Published on August 9th, 2015 | by Jowi Meli0
Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria Review
Middle school isn’t a time that many people look back on with fond memories. It’s a nasty period indeed, characterized by the first rumblings of melodramatic adolescent emotions that turn the best of us into self-serious little trolls. While that truth extends to me, I actually remember it being one of the better parts of my childhood: a time when video gaming transitioned from something I did by myself to something I could enjoy alongside a band of fellow nerds.
One of these nerds happened to consistently sit in front of me on the bus, and I can recall shyly peeking over the seat to watch her play the Game Boy Advance remake of the original Final Fantasy. She eventually explained to me how it all worked, a conversation that sent me running home to beg my parents for the game. The rest, as they say, is history: I eventually became part of a group of insufferable geeks known for their love of Japanese games, and worked my way through just about every title in that venerable franchise. We were bullied endlessly, but we didn’t care. We had Final Fantasy. We had Zelda. We had each other.
I’ve taken this uncharacteristically sappy trip down memory lane because Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria sent me there against my will. I’ll admit approached it with a bit of cynicism, having yawned through fellow Wii U style imitators Alphadia Genesis and PierSolar. How many “loving recreations” of the JRPG’s golden age can one possibly take? I thought to myself.
Well, this is the one that did it: sent me flying back through time to my childhood before I could lodge a complaint. Dragon Fantasy is a goofy, joyful, authentic homage, taking as many cues from Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest’s gameplay systems as it does from Earthbound’s tongue-in-cheek writing. It never quite reaches the delirious heights of those seminal classics, but let’s be honest — not many things do.
The game was originally separated into two “books” in prior releases, of which both are included here; each of these is made up of different chapters that follow different characters’ stories; in the first part, you’ll switch between balding knight errant Ogden, kidnapped-brother-having Prince Anders, and the roaming thief duo of Jerald and Ramona.
Their tales are pretty simplistic, to be honest, but everything is buoyed by a goofy sense of humor that keeps things light. It seems almost a necessity in this sort of tribute to include some allusions to popular video games, and they’re all here in spades; I smiled at two enemies named “Biggs” and “Wedge” right at the beginning of the adventure, and enjoyed a throwback to Resident Evil’s goofy “master of unlocking” line. The writing is gentle enough to generate a chuckle or two without beating you over the head with self-reference.
The early Dragon Quest games, which are obviously the primary influence here, weren’t known for their narrative complexity either — brisk, addictive gameplay was the order of the day. That equally applies to Dragon Fantasy: the majority of its appeal lies in a refreshingly simple set of rules and a streamlined interface.
As you might expect, most of what you’ll be doing involves trekking from one location to the next. Walk across the world map, head into a town, get a mission of some sort, complete it in a dungeon, rinse and repeat. It’s an undeniably predictable formula, and those who never found themselves enamored with 8- and 16-bit RPGs might find it a bit trite. For those of us caught up in nostalgia, however, this is a warm and welcoming pattern that still feels right after many years.
Combat is played out in a clean first-person perspective, with each party member possessing a couple of unique actions to keep things interesting. Strangely enough, battles are triggered spontaneously in the overworld, but enemies can be seen (and thus avoided) in the field when adventuring through dungeons. To be honest, the random encounter element is one of the aspects that feels a bit too dated whether or not old RPGs are your bag. It’s not too much of a problem when the rest of the proceedings bring such enjoyment, though. There’s a je ne sais quoi in the familiarity of it all that’s analogous to good comfort food: it might not be the best food you’ve ever had, and it’s probably not healthy, but it goes down easy and feels like home.
Dragon Fantasy captures the classic pixel art of its inspirations competently, but this is another area where the been-there-done-that vibe can sometimes feel a bit stale. It would be understandable if the style was merely guided by old RPGs, but some elements emulate the originals so closely that it can be tiring to look at. Thankfully, some of the other art succeeds on its own terms; I personally loved the detailed work on the enemies’ combat sprites. The actual characters (NPCs and party members both included) are pretty cool, too, and a good example of how many distinguishing characteristics can be fit into a 16×16 object.
JRPGs of yore were known for their catchy, memorable soundtracks, but this is one area where the game can’t quite keep up. Most of the music has a cheap, MIDI-esque quality to it, and the tunes themselves are quite bland. It’s nothing offensive, of course, but it fails to leave much of an impression. There’s also a jarring clipping sound that can be heard when the music loops.
Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria is a welcome repackaging of two great indie RPGs. It’s basically comfort food for people who long for the NES and SNES classics of Japanese role-playing, and it satisfies that hunger quite nicely. It’s not quite at the level of its inspirations, and the music leaves a lot to be desired, but this is a warm and fun ride through familiar territory with a lot of humor and heart.
Review copy provided by Choice Provisions
Summary: Dragon Fantasy is nostalgic comfort food for longtime JRPG fans: light, simple, and addictive. It doesn't really bring anything new to the table, but it satisfies all the same.