I Don’t Like Button Mashers!
RPGs are certainly one of the most venerable video game genres ever. And with something so old, you’ve really got to work hard toward ensuring it doesn’t die. Thankfully, RPGs have had some pretty excellent taking-care-of from various different franchises who are excellent at developing the genre to give players what they really want. Other titles in the genre, however, kind of seem to be stuck in the past.
And sadly, Dungeon Explorer: Warrior of the Ancient Arts is one of those games. It is easily one of the simplest, straight-up RPGs I’ve ever played. And that’s not a good thing. Compared to other role-playing titles on the DS — Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time as well as the cult classic LostMagic come readily to mind — Dungeon Explorer just doesn’t have a lot of interesting content to offer. And while what it does, it does well, I’d have a tough time really encouraging people to get out and purchase this title.
Dungeon Explorer, in a nutshell, is a hack-and-slash RPG. And sadly, this game isn’t much more than a “nutshell.” Usually when people use this expression, they’re trying to sum something up — to give a synopsis. But hack-and-slash and RPG are two terms that perfectly — and completely — describe Dungeon Warrior. You equip your characters with weapons, armor, and other accessories, and then go out and explore tons of different areas. Temples, dungeons, caves, and other such locales are pretty much all too expected — there’s not much variation at all in terms of where you play the game.
The titular “arts” of the game refer to magic, which is the second aspect of combat to take advantage of in Dungeon Explorer. Additionally, each character has some special abilities which can be utilized in battle. These are all fun to use, as is regular old attacking. The battle mechanic certainly isn’t the problem here, because while not fresh or innovative, it works. What doesn’t work, however, is the in-your-face monotony from which the game suffers after a few fun albeit brief hours with this title.
There are more than ten hours of gameplay to be had with Dungeon Explorer, but most of them may be wasted due to the fact that you’ve set this game aside after realizing that you’ve experienced everything the game has to offer in just a few short hours. The exploring concept is fun at first, but then the title just starts recycling everything and expects you to have fun doing everything multiple times. Enemies are constantly respawning, and much of dungeon “exploration” simply involves finding the generator and shutting it off…only to find out that there are another three you’ve got to get before progressing. It’s monotonous; it’s tedious; and after a while it just becomes a really boring button masher.
There are other problems with the game as well; the characters come first to mind. While they’re the focus of a plot that’s actually better than I would have expected (though by no means a “good” story arc), the character customization that is often a big part of great role playing titles is conspicuously absent in Dungeon Explorer. Sure, you gain experience and up your stats, but there’s no choosing class or specific specializations, nor is there even the option to choose among distinctly different characters at the game. You’ve got to accept what the game gives you, and it’s pretty much a carbon copy of your generic, standard, boring RPG.
The game also suffers in terms of presentation. The game’s visuals are spotty, featuring decent framerates but boring sprites and a lack of real color or even nice animation. Things look pretty bare, and it seems as if the dev team just did enough to scrape by. The same goes for the music: as with most games, it’s not bad, but it’s also not really good. You’d lose nothing of the game experience by keeping the volume off, which is a pity with a game that has some potential but doesn’t live up to it — any positive aspects, however small, would have helped hugely in making Dungeon Explorer a more attractive package.
It’s also a fairly easy game, and even those unfamiliar with the old-school hack-and-slash RPGs from which Dungeon Explorer obviously draws its inspiration should have no trouble succeeding at this game. In fact, the largest obstacle to completing this game is its repetition, not any enemy A.I. The vast majority of the uninspired foes you’ll encounter just wander aimlessly around or even stand still, and those that do attack lack the resolve to do much more then sweep down and unleash a weak and easily avoidable/blockable attack. Clever combinations or attacking strategies are made useless by the fact that you can beat the game via mindless button-mashing.
Yet the game does feature some form of redemption, and it comes in the form of multiplayer. Specifically online multiplayer. In fact, were the multiplayer more fleshed-out, I’d be fine with recommending Dungeon Explorer specifically for the online gameplay. You use your party from the single-player mode, which dictates the necessity for playing through all ten plus monotonous hours. However, for those that can stomach it, a really fun online experience awaits. You team up with other people and work together smashing through a dungeon. Voice chat would have been nice, but it’s still a lot of fun. And more importantly, all of the game’s flaws: monotony, poor graphics and music, ease of play, and general generic boredom disappear — or they’re at least but to the background, and to the foreground comes some real fun playing this game as it was clearly meant to be played. Sadly, the brevity of the online stops it from really being great: there’s only actually one dungeon online with only four floors. A map-maker seems ideal for this game, yet for whatever reason the developers left it out.
Overall, though, that’s just not enough to keep Dungeon Explorer from tripping itself up with its own mediocrity. While no particular aspect of the game is downright terrible, there’s just nothing I can really point to and say, “See, this part of the game is awesome!” If you’re a fan of old-school action RPGs, then you might consider renting this title, but even to such people I wouldn’t recommend a 30 dollar purchase. But the game has some real potential, and I for one am pulling for a more fleshed-out, smarter-developed sequel sometime in the future.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.6 Graphics
Not bad, but definitely not good. Smooth framerate, but the visuals overall are boring and fail to impress. .3.5 Control
They don’t hurt the game, but nor do they help it. Better touch interface on the DS would have been much appreciated. 2.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Another example of a game with sub-par sound. It doesn’t hurt the game, but I want a title where the music really enhances the gameplay. 2.9
A mixed bag: the single player is boring, and you probably won’t even finish. For those who do, a better, though tragically short, online mode awaits.
2.4 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.