Saturday, February 20, 2016

Dragon View (SNES) Review

Received: December 24th, 2014 / Written: February 10th-18th, 2016
Published: February 20th, 2016
Alternate Title: Super Drakkhen [|O|]
Year: 1994 | Developed by: Infogrames SA | Published by: Kemco

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  And-- ohhhh, do I really want to talk about this game?  =(  I guess I'm obligated to, given the circumstances surrounding it.
I may not have played Drakkhen in its original 1989 format by Infogrames, but I did have the privilege to experience the 1991 SNES port converted by Kemco-Seika years ago.  While it falls far too short as a game, given its sheer brevity and overt lack of challenge, I do personally feel that it largely succeeds as a Generation One visual and audio tech demo; showing what Nintendo's 16-bit console was capable of accomplishing, and because of that (as well as its unusual and moody atmosphere) I consider it to be a fun guilty pleasure.  =)  It often gets derided by many as one of the worst Nintendo 16-bit games ever made, and while I feel that might be going too far, I do understand how people might be put off by it (from the literal menu-driven actions that inhabit Drakkhen's entirety to the fact that the battles are largely automatic), and I acknowledge that it's got many flaws.  Simply put, Drakkhen is not for everyone.
If you recall after beating the SNES title and after having seen all its credits, there was a message in the end prepping us for "Drakkhen II" which they claimed was "coming soon!!".  There is nothing more upsetting than when a game (mostly good ones) that proudly promises you a sequel but in the end never delivers for one reason or another, and when that happens it just winds up frustrating more than disappointing because why say you're making a sequel when you're not going to maintain your word on it?  >X(
Why even bother?  -_-  There are far too many examples to name that did this disservice to us...
Drakkhen doesn't fall under this trap, however, as it did eventually get a sequel... um, sort of.  Unlike the previous A-RPG which initially saw life on computers, today's game was made exclusively for the Nintendo 16-bit console (since Drakkhen was ported to the SFC/SNES--let's face it, people are more likely to play games on consoles than on computers) three years later.  It wasn't until August 1994 that Super Drakkhen would arrive on the Super Famicom, while North America got to catch up with it that November as Dragon View, with Europe missing out on the action--which is curious, considering Drakkhen made its very debut (and had its SNES conversion released) in that multi-language continent (namely France).  =/  Even stranger is the fact that the developers for this game were European, which makes it doubly baffling that it never got a PAL conversion.
Seika, Kemco's co-company when it came to porting Drakkhen for the Nintendo 16-bit years prior, felt no compelling reason to return to its universe (instead focusing on porting and/or publishing different games on their own); which left Kemco pretty much in charge by themselves when it came to distributing Dragon View.  And from what I gathered, today's game wasn't exactly much of a crowd pleaser either, and the fact that its predecessor's Nintendo 16-bit reception was largely negative did not help matters either.  But over the years this supposed second (and final) game in the Drakkhen diptych has developed a tiny following among fans of the genre, and the most reiterated comment about it whether or not people liked Dragon View in the slightest is that: "It's an improvement over Drakkhen".  *looks at cart intently*  *then looks at audience inquisitively*  Is it really, though?  o_o

"Surely, you can't be serious?"
In the town of Rysis young and aspiring warrior Alex is training so that one day he'll be prepared to take on the world and perhaps one day become king of the island.  When he hears that his master Qunos is trapped in a nearby cave Alex ventures there to help him out; but when he returns back he's confronted by a wizard named Argos who snatches away the warrior's girlfriend Katarina.  This upsets Alex, who'll stop at nothing to bring her back; but eventually he discovers that Argos is just a subordinate to the evil mastermind behind it all, Giza, who plans to use Keire Temple's recently stolen Prime Orb to submerge everything and everyone to the Underworld for his own nefarious schemes.  Alex will have to explore every region and gradually prepare himself if he is to save his true beloved and stop Giza once and for all if he is to save Drakkhen Island from pure darkness.
Alex will be venturing on grasslands, mountains, marshes, snow valleys, ravaged areas, and even the desert; all of which have got their own maps dedicated to them (that you earn one by one) if you access the island screen with the right shoulder button.  To look at the very design of the segment (give or take some details missing deliberately or not) just select the one you wish to look at and press the B button to see where you are at and how far you are from a nearby location.

Roads usually lead to the right path
As was the case with Drakkhen before it, when you explore outside in Dragon View you're treated to a 3D overworld which enables you to explore the vast regions in all 360 degrees, by either moving forward or by walking the opposite direction.  While in the previous game you had to access the map screen every time you wanted to make sure which direction you were facing, in here you can tell which way you're facing thanks to the violet dot on the compass (but if you really feel lost, you can still access the map with the R shoulder button).  Unlike Drakkhen, however, where the battles transpiring in the overworld were random and unforeseen, in this A-RPG you will find battles when you approach big clouds of mist enshrouding them.

Leaping over fire
Which brings me to Dragon View's core gameplay mechanics, which are a far cry from those previously seen in Drakkhen.  While you can still roam in all eight directions and access doors from all four sides, this is where the similarities end.  Instead of taking the reins of the leader of a quartet, you only take control of one character period, and here you have much more control of your might and magic.  Alex's main weapon of choice is the sword, which can swing towards his enemies, jab or stab upward if they're above him, or have the blade face down if he plans on attacking an enemy below him after having jumped.  The sword is used with the Y and with B you can jump, and to unleash a powerful sword attack just press the X button (after having learned the technique) but at the expense of a tiny fraction of HP.  There is also a boomerang-style double-edged blade called the "hauza" which you could switch with if you wanted to attack from far away; personally, though, I'll stick with the sword that involves closer range and is easier to use.

Battling in the blind
Throughout the course of the game you'll also be using secondary items, which you can use with the A button.  Some of the items at your disposal are potions used to heal your health (only up to three), MP stars to refill your MP counter (can only have up to three), and other examples are magic rings which you could use at your disposal (whether they be the elements of fire, ice, or lightning).  The magic rings will easily harm and/or dispose of onscreen enemies, and on some occasions said magic will aid you pertaining to the environment (i.e. lightning magic to shatter rocks, ice magic to freeze water), and they all use up between one to three MP (depending on the level of your ring) so it is very imperative to conjure your magic sparingly and only when you really need it.

Behind you stands a wandering merchant
Being an A-RPG, the demise of each enemy and boss will garner you experience points, and an easy way to tell how far or close you are from leveling up there is a gauge below your HP counter (and once it fills up you're up a level and start the process again), but if you wanted to know specifically your stats just press the Select button during any part of the game.  Sometimes after an enemy has been defeated they'll leave behind hearts to replenish your health, stars to replenish your MP count, or Jade as the currency; other times they can be found inside vases.  The days of choosing the touch and grab commands from Drakkhen are long gone, since now you can just walk towards the direction of the door and treasure chest in order to enter it and grab hold of its contents.  This is pure action fare.

Treading towards the waterfall
Dragon View does have a better and more polished look than its predecessor does, from the design of the characters and enemies right down to their decent animation.  Alex has good walking, jumping, and attacking animations going for him, though I'd be remiss if I didn't say how distracted I am by how wavy his blonde locks are when in motion.  O~O  In the towns are NPCs that have varying animations, whether it be standing, walking, sitting, or even gesturing in a conversational manner; and it's pretty interesting how the majority of them have their head follow where you go.  The enemies range from serpent men, to imps, to giants, to scorpions, to even reapers; and they all display decent animation (even the imps who actually laugh at you when they swipe at you).  The bosses are huge, like the one-eyed spider-scorpion and the fire golem, and they're fine as well.  The final boss looks intimidating in design--I just wish the battle was as good.  =|

Disgusting blobs
This time in the 3D overworlds are gradients not just on the sky but on the ground as well, which adds even more depth than there already is.  Scattered throughout are rocks, trees, animal skulls, rivers, ice pillars, and even walls (serving as borders for the different regions) which seamlessly scale in and out regardless of the turns you make thanks to the Mode 7 scaling and rotating capabilities.  =)  The inside locations have got interesting décor going for them, some of them lit up by candles hanging on the wall.  Some of the best areas in the game are the Sektra Temple with all the water and dragon statues on red balls, with its calming shades and hues of blue, and another good area to look at is the Forest of Illusion with its brief usage of parallax scrolling with all the trees in the backdrop augmenting depth.  There is also some neat wavy color-layering effects any time you do battle outside, with different colors depending on the exact region of the island that you're at.

Trekking the mountains
Usually when the first game's music is so good it can be really hard to top it or follow it up with something of equal quality, and the Drakkhen diptych is no exception.  Drakkhen's music was so good it helped lend it lots of atmosphere, mainly due to the electric piano and "new age" feel that made it sound fresh; Dragon View's soundtrack aims for something more instrumental and rock-based, and on the whole it's rather hit and miss.  Some strong songs that stand out are the overworld when you get past Galys Pass, the snow overworld, the healing shrine, Sektra Temple, the inside of the pyramid theme, the penultimate overworld, and Mt. Badsel, which really work.  The rest of the songs the game has to offer just sound plain by comparison, including the town themes and the final dungeon.  But if there's anything you don't expect to hear: music during a battle (since in the first game there were incoherent grunts and groans and banging pots and pans).  Some of the sound effects are interestingly chosen, such as the bling sound whenever Alex gets healed, the roaring sounds of the bosses, the high-pitched sounds the imps make when they laugh, and the splotchy sounds the blobs make whenever they touch and bounce from the ground.

Two scorpions and one fighter
If there were any similar slash'em up to compare Dragon View to it would be Capcom's Knights of the Round, in that you do level yourself up and your equipment throughout the course of the adventure.  But the circumstances in which you accomplish these tasks is different; while in the aforementioned Arthurian title you got a gradual increase in both your weapon and your armor with each level gained in this game you get increasingly stronger with each level.  The only time your sword and armor gains more power and increases your chances of survival is if you look in certain locations' treasure chests or if you find a mysterious wanderer; in speaking of which, from time to time you'll find a wandering merchant who's got health capacity increases for you provided that you pay a good sum (increased each time you meet up with him).  Some HP capacity hearts might be found in certain inconspicuous areas, and if you search thoroughly there will be MP capacity stars that will enable you to use more magic at your disposal should you want to conjure some magic with your rings.

Best enjoy the snow while you can, 'cause before
you know it Spring will be here soon
Another difference is that unlike Capcom's slash'em up Dragon View is entirely nonlinear in both nature and in structure, and personally that is actually one of the problems that plagues this Drakkhen follow-up.  That's not to say that Drakkhen wasn't nonlinear, it definitely was, but at least the original had non-physical barriers so you could travel to any part of Drakkhen Island with no worry.  This time around in Dragon View there are walls and physical borders, in which the only time you could cross the other side (or find a small place) is by looking for a big open hole to walk inside of in the overworlds.  Since the island is huge there's a lot of walking to endure out in the open, which means there's some longwinded plodding (and double-checking your map far too often) required to ensure you're going in the right direction.  -_-  Oh there are some warps (via constellation stars), but that requires you to find two of the same exact ones in order for them to work, because until then you're walkingSlowly!

Healing
I realize that backtracking is a necessary evil when it comes to the RPG genre, and believe me a lot of the time I do not mind that for I understand the necessity behind it, but there is so much backtracking that is very mandatory on several occasions (whether for special items or for important people) that it winds up making Dragon View feel tedious and redundant a lot of the time--and the slow walking speed does not help matters either.  The action segments aren't exactly straightforward, but those are fine when you know the proper path; it's the 3D overworld's huge landscapes that get to me.  X(  The fact that you could save in any part of Drakkhen save inside dungeons may have been advantageous, but at least it was a convenient feature; the only time in Dragon View that you can save your progress in any of your three files is if you head to a healing shrine or if you stumble across a wandering healer--which means that if you die (after having found important items that will aid you and after having leveled up) you're forced to start from your last saving point (and have to do all that again).  So basically any time something special happened to you then you have to save often if you wish to keep your current stats... and considering how sparse these healing/saving portions are on the (large) island, it just winds up adding to the tedium.  =(

Fire golem
And as far as overworld battles are concerned you have to actively seek out the clouds of mist if you wish to partake in these battles, because they will help you earn your experience points and help you be more prepared for what's to come as there are bosses that have to be battled when you're at a specific level.  In theory you can avoid these clouds all you want if you have to (and evade battle), but you know that is simply not the case for it is necessary to battle them when you're good and ready (or if you just want to level grind in general).  This wouldn't be an issue if the world that Alex inhabits wasn't so vast and spacious that it's easy to feel lost without the consultation of a map, but since that winds up being the case it just puts a damper on the experience.

Urrrgh  >_<
Another thing that I felt was disappointing about Dragon View was the handling of its story.  Drakkhen's mythology and plot was mysterious and sparked so much wonder and intrigue with the eight dragon heirs and the human characters trying to restore balance by recouping all nine Dragon Tears.  The sequel's plot: girl gets kidnapped, powerful and generic villain wants to plunge the world to his blackest desires, you're the only one who can stop him.  That's it!  The premise isn't exactly so much the problem so much as the disjointed tone; this is clearly some serious business you're dealing with, and yet at certain points some characters' dialogues don't exactly gel ("how about we throw in a direct Airplane! reference at the start to show how not seriously this is all being taken?") since the rest of the time people acknowledge how serious the situation is.  Drakkhen was straight-faced fare with a hint of mystery and fantasy sprinkled throughout, and I understand that you want to lighten up the mood, but if you want to change the sequel's tone then you have to strike the right balance which I don't think Dragon View accomplished.  Some of the worst dialogue I feel comes from Giza, who you do not see often in the game, but when you do you're treated to some grating, sarcastic, and overbearing quips that it's hard to take this guy seriously (or even elicit any feelings for or against him).  >=[

One of the only direct ties it's got to Drakkhen
Early in the proceedings you're told a tale of how a brother and sister got along so well until the day the sister died, which broke him apart.  "Gee, I wonder if the brother is involved in this somehow?", and sure enough: he is!  The first time I played Dragon View I called it early who the mastermind was (this is not a spoiler, by the way, since it's immediately apparent), and if his inscription on his sister's grave didn't say anything, then his disappearance certainly did.  Of all the clichéd reasons to become evil, urrgh!  >O<  The (good and bad) dragon heirs in the original game were more compelling than him!  There has been a dispute as to how exactly this game relates to Drakkhen, and some sources say that it's a "prequel", implying that it precedes the events of the previous A-RPG.  I disagree wholeheartedly, for there is a room in Keire Temple where you read the history of the Prime Orb and the island, and one of the books tells the tale of how balance was restored in the past thanks to one warrior and his three companions.
Hell-lo, Drakkhen was exactly this, which would make Dragon View a sequel!  But this one point is only one of a handful of times that directly ties itself into that game.  =|

Such deathly atmosphere
And funny enough, considering that it claims to be a Drakkhen sequel, this Nintendo 16-bit exclusive doesn't feel like a Drakkhen A-RPG a lot of the time.  The first game was famous for implementing its day-night system where the longer you traveled the more the sun or moon would rise or set, getting brighter or darker; this added a great sense of immersive atmosphere, which would be used again in Capcom's Breath of Fire and SquareSoft's Seiken Densetsu 3.  In Dragon View, no matter how long you take to get anywhere the time of day will always remain the same; the only time the sky and ground below you would change is if you walked towards the desert, marsh, grasslands, and scorched lands in gradually seamless fashion, but those moments are too few and far between--this despite the fact that the 3D overworld structure is the same for both iterations.  And on a narrative level, unless you're reading that tale in Keire Temple or come across the spirits of the eight dragons, the connection to the prior A-RPG is purely non-existent for it feels more like an interactive take on the Hero's Journey, not a Drakkhen follow-up.

Death will not take my life but taste the blade
of my sword instead!
What also made Drakkhen stand out from other A-RPGs at the time and ended up making it special was its unusual and moody sense of atmosphere, from the cryptic messages wandering people addressed to you right down to the enemies and bosses you fought; this made for an unconventional A-RPG that made it quite enthralling (for all intents and purposes).  The Infogrames division that worked on Dragon View instead opted for something more conventional to the norm of A-RPGs, but by doing that they eviscerated the quirk factor that made Drakkhen what it was in the first place; which isn't so much a bad thing in theory, but because of this there's a sense of normalcy that did not exist in the previous A-RPG.  =(
In Drakkhen you got to face off against unusual enemies such as Henri Matisse's Icarus, vector swordsmen, giant upper pink torsos, (armored) lizard men, constellation monsters at night who look like they've sprung up from Space Harrier (the very game that inspired the 3D overworld), living water, witches, and sentient fire among other things (most of which you'd never bout in other A-RPGs).  At one point you even came across a unicorn!  Why was there a unicorn in the first place, where'd it come from?  No one knows, but that mysteriousness and quirkiness augmented the intrigue for the Isle of the Drakkhen's mythology and mystery so much.  By taking all the quirk factor away and making the monsters you fight more normal by comparison the developers of Dragon View took away the very thing that made Drakkhen so special that it was put on the map.

I wish the MGM lion's relatives would come to life
so that they could devour every episode of The Tom and
Jerry Comedy Show so no one would put up with that
crappy ugliness on Boomerang again!
It's that unwatchable!  X(
And since I brought up the slow pace, let's talk about the most longwinded ending I've ever sat through on the Nintendo 16-bit.  In Drakkhen when it came to each set of words on the dialogue box all the words popped up at once while in this game the dialogue has the words appear letter by letter--if you didn't want to put up with waiting that long you could just press any button to have all the words appear at once.  But that's during the course of the game, but when you actually finish it after defeating the final boss the dialogue is slow to a pulp and it takes for ever for it to get to the point.  I counted: from the moment you defeated Giza there are twelve minutes of the ending, five minutes of credits (with word-stretching effects and background gradients I could easily have done on Microsoft PowerPoint at the age of ten), seven minutes of a post-credits sequence, and two minutes' worth of epilogue.  That's twenty-six minutes total.  Twenty-six minutes???  For an entire ending sequence?!?!?  O.O  Overkill much, Dragon View?
Drakkhen's dialogue was succinct and to the point, which was especially true during its ending sequence which lasted no longer than a minute before cutting to the credits (which themselves are only a few minutes tops).  It did not feel like it was overstaying its welcome because of this, unlike the case with Dragon View.  The entire ending sequences of Gaia Gensōki/Illusion of Gaia and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars did not feel anywhere near as bloated as this A-RPG's did, and while they're not exactly brief the longevity in those two games' final moments felt warranted.
Want more?  All right, compare this game's ending to that of Xandra no Daibōken: Valkyrie to no Deai's whereas while that ending may not be very long (only a few minutes to be exact) it was still rewarding and worthwhile when all was said and done.  And, you know what those story-driven games I just brought up have in common that Dragon View does not?  They all made me care, with enthralling stories and characters I wind up rooting for; even after I finish them I still find myself caring about them.  <=)

Don't let those vile beings mock you
As much as it pains me to say this, I had a very difficult time caring much for Dragon View, which is too bad because I'm sure a lot of hard work went into crafting it, but it just did not work for me.  =(  While there may have been a couple moments that had me invested it was not enough, I felt the villain was bland and I did not feel that Alex was really evolving as a character (outside of he's everyone's last hope), and the moment I defeat Giza I actually stopped caring entirely--it's bad enough that there's a lot of backtracking and slow trodding in the 3D overworld that winds up dragging the game's pace, it's bad enough that it was easy to get lost without frequently consulting the map, it's bad enough that level grinding on certain occasions can be a time-consuming process, but the ending was far too longwinded even for me that it's just inexcusable (further exacerbated by the fact that a line of dialogue is actually repeated twice in a consecutive row).  And I wouldn't actually mind all those shortcomings if it was fun all the way through, but I didn't feel that it quite delivered on that regard.

Goodbye, fashion sense  >_<
I'm probably coming across as having outright hated Dragon View to you right now.  I did not hate this game, but I did not love it either; I'm just rather mixed on the whole thing.  When I first played it last year I felt that way, and I was hoping prior to my second playthrough that knowing what to expect now that my thoughts would improve on it somewhat the second time.  I had less difficulty with it the second time and lost less lives, but my thoughts on it did not really change all that much.  Some parts that work really work well (like the slash'em up gameplay, eye-pleasing visuals, and maze-like battlefields) but what doesn't winds up dragging Dragon View down along with it.  In the pass and mountains segments when Alex climbs up and down the stairs he takes his sweet time getting to and from offscreen (as if the game was not long enough already); and as good as the visuals are I did not like looking at Alex's grayish-green Level 3 armor throughout the bulk of the game (it's just ill-fitting).  Humorously though, the red Level 5 sword palette makes it look as if Alex is carrying a scorching hot hilt (which would surely burn off his hands).

Alex the Giant Slayer
And honestly, I think if they took out the Drakkhen references (which are too few and far between) then Dragon View would more than likely be the same game regardless, and still suffer from its flaws.  Somewhere inside I'm sure is a really great game that wants to come out, but its (self-indulgent) problems prevent it from achieving that status.  I'm not going to pretend that Drakkhen was a masterpiece (not by a longshot), but its atmosphere was so unique and surreal that it helped make it stand out from the A-RPG crowd; it's like Infogrames SA did not get what made the original so special from the beginning, and by severely minimizing the quirk factor for Dragon View by normalizing it for the genre they turned it into its own game as opposed to something that was supposedly connected to the previous title.  Drakkhen on the SNES succeeded more as a tech demo than as a game, the big problem with this game is that they tried too hard to improve Dragon View upon its previous iteration; they needn't have done that, being a game would've been improvement enough.  Instead though, it ended up being an improvement in places but not as a whole.

The woman-led city of Miraj
Just like Drakkhen I found out about Dragon View over a decade ago while browsing FlyingOmelette's website, on her outdated Top 100 Favorite Video Games list.  But unlike the former title where she talked about it in great length (namely the oddities and eventual shrine dedicated to it), the latter title wasn't covered as much.  Regardless, I was curious about today's game and looked up some information about it on other sites to get a good idea what to expect.  Even after having personally got to play Drakkhen back in 2012 I was still a bit curious about Dragon View, but a boneheaded writer's block back in early 2014 caused me to place it at number ten of my (outdated) Top 13 Reluctant countdown on the basis that it was costly (unlike the Japanese version Super Drakkhen which costs nothing by comparison) and due to my (rightful) concern that it would "lack the original's magic".  Mere moments and months after having made said list I knew I made a mistake creating that post, so that Christmas ('14) I asked for Dragon View (along with Tetris & Dr. Mario and Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals) on the SNES, and when I got to play it I found it to be a rather mixed bag--not just as a purported follow-up but as a standalone as well.  =|

As far as Nintendo 16-bit content I got for Christmas was concerned, I was much more satisfied with what I got in 2015 than in 2014.  This Christmas I not only got two SNES A-RPGs I had long been curious about (The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang and Brandish), but I also received a Super Famicom console with five Super Famicarts for it--honestly, you can't beat that.  =D
While Spike McFang may have been short and not very difficult it was wholeheartedly entertaining with its intuitive gameplay, quirky tongue-in-cheek humor, and purely innocent lightheartedness which did not overstay its welcome while it lasted; and even though Brandish required a bit of backtracking here and there, it was made up for by the fact that it had three speed settings that worked for the game's benefit (that and when given a proper chance is actually a lot of atmospheric and immersive fun on its own merits).  I had more fun with these two games than I did with Dragon View the year prior, and in my opinion both these titles are good entertainment (though I get why people would object to the latter).
I wanted to like Dragon View, given my affinity for Drakkhen in spite of its shortcomings (and my love for the A-RPG genre in general), and I know there are some people out there who enjoy today's game--and there's nothing wrong with that if they do, to each their own--but it just wound up rubbing me the wrong way at points.  =(  If it were exclusively a slash'em up as opposed to a hybrid RPG/slash'em up genre then maybe my thoughts on it would've been a bit higher and a bit optimistic; that, or maybe if it wasn't easy to get lost in the 3D overworld to the point where you have to look at your map again and again that would've been helpful too (instead of feeling redundant, repetitious, and tedious).  I beat Dragon View both times at Level 40, at around fourteen (non-consecutive) hours the first time and roughly twelve the next one.  Brandish and Seiken Densetsu 3 may have taken longer to beat (especially SquareSoft's Magnum Opus), but neither title felt like it took an eternity for me to play through like Dragon View did.  -__-  *sigh*

It had its moments, but overall it left me feeling cold  =(
I guess it should be taken for what it's worth for it's one of those "pick your poison" kind of situations.  If you enjoy action-based fare on the RPG front of things then this has plenty of it (when you get to those segments, anyway).  If you want compelling story and characters in your game you're not really going to get one here because the plot is wafer thin and the characters are meh.  If you're okay with needlessly bloated longwindedness and the constant feeling of being lost in the overworld then this game is for you; but don't expect it to be like Drakkhen in terms of tone and atmosphere.  Now whether you liked Drakkhen or not there isn't a surefire guarantee that you'll come out fully satisfied from it (especially if you have a crapton of patience on you), but if you do decide to play it then you should do so at your own discretion for your results may vary.

My Personal Score: 6.0/10
<( -_-)>TO EACH THEIR OWN<(-_- )>
P.S. The pacing is so slow that it just puts the "drag" in Dragon View.  ...  I don't care that the jab was obvious, it had to be said.  -_-
 
P.S. 2 I prefer to play SFC/SNES games in their physical format, but I bet some gamers who play this game on an emulator gleefully abuse the fast-forward setting to alleviate all the slowness--LUCKY!!!  =P 
 
P.S. 3 How is it that three Nintendo 16-bit reviews in a row I point out how the Japanese version is cheaper than the localized edition?  O.O  I swear this was not intentional, it just happened to be the case with all three.
 
P.S. 4 I did say in the end of my Xandra no Daibōken review that I would allude to it in good light from now on, and so I have.  =)  And I'll keep on doing that to atone for harsh I was on it back in 2014.
 
P.S. 5 I make a big deal about Giza's reason to succumb to evil being clichéd,... but at least it's not out of brokenheartedness due to unrequited love, being broken up with, or any of that stuff--isn't that right, main villain from Pocky & Rocky 2?  Yyyeah, I went there.  =<

P.S. 6 There is surprisingly a lot of stuff for this game that was left on The Cutting Room Floor.  Apparently one of the people working on Dragon View liked Capcom's take on Disney's Aladdin so much that they "borrowed" sprites of Abu from that platformer and snuck them into this game's memory.  Obviously Infogrames SA did not get off scot free with that.

P.S. 7 So the newest episodes of Wander Over Yonder were really good.  "The Cartoon" was so funny and I haven't laughed so hard in a WOY episode in ages (the hybrid nod to Gravity Falls and Scooby-Doo was perfect), and "The Bot" was surprisingly bittersweet and emotional near the end (especially its animatic).
 
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  I hope you have a great Winter Day, and take care!
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"You and I are going to have a serious conversation sometime.  About what's really going on; you and me."
"I know."
Dialogue courtesy of Jaws 3

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang (SNES) Review

Received: December 25th, 2015 / Written: February 2nd-6th, 2016
Alternate Title: Chō Makai Taisen! Dorabotchan [|O|]
Year: 1993, 1994 | Developed by: Red Company and Naxat Soft
Published by: Bullet-Proof Software

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  =)  You know, there is something oddly fascinating about games within the same canon and series that wind up being different genres from each other.

In 1990, Red Company (of Bonk fame) developed a sidescrolling platformer called Makai Prince Dorabotchan published by Naxat Soft for the PC-Engine console which remained exclusively in Japan; I never played it (I don't own the console).  Said platformer got followed up on March 1993 with a top-down A-RPG on the Super Famicom (with some help from Naxat Soft) named Chō Makai Taisen! Dorabotchan, or as it got known as when localized to North America on June the following year by Bullet-Proof Software (of Yoshi's Cookie fame): The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang.
A little similar to how Namco went from top-down Valkyrie-controlled action-adventures Valkyrie no Bōken: Toki no Kagi Densetsu and Valkyrie no Densetsu to Krino Xandra-controlled 2D platforming SFC-exclusive prequel Xandra no Daibōken: Valkyrie to no Deai in the same series.  Huh!  Funny... parallel,... that.  o~O

When it comes to having only played a single entry out of the entire series, it can put me at a bit of a disadvantage because I have no idea how it is compared to what the rest of the series has to offer; but the least I can do is acknowledge their connection to their respected series and express my thoughts on them as individual games.  For example: I might not have much experience with the Valkyrie series, but I honestly felt Xandra no Daibōken was a fun, good game on its own terms (after having given it a true chance this January) that, while difficult, has a lot of commendable things going for it and is worth it with lots of perseverance in stow.  =)  Likewise, I can't speak for the Dorabotchan series as a whole, but what did I think about this Nintendo 16-bit offering?  I thought it was quite good, let's talk about it!  =)

Long separated from the human race, the islands of Vladamasco was a place where monsters and misfits roamed and lived in peace and prosperity for centuries thanks to the rule of three leaders: Dracuman, Vampra, and Von Hesler.  But one day everything turned upside down when Von Hesler suddenly decided to invade the other two kingdoms and plan to rule Vladamasco all by himself.
This resulted in a decisive battle that would begin to change the course of the islands, and not for the better.  While Vampra was busy battling Von Hesler's nefarious forces her young daughter Camelia got a chance to escape from the aftermath and decided to search for Dracuman's heir Spike McFang so that he would help her right this wrong, for he's the only one who can save Vladamasco from Von Hesler.
But when she catches up with and finds that Spike needs to train first she's disappointed, so Camelia decides to go after Von Hesler herself.  The young vampire prince, feeling that it is his duty to save the day, finishes up his important session afterwards so that after he's done he'll be ready to journey far from home and do what it takes to restore peace to these lands.
Spike McFang's journey begins here.

"Go forth, Caped Crusader, and be the hero you
were destined to become!"
For the sake of posterity I'll only discuss the SNES version I played since I haven't played the Japanese SFC original.  The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang has you take control of the small vampire heir of Vladamasco Spike McFang who can roam around in all eight directions and primarily uses his cape and hat to attack and dispose of enemies.  By simply pressing the Y button Spike will spin around thereby attacking with his swirling cape that he holds in his hand, and you can tap it several times in a row to perform consecutive spins, but tap it too much and Spike will unleash a wild and powerful cape-induced cyclone but at the expense of the poor little guy becoming dizzy for a few seconds (kind of leaving you at a vulnerable position if you did it while surrounded by enemies).

"There's danger brewing here.  Stay close."
"Is it behind those bunny rabbits?"
"It is the bunny rabbits."
By holding down the Y button as you hold still Spike will begin enchanting his hat as it floats above his head, and by letting go in any direction the vampire heir will throw his headwear which depending on what emblem you got on it will stick to the enemies for a little bit or it will follow Spike until it lands back on his head again.  After finishing your training you're given a box that can hold a myriad of cards in your stock (the limit being ten for each kind you can carry) which you can toggle between with either shoulder buttons and use the one you selected with the A button; they can be restocked (albeit randomly) at a card shop.  Another welcome gameplay element is Spike McFang's ability to jump with the B button (how high or low you jump depends on how hard you press it), as there are moments when jumping is required--using the cape can also be done while in midair.  =)  I actually recommend that strategy, as it will help a lot.
Occasionally you will stumble across Spike's freelancing and friendly sentient Moai head aide who will agree to let you save your progress should you select "Yes" with the A button.  When you see this guy, press Y next to him to talk to him, and save often!

Magical flying hats are the best!  =D
When you start the game Spike will begin by himself, but after liberating Dracuman Castle he will be accompanied by a partner: on some occasions he'll be joined by Von Hesler's son Rudy (who wants to prove his father's innocence) and other times the boy vampire prince will be helped by Vampra's daughter Camelia, and they're all CPU-controlled.  Naturally, Dracuman's son gets the lion's share of the work done and is the only one capable of level-gaining; Rudy and Camelia will sometimes attack nearby enemies, and their AI is rather serviceable throughout.  It's no Secret of Mana or Seiken Densetsu 3 in this regard, not even close as this is one player-only, but with all that said it's a nice element to have as Spike McFang doesn't have to go it alone in the long run.  =)

Light-reflective stained glass windows
Spike McFang's visuals are extraordinarily vibrant and colorful to look at, with each area of Vladamasco having their own diverse details and characteristics that help differentiate each portion of the lands.  =)  For starters the inside of Dracuman Castle is dimly lit with some nice red carpets abound (outside of the light emanating from the stained glass windows in the back; unless you're in the outer section where it's bright) that augments a sense of atmosphere, and I love the design of the entrance to the castle with the bat on the hat (it's perfect).  Another neat-looking area is the desert landscape with the shadows of the clouds touching the ground, and I like the detail in the sand and in the temples that you enter.

Ice and snow enshrouding a once warm location
But one of my favorite visuals out of the entire game is the snow laden land and interior of Vampra's island and castle, for various reasons.  One of the reasons being that it's a very relaxing area to look at and explore, what with the different hues of cyan and blue permeating throughout it (except during an inbetween moment) and with the snow gradually falling on the ground.  Another reason it stands out is that the majority of this section is designed and viewed from an isometric perspective, which is very fascinating all things considered!  =)  It's like the game went from traditional top-down perspective to the easier equivalent of Equinox all of a sudden (minus the invisible platforms and secret rooms, that is), which is awesome.  =D

Hoppity hoppity hop hop hop
The characters and enemies are very charmingly designed in-game, for they are all very colorful and brimming with personality too; Spike McFang included.  The kid vampire prince is really great to watch, and I like how fluid some of his animations are (like when he's swiftly spinning his cape and when he's frozen or burnt up).  His hat's design is pretty neat, looking from a certain viewpoint like a placeholder for a crown (if I didn't know any better, I'd say that is his crown on his hat), and I like the stars that follow it when it's been launched ahead.  His dizzy animation for when he's spun around too much is cute, and I love how he faces all eight directions as opposed to four and the correct placement of the emblem on his hat instead of copy-pasting the left/right side (like most Nintendo 16-bit A-RPGs at the time).  Another thing about Spike is that he doesn't walk throughout the game, he waddles.  '~'  He waddles>~<  And he doesn't jump either, but rather hops with both legs in the air.  I mean, d'awwww, that's adorable!  <=)

Wandering the Kalala Desert over yonder
Heh, couldn't help it  =3
The soundtrack is very pleasant to listen to, flawlessly lending Vladamasco its sense of atmosphere and wonder, and much of its high quality is attributed to its masterful and playful usage of brass instruments.  The first major song you hear in the game sounds energetically incredible, heard when Spike commences his training in the beginning of the game (and only that part of the game, sadly), for it's so inspiring and really amazing that it manages to suck you in to the adventure from the get go!  =)  Now that's how you start a game's soundtrack with a bang!  Everything else is still good and great for the ears to listen to.  When Spike truly begins in Dracuman Castle, its quirky theme that embodies the main area is very enjoyable to listen to and does a good job of setting the lighthearted tone of the game while at the same time adding a sense of mystique to the proceedings.

Super cape spin attack
A few other good themes that spring to mind in the game is the central desert/temple where it starts out slightly menacing until it gradually segues into a deep piano-ridden melody ending in a big finish.  The theme for the snow-capped Vampra is engrossing and relaxing with its soft and playful cues, plus it fits rather well whenever you're inside its isometric castle halls.  =)  The regular boss theme is surprisingly upbeat and playful in nature, but the final boss theme takes the cake as it is a darker and more ominous cue compared to everything else the game has to offer.  The sound effects are decently chosen, such as when Spike uses specific cards, the swirling sounds of his swiftly spinning cape, and the woozy sound for when Spike's head is briefly spinning.

Introducing the Dracuman family pet Sid
The difficulty in Spike McFang is a bit on the easy-normal spectrum side of things, as it is very manageable to play and easy to follow.  In the game are plenty of enemies (partially) based on Japanese folklore that you will fight: such as clove variants, ogres, blobs, feline fighters, spiders, bouncing snowmen, snow queens, and sentient cacti to name some, and the farther you go the more experience points they'll be worth.  By earning just enough experience points from battling baddies you'll gain a new level, and if you want to know how close or far you are from leveling up you can always press the Select button to look it up--this is especially important since you have to be at a certain level to bout these bosses.  Spike's health is represented by tomatoes while the enemies' health is represented by onions, and if your health reaches zero you'll have to restart from your last saving point.

"Uhhh... no mas... no mas..."  @.@
Spike's cape attacks require that he have close range with the enemies and bosses he comes into contact with, which means that you're in a vulnerable position if you're outnumbered; but the more you level up the less health you have to worry about losing (and the stronger you become).  The hat that you throw at your enemies can be used as a long ranged projectile attack (which comes back to you like a boomerang), but in order for it to be thrown you have to hold still and hold Y until it's time to let go, which means that you need to find a safe spot in order to execute your hat attack otherwise it'll be interrupted by an enemy.  The latter technique takes a bit to get used to, and when you do it'll serve you greatly, but only do it if you really have to.

An act of true friendship will thaw a frozen heart
Or just last a few seconds  =3
The tone in Spike McFang is unapologetically quirky and lighthearted to a fault, but that's one of the reasons the game is so appealing.  =)  It is genuinely funny too, partly to do with the young vampire prince's (and certain other characters') facial expressions and largely on account of the game's writing.  I like the dialogue between the characters, some of the banter between Spike and his companions is humorous, the way each boss has a pre-battle and post-battle conversation between Spike and them is funny, and any time you level up you're given a call by Professor Steam.  And on a few occasions you're given a heads up by certain characters what level the next boss is going to be at; well that's nice of them to let us know how much level-grinding we have to do until then, thanks.  =)  And yes, there is some necessary level grinding to do in order to augment chances of survival, but at least it's not annoyingly time-consuming level grinding like in Xak: The Art of Visual Stage--but that's a ship we'll sail some other time.

Such a welcoming atmospheric cavern  =)
All the dialogue adds a bit of charm to this 16-bit venture and there's a bit of a wholly innocent flavor sprinkled throughout because of it, which I heartily appreciate.  <=)  There is a moment right before Spike gives Felina the finishing blow of his hat, but before he does that he utters this quip: "Eat hat, cat!"  =3  You know, that line is so cheesy beyond belief, but I just could not help but chuckle at it (even on my first playthrough).  Yeah, it's so obvious a punny wordplay, but you know what?  I can forgive that because it gels with Spike McFang's tone so much, and I'll gladly take that one-liner over half the groan-inducing ones the new Bugs Bunny spouts on Wabbit (now those are painful for me).  But we're not talking about Wabbit, we're talking about Spike McFang!

"Go, my bat minions!  Do my bidding!"
This is a very fun game to play, so much so that I could not believe it was over after about four and a half (non-consecutive) hours on my first playthrough.  =(  I admit I was under-leveled at 15 at the end (even on my newest playthrough), but even so I was honestly surprised: "Wait, that's it?  Where's the rest of it?"  It just comes to show how much I enjoyed Spike McFang as a whole, and I wish it was slightly longer.  On the other hand, perhaps its short length can be seen as a blessing in disguise 'cause while it might not be long at least it doesn't overstay its welcome at roughly four to five hours.  But its brevity in no way makes this a bad game, for its numerous strengths outweigh its weaknesses and is worth the experience.  =)

Hopping in the heavens
Spike McFang's adventure is also a tad on the linear side, meaning it is possible to backtrack while in certain segments, but the moment you reach the next major area you cannot come back.  Like, say you reach Vampra, then you cannot go to the area that preceded it but you can peruse its segments while it lasts.  Vladamasco's numerous areas are well-designed and it's easy to know where to go next despite some occasional forks.  The very last area, however, is a bit of a mind teaser at first as you have to take the correct sequence of directions in order to reach your destination, but after a bit of trial and error it can be done with no problem; and the final boss is the only boss battle where I start using many of the cards at my disposal (which are last bought in Vampra, because after you permanently leave it there is no other opportunity).

"There could've been a Bat and his Blob-style
game, but instead the blob made it about a boy..."  >={
I remember first hearing about The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang many years ago online as a teenager, and some of the sites I went to that talked about it had nothing but praise for it (among them good ol' RVGFanatic).  That, coupled with the appealing screenshots I saw of it, made me very curious about it.  And for years I wanted to try it, but two things kept me from trying it sooner: the fact that there are so many games out there to choose from which attributes to my sometimes indecisive nature and the fact that (by itself or full CIB) it costs quite a bit (not necessarily in the $100s range, but not exactly in the $20s range either).  =(  It wasn't until late 2015 that I thought it was time I caught up with this game, having asked for it that Christmas.  And when Christmas '15 came, I not only got Spike McFang after years of curiosity, but I also got Brandish on the SNES (another A-RPG I was long curious about), Yoshi's Woolly World on the Nintendo Wii U (a game I looked forward to for ever), as well as a Super Famicom console with some games for it.  That was the best Christmas in a long time, and honestly all those years of curiosity have been worth it for I have adored Spike's quest from the moment I started it.  =)

"With this you can use it as a free coupon for
Yooka-Laylee when it comes out"
If only!  =(
My guess as to why the American version costs so much must be because Spike McFang has garnered a bit of cult following over the years, having fallen under the radar when it first came out.  But surprisingly, for comparisons' sake, I found that the Japanese version Chō Makai Taisen! Dorabotchan costs cheaper than Spike McFang.  And apparently from what I looked up the American version was made a little bit harder than its original Super Famicom edition, with higher enemy defense and not having health being refilled any time you level up while the Japanese version was reportedly easier.  =/  Huh!  Well, at least the change in difficulty is consistent and not sporadic like a certain Quintet A-RPG (*cough*Illusion of Gaia*cough*) that got marginally ruined Westside structurally and narratively due to the direct involvement of a certain company (*cough*Nintendo*cough*).  Sorry, trying to clear my throat here.  ~o~  *cough*Gaia Gensōki is better*cough* *hack* *cough*  All clear now!  ^~^

Vampire home sweet vampire home
The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang is a very endearing and entertaining action-adventure romp, with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek with its lighthearted humor and simple yet intuitive gameplay carried throughout.  It's also incredibly innocent and colorful that you can't help but become enamored with it, even if it is linear and largely straightforward.  =)  It is too bad that it's short , but while it lasts the game is a whole lot of fun and the big bosses are great to battle, not to mention the dialogue is rich.  It's not exactly a hard venture, but I did like some of the ways that Red Company and Naxat Soft tried to challenge you (the Jungle of Mazes in particular).  Spike McFang might not hold a candle next to the best A-RPGs the Nintendo 16-bit has got to offer, but it is worthy of playing once in awhile and on its own terms it is really good!

What a view!
If you want to play a really enjoyable A-RPG then Spike McFang is not a bad option as it really is a good venture.  If you're looking for a hard or complex game from the genre to play then you might have to search elsewhere; but if you're okay with a somewhat easygoing and manageable A-RPG then you'll be all set.  If you're not keen on A-RPGs that take many hours to beat, then this will suit you just fine as it is fun at four to five hours.  But if you want a game that'll make you smile, charm you, and is very quirky then Spike McFang is easily going to win you over as it is charming and innocent, and fortunately the gameplay is good as well.  =)  Though if I had to express which game I (slightly) preferred between this and Brandish, well, you wouldn't believe me if I told you.  ......  I'll be in my outlier corner.  T_T

I tip my hat to you, Red Company and Naxat Soft  =)
I may never have played Makai Prince Dorabotchan, but for being my first foray to the Dorabotchan series The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang was a really good starting point for me, having enthralled me from start to finish.  Eventually I'll import the Japanese version in the future (given that I own a Super Famicom now), but for the time being I'm satisfied with the American version I played.  =)  It's not perfect, but because of all its good qualities and lighthearted quirkiness, what I ended getting turned out to be purely irresistible.  =3

My Personal Score: 8.0/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. Regarding my previous review Xandra no Daibōken, I apologize if it put you off and/or it ended up alienating you, but I had to express how I felt on the inside (and I still stand by a lot of what I said in there).  But that pure honesty ended up costing me three watchers (going from eleven down to eight), and you know, I deserved that.  -_-  .........  So let's be happy from now on!  =)
 
P.S. 2 I absolutely love how there are a total of four digits (if zeroes are to be counted) in the level counter in the Select screen even though you won't even be halfway near triple digits by the time the game is finished, level-wise.  XD
8/21/16 Update: Especially since 16 is the level cap in this game.
 
P.S. 3 A browsing of this game on The Cutting Room Floor website in preparation for the review has led me to the discovery that there is another Dorabotchan game on the Super Famicom!  =D
This excites me since I loved this game, for these characters are going to appear again in Super Naxat Open: Golf de Shōbu da! Dorabotchan^(^o^)^  Yay!  Must!  Import!  Now!  I hope it's as good as Spike McFang, if not better!  '~'
 
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  I hope you have a great Winter day, and take care!  =)
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*PPPFFFFFT*  That poser???  NO!!!!  XD
Image from Neoseeker website
This cute little badass over here?  He's Croc, and he always will be to me!  <=)  I loved this guy since I was introduced to him in 1997 (almost twenty years ago) on the PlayStation One, and he is so underrated and underappreciated among the masses.  His first game is one of my top favorite games in the console, no lie!