Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts
Review posted June 2008 by Mike Jennings
Hudson Soft have recently announced that they'll be releasing some classic titles from the long-defunct TurboGrafx-16 system on the Wii's DLC system, the Virtual Console – but it's arguable that PSP owners get the better deal.
Far from stretching 16-bit graphics over large TV screens, the company have remade one of their seminal titles for Sony's handheld. Dungeon Explorer: Warrior of Ancient Arts attempts to take the elements that made the original game so popular and update it for a modern audience.
Unfortunately, what passed for decent RPG action a couple of decades ago now fills up shelves with unimpressive and mediocre titles. The story is hopelessly cliché-ridden: there's a few dank dungeons packed to the rafters with horrible-looking beasties that are scaring the god-fearing, land-farming good folk up above. There's unrest, anger and resentment – and a mysterious wizard who ends up shoving you down a dungeon with little more than a sword and a shield, asking you to remove numerous foes that follow plenty of RPG traditions along the way.
In typical RPG fashion, also, are the characters. Design a player, pick a race – from the usual humans, elves and orcs et al – and customise a few statistics that can be altered throughout the game. Strength, intelligence, speed, dexterity and magical powers are all staples of the genre, and you've seen them in a thousand games before. Unfortunately, there's little here to differentiate the game from many others – and little to convince of the legendary title that spawned it.
The game is spent either in dungeons, fighting monsters – as the title suggests – or completing tasks for villagers in nearby settlements, as they're obviously too scared by recent events to go outside. There have been attempts made to add depth and excitement: a fair few items are available to customise your character, and you can bring people along to form a dungeon exploring party. Thankfully, the combination of so many RPG standards – like stats, levelling up, upgrading weapons and taking on tasks and quests – is extensive enough to provide a modicum of longevity, especially for fans of the genre. But those looking for innovation should cast their gaze elsewhere.
Controls are, like the rest of Dungeon Explorer, pretty typical: the analogue stick moves your character, and X attacks. Square unleashes some well-animated Weapon Arts attacks, which are more powerful, and certainly spectacular. Circle engages with the world around: entering and leaving buildings, using items and talking to NPCs. The right shoulder button helps with targeting, and the left aids control of your party. There's little else needed – while there's nothing particularly innovative or fresh about the controls, they work well and get the job done.
Refreshingly for a relatively deep PSP RPG, the graphics are Dungeon Explorer's strongest area. While they're nothing stunning, the visuals are relatively attractive and serviceable. Characters are especially detailed, with a fair amount of imagination being used to create the models. Although I suspect there wasn't any left for the generic world they inhabit that, while good looking, has been seen plenty before. The magical effects are a highlight: bright, airy and looking suitably powerful, they brighten up the darkest of the randomly-generated dungeons.
It's like listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, but constrained by a minuscule budget. While there's nothing really wrong, there's nothing particularly inspiring – hardly any tunes that motivate you to go slaying, and nothing hugely striking. The rest of the sound is pretty decent and, again, the magical effects steal the show, as well as the weapons: sword strikes sound meaty and the magical effects sound suitably whizzy and ethereal.
If you can find a trio of eager Dungeon Explorers, then multiplayer gaming is possible – but it's pretty limited, consisting of replacing your AI team-mates with some eager real-live people. Apart from that, it's worryingly similar to the regular game – wander around a dungeon collecting items for your stash and killing beasties. And, as if to purposely rob the mode of any relevance at all, you can't keep any experience you gain. Spoilsports.
If you're a hardcore hack-n-slash fan, then you could potentially find plenty of enjoyable ideas within this otherwise lazy updating of a classic franchise. It's strictly cliché RPG fare, and so includes plenty of genre-specifics: levelling, items, quests, monsters and character classes. Dedicated fans of this type of game will be well at home, but as an introduction to the genre you could do far better.