Back when I was in high school, I was really into 16-bit RPGs on the Super Nintendo. I played nearly nothing but games such as Final Fantasy IV, Secret of Mana, FF6, Chrono Trigger, Lufia 2, and many others. But as the technology and memory storage of games got more advanced in the 32-bit days and beyond, I kind of lost interest in RPGs. One or two may have grabbed my attention since then, but nothing like back in the 16-bit days. So what happened? Well, I feel that modern RPGs have become too long and meandering, and focus more on story than gameplay. Plus, life, work, and other commitments have kept me from investing the 40 to 50 hours needed to finish today’s RPGs, so it’s not entirely the games’ fault. But every now and then, I still miss the 16-bit days of RPGs. So if you’re like me, I have some good news for you! Dragon Fantasy Book II was recently released on PS3 and Vita as a downloadable title (reviewed on PS3 here), and it’s a throwback to nearly everything you loved about 16-bit RPGs!
The story is typical of any old-school RPG. You scour the world looking for magic stones before evil gets their hands on them. You mostly play as a bald knight out of retirement, an odd choice for a main character. I guess that’s one of the nitpicky problems with this game is the characters aren’t quite as likeable as in past RPGs. Since the story takes place right after Dragon Fantasy Book I, maybe had I played that first I might’ve been more attached to the characters, even though you don’t really need to play the first game to enjoy the second one.
The game is kind of a mix of styles from classic RPGs. At one point your party splits into three and you can choose which story to play first, just like that one part in FF6. While there is a ‘Mode 7’ scaling world map, battles happen directly in the dungeons without switching to a second screen, like Chrono Trigger. And the dialogue and enemies are silly and goofy, just like Earthbound. Speaking of monsters, they even make fun of Dragon Quest’s slimes with Dragon Fantasy’s Rock Monsters. There are several different types, and my favorite is one that wears a blue helmet and is called “Rock Man.” (Get it?) One of the slightly unique gameplay gimmicks is that while in battle, if you whittle down a monster’s HP enough, you can use a Capture Net to catch it and it’ll join your party and fight and gain experience with you! So fans of Pokemon style games will enjoy this one, too.
Dragon Fantasy Book II has a few problems, though. However, most are just nitpicky and are a byproduct of me being overly critical of what this game is trying to be. But I’ll list them all anyway. Even though you get a quest guide that tells you where to go next, sometimes the text still isn’t clear as to where you need to go. You can also do side missions and bounties, and while those get put into the quest log, too, you have to remember who you talked to when it comes time to receive your reward.
Other minor problems include the graphics, which look a bit janky and blocky on the PS3. I played it on the Vita at PAX and it looked much better on a smaller screen. Luckily the game supports Cross Save so you can play it on both, and save at any time, too! And while the graphics are decidedly 16-bit, the sound is more 32-bit. It’s still good music, but it makes the game feel more like a misplaced PSOne RPG with 16-bit graphics and CD quality sound (like Beyond the Beyond or Tales of Destiny). More 16-bit sounding music would’ve helped the game’s authenticity. And while the referential humor is funny, it does get old after a while (and yes, Muteki, I did catch the subtle Portal joke). I think that if this game were released in the 16-bit days, it probably wouldn’t have been one I would’ve bought, but rented a bunch of times instead and then I wished I would’ve bought it later. It just doesn’t live up to the greatness of the games it’s trying to imitate. Even so, I think it’s still worth downloading if you enjoy old school RPGs. It’s even the right length, too. Not too short but not too long either.
Dragon Fantasy Book II is rated E-10 with ESRB descriptors of Fantasy Violence, Alcohol Reference, Mild Language, and Crude Humor. Even though you do hit enemies with swords and spells, the 16-bit visuals keep the violence from looking very graphic at all. You can visit pubs in the game, but most of the alcohol references and crude humor reside in the text only. And I didn’t even notice any bad language in the text yet, so it must be used very sparingly. I’d be fine with any age playing this, but reading skill is a must. I played games like this back in the day when I was a kid, and I think I turned out OK. But the game is probably best enjoyed by older gamers who remember the 16-bit days and would get all the references here.