3DS Virtual Console | SEGA | 1 Player | Out Now | $2.99 / £2.50
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19th March 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
Dispensing with any kind of storyline either at the beginning or even the very end of the game, Dragon Crystal keeps things really simple and instantly sinks you into the fantasy world the developers created. From what I could gather, you're just an average duded trying to get out of a strange pickle, but with I-statements like "What should I do now?" and "I can't go on", the game feels more personalized than generic. At any rate, you'll start off each level in a squared-off area with objects all around and no other path in sight. Taking the form of a roguelike RPG where levels are always randomly generated, players will use the Circle Pad (or the +Control Pad if you prefer) to guide the character around these unpredictable mazes. By moving right up against a pale-looking environmental object like a tree, sunflower, or cacti, colour will be added and you'll find out whether or not the element in question is actually an impassable wall or a portion of a path after it disappears. Directly because of this setup, playing the game is hardly ever dull as new areas are often unveiled all at once as a chunk.
Now, in these main areas, you'll almost always discover enemies lurking around. Once you enter within their vicinity, enemies will move one unit for every space you move. Upon meeting the enemy at a face-to-face level, you may then use the A Button to attack with the sword you have equipped. (Alternatively, you can simply move the Circle Pad in the direction of the enemy.) Monsters seen throughout include tall crystals (Flame Bars) and scorpions (Scorpiox) -- both of which fire long-range shots -- blobs and bats, as well as teleporting ninja assassins. In true RPG fashion, some of these can cause random status effects when they attack, including dizziness (which messes up your controls), poison (self-explanatory), or sight limitations (fog minimizes your field of vision).
Though it may not seem this way in the early beginnings, there's some strategy involved in planning out your movements so you don't find yourself fighting a battle you know you can't win, or getting totally closed in by multiple surrounding enemies. Even as you move away from a main area, some of these enemies will continue following you. This can be a good thing for the purpose of drawing one enemy away from the group so your chances of survival are greater, but in the case of the Death Orb, this is something you also want to avoid. To sum it all up, Dragon Crystal plays out like a turn-based RPG where things take place in real-time for more of an action element.
Another common element you'll find in these areas comes in the form of pick-ups. These can include potions, weapons, rings, and other useful items and upgrades. For a good portion of the game, you'll literally be guessing what most of these items do, as the only real clue you have are descriptive titles like "Flash Rod" and "Silver Potion". There are a couple obvious ones, though. I'm pretty sure you can guess what the Map Book will do. But for the most part, it really is a guessing game. Therefore, it would probably be a good idea to make use of the Game Notes feature on your 3DS to keep track of what each item does, just so you can avoid unnecessary risks when you find yourself in a tense situation. The last thing you'd want to do is use something like the Pink Rod and swap hit points with a dying enemy! On the flip side, you can actually throw some of the negative items at enemies to subject them to the same bad effects you might've had to learn about the hard way. So that's pretty cool. Unfortunately, some of these items are actually cursed, which can spell disaster in the long run since they can stick to your person. All in all, though, I liked the mix of items they had available and the variety of effects they produced.
The other two final commonalities present in all levels are the staples of money and food. In the case of the former, you won't ever go to a shop to purchase items, but if you end up dying, you can make use of the limited continue feature to start the level over again for 600 Gold. The only caveat to this is that you'll lose all your items in the process. As for the food (represented by bread), carrying a healthy supply of energy-boosting items will recover HP on a gradual basis as you walk around. What may seem like a favor to the player is actually an essential requirement, for you can actually start to lose HP to the point of starvation if you go for a prolonged period without any in your inventory. In this manner, the game acquires a slight simulation aspect that ties in nicely with the personalized approach mentioned at the outset, the sum of which leaves you feeling somewhat attached to the game as you get deeper into it. On that note, one thing I failed to mention up until now is that your character has a little dragon following him at all times from behind. As you level-up, the egg will grow into a baby hatchling and so on. At least from my experience, this pet-like character never actually plays a role in any aspect of the gameplay, which is disappointing as they could've easily developed the aforementioned simulation component into something more.
Getting back to the level layouts for a moment, players will find a number of hurdles are often formed as a result of the system construction. The most obvious of these has to do with starting a new floor, which can be really intimidating when there are five or more enemies nearby. Another less frequent flaw is actually more of a conscious design choice than a random occurrence. There are multiple instances where players will find themselves trapped in a boxed-in space and can only escape by attacking a specific wall -- the identity of which you will not be privy to. It was really annoying the way the game expected you to methodically go up to each wall and find where the secret exit was.
With the enemies being the only progressive component amongst a series of constants, new levels often feeling very similar to the one you were last in. Naturally, repetition can be a concern, but if you still manage to find contentment in arcade games that preceded this era of gaming, I don't think it'll be a huge issue. The main reason why I say that is because, on the other end of the spectrum, Dragon Crystal can be quite addicting. Surprisingly enough, I found myself continually wanting to progress to the next set of levels just to see what other obstacles the game might throw in. It's interesting to see that in spite of the seemingly primitive approach taken in the game design, Dragon Crystal's action and RPG elements give it a bit more depth than initially perceived.
Grabbing the goblet on Floor 30 will mark the end of your journey, but leading up to this point, the difficulty will ramp up considerably from Floor 20 onwards. Players will find themselves in a surprisingly fearful situation as they come to the realization that they are simply no match for the majority of the monsters as they get closer to the end. Due to the sudden reveals of the main areas, you can get completely caught off guard, going from 100 to 10 HP in five steps or less. Even on the final level, you'll be up against really powerful dragons that make it extremely difficult to survive, but you might just scrape by if you get lucky with a more favorable layout. When you do reach your goal, the game treats it like nothing special has happened in an almost you-made-it-now-get-on-with-your-life kind of way. Following the completion of the game, there's a possibility you may feel inclined to return to it once in a while, but don't get your hopes up. Although I wouldn't say the adventure is short-lived, the replay value is pretty low -- made less of an issue only because of the randomized level generation.
As far as presentation goes, Dragon Crystal has a pretty enjoyable selection of tracks that fit nicely with the adventure feel of the game. Every 10 levels you clear will result in a change in background music, bringing the total number of gameplay tunes to just three. Although I quite liked the music, I wonder how things would've turned out had SEGA implemented suspenseful themes when they were putting the soundtrack together. I did find the dragon companion looked really lifeless in its original form (as an egg). I also wasn't a fan of the sheet-covered ghosts or even the shark enemies as they emerged from the floor. Overall, the presentation is pretty safe, with the soundtrack proving to be the real hero here.
In its original state, Dragon Crystal did not have a built-in Save system, which likely resulted in an even more challenging yet frustrating experience. Because of the amount of exploration you need to do and the substantial risks that enemies can pose to your progress, having the Restore Point feature in place is certainly greatly appreciated. In connection with this, the entire setup of the lower screen as SEGA has set up for Game Gear games actually exceeds the quality seen in what Nintendo has done for Game Boy games they publish. Not only are you able to create Restore Points, you can also change the button settings and adjust how you want the game to be viewed on the upper screen. You can either have it as normal with two black borders on the site, select 'Full' to have it stretched out across the screen, or choose 'Dot by Dot' to add a visual representation of the Game Gear device in the foreground as though you were actually playing on it. There's even a Blur tool that's actually pretty nifty in how it changes the way the game is viewed, but I'd only recommend turning it on when using the third screen setting I just mentioned. I enjoyed having these different features made available to me, and it's something I'm sure I'll continue to appreciate as more Game Gear games are added to the Nintendo eShop. Obviously, anyone who played Dragon Crystal in its original form back in the day and never ended up reaching past a certain point will love SEGA for including these default functions.
Although the game design isn't very impressive, Dragon Crystal still manages to be a fun adventure nonetheless. Even with the flaws being in full focus surrounding the game's design choices, I, for one, am very pleased I gave it a shot. If you're looking for something challenging that doesn't require much, you should definitely give Dragon Crystal a try.
21/30 - Good
Gameplay 7/10 - Real-time RPG and action elements, step-by-step exploration, flaws associated with the randomized levels, items with undisclosed effects
Presentation 6/10 - Good music, decent visuals, animations are a bit mixed, levels often feel samey aside from the new enemies that are introduced
Enjoyment 4/5 - Gets really challenging later on, frustration can arise from unexpected situations, becomes surprisingly addicting the more you play
Extra Content 3/5 - Can last you a couple hours your first time through, Restore Points minimize frustrations, bonus features with the new VC format
Equivalent to a score of 70% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System