To the Dungeon with Ye
When most gamers think of a dungeon, their minds fill with images of decrepit subterranean corridors littered with dust, slime, and dirt. They think of dangerous traps, locked treasure chests, and hidden passageways. They imagine dank rooms carved out by nests of evil denizens with glowing eyes and sharp teeth. They anticipate dark hallways where unspeakable horrors and untold fortunes await. The last thing they’d expect to find when venturing into the depths is a well-manicured labyrinth featuring custom-tailored rooms designed to match the interior decorating interests of a cornucopia of different slathering beasts. This is part of what makes Dungeon Maker II: The Hidden War so unusual and entertaining.
In the vast majority of dungeon hacking RPG games, you play the role of a brave adventurer (or a party of adventurers) armed to the teeth with spells and weaponry who, for some reason or another, feels compelled to throw caution to the wind and carve your way through ancient ruins, unholy catacombs, or some other dismal setting. While Dungeon Maker II contains many of the traditional elements you’d expect to find in any traditional dungeon hack, the game also throws players an equal number of quirky gameplay aspects that make the experience oddly engaging.
The game’s introductory story – a lengthy text that rambles on about deities, demons, and humans – comes off as a poorly translated mess that occasionally borders on the nonsensical. Essentially, thousands of years ago humans were almost wiped clean off the face of the planet in an epic battle between gods residing in the heavens and demons dwelling beneath the earth’s surface. After nearly being destroyed in a cataclysmic-scale assault, the few remaining demons elected to sign a 70,000-year truce with the gods. Dungeon Maker II opens in a time just after that truce expires, and a single renegade demon takes it upon himself to rekindle another conflict with the gods. As a budding dungeon maker, you’ve elected to attempt to lure the demon into one of your labyrinths and slay it before another apocalypse unfolds and obliterates the human race.
Despite the grandiose war theme, the urgent tone of the story doesn’t immediately carry over into the gameplay. Dungeon Maker II progresses at a slow-but-steady pace driven largely by your own personal whims. The gameplay balances between dungeon creation, action-heavy combat, and taking time to improve your character and manage necessary resources. Almost humorously, you’ll be creating masterfully complex dungeons with the sole intention of attracting different kinds of evil creatures to take up residence within their winding corridors. While creating affordable housing for dangerous monsters sounds like a rather noble cause, the real purpose of the dungeon is to lure the beasts in so you can slay them and take their loot. This is where the hacking part comes in.
Spending time stocking up on items, picking up new quests, and chatting up local residents at the hub town are all necessities, but the bulk of the fun comes from making your own multi-level dungeon piece-by-piece and then adventuring in its depths as you see fit. The game eases you into the dungeon making process, while gradually adding in new layers of complexity. As you progress through the game, you’ll earn money and unlock new kinds of pieces to buy for your dungeon. It’s with these components that you’ll form your grand masterpieces. New building elements can be summoned in and attached to the ends of unfinished sections of corridor, and you also have the option to refurbish or modify dungeon elements you’ve already laid down. Early on, your dungeon will only consist of a single floor, but you’ll gain approval from the kingdom to dig deeper to attract nastier beasts further along in the adventure.
Though you can only venture into your subterranean creation once per day, you have total freedom to make adjustments and expand its depths – providing you have the proper building materials handy. Each day new creatures are attracted to your dungeon, depending on what kind of improvement you make. They tend to prefer specific styles of rooms located deep within the twisting mass of corridors, though you’ll occasionally find them free-roaming. Many of the trips you’ll take into the dark corridors will be to seek out these creatures and pummel the snot out of them with magic and weaponry. They’ll often drop components that can be used for food, items to upgrade your gear, and handy weaponry that can be equipped or sold to fund your construction endeavors.
The combat aspect of Dungeon Maker II is very basic and straightforward; you’ll grab weapons and execute button mashing attacks when enemies draw near or fire off handy magic spells. Controls for exploration and battle feel stiffer than they should, but it’s still a functioning system. Instead of leveling-up through battle, you’ll permanently boost your stats a little each day by consuming foods prepared with various ingredients and recipes you find in the game. Though it doesn’t negate the necessity for grinding, it’s a cool way to improve your character. A little further into the adventure you’ll acquire a peculiar creature, called a Genji, that follows you around and transforms into different beasts to help you in battle. Unlike your own character, the Genji can be leveled up in battle and will learn new forms to change into over time based on the creatures you encounter.
Graphics are not Dungeon Maker II’s strong points. The hub town is basically a colorful 2D backdrop with a small character icon that waddles from point-to-point. Static character portraits and the background elements found during dialogue are the nicest visual aspect. The 3D, third-person action found in the dungeon is about as visually compelling as one might expect a dark, gloomy dungeon would be. It’s really quite drab and depressing. Luckily, the gameplay is addictive enough to balance it out.
If you let it, Dungeon Maker II: The Hidden War can be a habit-forming title. Gathering the necessary components and designing and tailoring dungeons is great fun, and running around slaying whatever decides to come live in them provides a whole different incentive to stick with it. While some areas of the game are hit-or-miss, the solid core gameplay is what will keep players coming back for more.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
The visuals fall on the bland side. 3.3 Control
Navigating the dungeon and battling its denizens isn’t as smooth as it should be, but the other controls are fine. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and sound effects are adequate. 4.0 Play Value
Making a dungeon and collecting the resources needed to do so is addictive, and adventuring through your creation is just as entertaining. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.