by Tom Mackey
reviewed on PC
If I was tasked with finding one word to describe Muteki’s Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria, that word would be ‘quaint’. Even in the developer's own description, “Experience an all-new old adventure”, it is clear this indie RPG is supposed to conjure up memories of classics like the early Pokemon or Final Fantasy games. For the most part it does. But unfortunately I found myself more often than not wishing I was back playing those games of old instead. Dragon Fantasy feels more like a valiant attempt to recreate the magic of the old retro RPGs, than a game which deserves to stand amongst them.
That isn't to say that the game utterly fails in everything it does though. There is a genuine charm to the characters and world here that is born of that quaint simplicity the game exudes. The story of Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria is presented to us in episodic form. Set in and around the land of Westeria, each episode or chapter has you taking control of a different character and playing out their part in the overall story. A Dark Knight has attacked the kingdom and evil is afoot, and as ever, a hero, or three, must step forward to confront it. Playing out the story as the different protagonists, an old bald hero, a young Prince and an old desert nomad and his niece, does create a small amount of intrigue. Throughout the game I found myself wondering how each story was connected and waiting for some significant reveals or plot twists. But the story here is one that we’ve seen play out countless times before and unfortunately doesn't go out of its way to throw anything new at us. No, it is in the small interactions that take place as you explore the world that the games charm presents itself. There is a tongue in cheek feel to almost all of the dialogue and the developers own self deprecating sense of humour is forever apparent. The game is full of humorous little critiques of the RPG genre and the occasional awareness of how silly this all is. But these can serve to confuse, and at times it is hard to work out whether this is an homage to the old classics or rather a criticism of them.
The world itself is just as simple and quaint as the dialogue. The map is a decent size for a game as small as this, but that size isn't utilised as well as it could be. You find yourself off on quests that involve journeying from one place to another across swathes of monster infested woodland and desert, but these areas feel empty and lifeless. Apart from the random encounters you face travelling between dungeons and townships, there is nothing interesting to discover in these regions. Once this becomes clear, the land turns from intriguing into a barren irritation you have to get past before finding anything of interest. As for the monsters, there is a little more variety. You will find yourself coming up against a series of creatures that feel familiar but in many cases have been given little twists. One of the first monsters you may find yourself up against could be Mrs Rock Monster or her husband and eventually you will find yourself facing twisted versions of every kind of monster popular culture has to offer.
There is so much variety to the creatures in the game, it’s a real shame that doesn't cross over into the gameplay. You will find yourself exploring townships and settlements where you can find equipment and potions to aid you on your journey. Here you can also rest, find items and save your game if necessary. But these areas are small and it doesn't take long to discover all they have to offer. The dungeons in the game offer a little more to think about. Apart from the monsters pacing every corridor, you can find treasure and small puzzles you will need to conquer to explore every corner of every dungeon. It was only exploring the labyrinthian corridors of the dungeons that I found myself actually having to think about what I was doing. It’s this simple level of challenge that could really have done with being replicated in the games combat.
Considering most of your time in Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria is spent in turn-based combat, it’s a shame it’s treated with the same simplicity present in the rest of the game. A lot of the time I found combat was reduced down to simply beating down your opponent, healing, moving on, then doing the same. Some different elements get thrown into the mix, with opponents who can poison, or the spells some characters are able to cast. But the effect these have on combat doesn't make enough of a difference for you to really develop a tactical or even thoughtful approach. So it still always ends up turning into attack, heal, attack, heal over and over until whoever was a higher level has won. I ended up either clicking through the battles as fast as I could, knowing already whether I would win or lose. Because of this, the part of the game that should have been the funnest element, became a mindless chore. You are able to capture monsters and add them to your team, but this doesn't add anything more than power in numbers to your combat style. You can’t even level up team members once they’re with you, which led to me being stuck with some deadweight for much of the game.
Really, Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria is a game that pulls me in two directions. The quaint nostalgia to the look and feel of the characters and world, and the simple humour in the writing all make me want to love this game. It is clear there is a genuine love of the classic RPG aesthetic here, which is what gives the game its charm. But that same simplicity has had the opposite effect on the core gameplay, leaving it feeling mindless and repetitive. Dragon Fantasy may be charming on the surface, but if you’re looking to recapture that magic that encompassed the classic RPGs of old, you’re probably better off playing one of them.
Wonderfully quaint world and characters.
Simple, repetitive gameplay. Not much to discover.