if they’ve appeared for that level of the dungeon, and where they need to go to be most efficient. While this is fantastic in regards to the creation of the dungeon, repeating the same labyrinth so many times is simply tedious. While Global A hit their main feature incredibly well, design-wise, it doesn’t make for the most appealing hack-and-slash experience.
Returning to the positive, one other thing that Dungeon Maker succeeds in is looking good on the PSP. While it doesn’t look as good as, say, Burnout Dominator or other top-tier PSP titles, it also doesn’t suffer from the massive loading times that many of these titles do. Animations for the Architect are fluid and look great, as do all of his spell and summon animations, which give the sometimes-bleak dungeons some light. The 2D art for the townspeople looks good too, though it doesn’t change during the course of the game. Overall, the game is solid in the graphics department, and only the most nit-picky PSP gamer should be disappointed with this facet.
The aural component of Dungeon Maker isn’t quite as positive, though. While sound effects fit their place well, the music for Dungeon Maker is pretty horrible. The synth guitar track that sits in as Dungeon Maker’s battle music sounds like something that would come out of bad 80s keytar, though the dungeon exploration music isn’t quite as bad.
Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground is a mixed bag. Rather than randomize everything, it allows players to create their own world, which is both its biggest draw and biggest flaw. For those who are looking for something new and unique on their PSP, or those who just want to get their creative juices flowing, Dungeon Maker might be something to look at. However, anyone seeking a dungeon crawl should look elsewhere, as Dungeon Maker simply feels too repetitive.