People really don’t give the TurboGrafx-16 enough credit. In a time where the NES was dominating gaming, the underrated console was producing some of the best action and shoot-em up titles of all time; Dracula X: Rondo of Blood anyone? Another one of these classics was Dungeon Explorer, a dungeon crawler in the same vein as Gauntlet. The title featured everything you could ask for in an action-RPG and is a game that has aged quite well over the years, hence its recent release on the Wii Virtual Console.
Realizing this, Hudson Soft took it upon themselves to revive a game that was almost two decades old. And while there have been successful delayed sequels in the past, Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts is not one of them. Did something get lost in translation? Have people’s taste in what action games should be changed over the last twenty years? Whatever the case, it is quite obvious that the game needed a couple more years of polishing before its release. Astute as it is, one can’t change the hands of time.
With a name like Dungeon Explorer, you can probably surmise that the story will be just as generic. The game does feature multiple races at the character selection screen, but in the end, all pathways eventually follow the same major plot. Basically, the sorcerer of the kingdom, Deldren, implores the king to find some mighty warriors who will be able to seal up some monster infested dungeons. With a storyline this original, one can’t help but feel excited, right? Well, if the sarcasm fooled you, then I believe you’ve already made your decision on picking up the game, but Hudson had quite a long time to release a sequel to a two decade old game. I’m pretty sure they could’ve come up with something with a little less of an “eighties” Saturday morning cartoon feel. Nevertheless, once you get beyond the introduction, you will have a chance to fashion your very own dungeon crawler. Excited yet?
If there is one thing to give Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts credit for, it would be the customization options for your avatar. Most dungeon crawlers will give you a list of pre-made characters with virtually no difference between them other than appearance (see Gauntlet). Thankfully though, your options are divided between three unique races: the Izark, Ist, and Olff. The Izark bear a resemblance to your average human, with sizes ranging from five to six feet in height. The Ist can be correlated to elves, with pointy ears, sharp eyes, and thin frames comprising their appearance. And lastly, what would any adventure game be without a lizard-type race? The Olff can be closely compared to a hybrid between a goblin and orc, though their look is a little less menacing than the types seen in Warhammer or World of Warcraft. With your race selected, you will then have the option to choose one of six classes, ranging from a healer type (Bishop) to those that prefer the heat of battle (Monk, Fighter, Hunter). And while each class has its own advantages, they generally play the same way, due in part to the lackluster fighting system.
Well to be honest, the combat in Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts is more uninspired than lackluster. Each class has a few special attacks, but you will be using those same techniques over and over again, to the point that they will not feel so “special” anymore. Ranged attacks are also frustrating because it is impossible to lock onto enemies, thus you will sometimes miss your target if you are off by just the slightest angle. Ugh, it seems that so many role-playing games these days go the mediocre route down generic lane. Whether it be the hack and slash combat style with little to no variety whatsoever or the unimaginative monster spawns found in these dark and dingy labyrinths, it would be nice to see a little flare here and there to liven things up. Square or Game Arts should really just introduce a class called “RPG 101” for these less experienced developers. Sadly, the combat system in Dungeon Explorer isn’t the only problem the title suffers with. The A.I., especially for your teammates, is among the poorest I’ve seen in a role playing game. Now, I know computer controlled allies are probably difficult to program, but all one needs to do is look at Kingdom Hearts to see how it is done right.
Healing you when you are low on health, ridding status effects when you are poisoned or fatigued or just staying the hell back when you want a one on one; see how nice that would be if a computer controlled character could simulate a real player? Unfortunately in Dungeon Explorer, you’ll have to put up with a group of compatriots who suffer from “Leroy Jenkins” syndrome. Now, all that’s been said thus far pertains to when you venture out of the main town, which is the other point of interest when you are not slaying monsters. Using a similar setup to that of Guild Wars, you will grab what quests and items you can in the central hub and then head out into the wilderness with up to three assistants depending on the difficulty. Though helpful at first, the tagalongs will quickly get overwhelmed and you will find yourself having to revive them continuously, especially during the boss fights. There is an option to keep your party on the defensive, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
It goes without saying that the multiplayer option fairs much better than the single player because of the interaction. You and up to two other players can take part in some dungeon crawling, with the options available being based on the host’s main file. As with the story mode, there is the central hub and alternate pathways depending on how much of the story the primary player has progressed through. Another nifty implementation is that you can gain recovered items in this mode, including potions, weapons, armor, and more. The only disappointment is the inability to bring experience points over to your main file, making the incentive to play longer sessions a bit lower. Also, it has to be wondered why the single player option allows up to four characters to join, while the multiplayer only features three. All in all though, after the redundancy that was the story mode, the multiplayer mode was a welcomed feature. No computer controlled A.I. to baby sit, and the gameplay was surprisingly lag free.
The most surprising feature of the PSP has been its graphical power, which has allowed several big name games such as God of War and Grand Theft Auto to come close to PlayStation 2 quality in their handheld representations. Then of course you have games like Dungeon Explorer, where the budget was obviously much lower. Though character models and landmarks are distinguishable, they are grainy and really lack polish. The camera angle also detracts from the exploratory aspect of the game, giving off the impression that you are trapped in a perpetual barrier rather than an open environment. Several of the dungeons have their own unique look, but a lot of the rooms are generically recycled, which is evident in the later trials. If you were expecting the audio to make up for the graphics’ lack of flare, then you’d be sadly mistaken. The themes of Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts are quite ordinary and tend to be on the redundant side. The lack of voice acting is also a major detriment, since the standard for advanced sound effects has been in place for quite some time now.
What is it about decade late sequels that always manage to sour a classic? It seems that the developers of these remakes forget what made the originals so special, which is why the expectations can be set a little high when waiting for their release. Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts, as well as the just released Warriors of the Lost Empire, are just as bland in gameplay as they are in their unoriginal titles. Think of an offline version of Phantasy Star Online, but with poorer visuals, limited move-sets, uninteresting music, and repetitive gameplay that offers no real rewards. You’d then have the latest Dungeon Explorer. If you are starving for a new RPG or even if you are into dungeon crawlers, then you will have to wait a little longer to satisfy your palette. Luckily for you PSP owners, God of War: Chains of Olympus is right around the corner. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go do something exciting; wonder if the bowling alley is still open.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.4 Graphics
Visuals lack detail and are a tad on the grainy side, special effects fair a bit better. 3.4 Control
Controls are solid and the customization for menu selection is one of the better features of the game. Camera position is a tad awkward though, with the camera facing at certain angles rather than right in front of you. 1.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Tracks lack that “adventurous” feel and just have that feeling that they were tacked on at the last minute. No voice acting is disappointing. 2.3 Play Value
The multiplayer is kind of fun, but it really just delays the inevitable. There are just so many better options out there to choose from. Just go buy God of War: Chains of Olympus. 2.4 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.