(GG / Game Gear)

Dragon Crystal (GG / Game Gear)

Game Review

Dragon Crystal Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Patrick Elliot

Manageable masochism

For a system known for its incredible appetite for AA batteries, the Game Gear makes quite a strange home for the hardcore, permadeath-filled roguelike Dragon Crystal. With absolutely no save option or password system, the game must have caused some incredible bouts of rage when those last spurts of juice ran out. Dragon Crystal is a very mean game, with a vicious health system that continually depletes should you run out of food, randomly generated stages filled with enemies that can drop your level when they attack and items with unknown, often detrimental, effects. When emulated on 3DS, however, the game's overall structure dramatically changes: restore points let you safely create a save spot before trying an item or plunging into the next stage, making all of the masochistic qualities much more manageable. If doing so breaks all the roguelike charm for you, there is a simple solution: don’t use restore points.

The unofficial sequel to Fatal Labyrinth, Dragon Crystal follows a similar formula, dropping you into randomly generated areas filled with an ever more challenging array of enemies. You goal is to find the exit, and at the start of each stage you are surrounded by “fog of war,” an effect that basically blacks out areas you have yet to explore. All pathways and rooms are hidden until you pass into them, but remain visible for the duration of the level, unless an enemy casts a fog spell. Sometimes, you even end up stuck in a stage with seemingly no exit; here you have to keep checking all the walls until a hidden pathway shows up.

There are various potions, magical rods and spell books to collect, each having diverse effects on enemies and the character himself. They add a decent amount of depth to the game, allowing you to augment equipment and cast spells, but make for a double-edged sword. The effect of each item is unknown at first, only having a colour to separate them in the menu, but once its effect is revealed the colour in its name is replaced by a more helpful adjective. Some items freeze or confuse the player if used, but will transfer the effect to enemies if thrown at them. Other items are incredibly harmful to the player, like a potion that reduces your base attack power to zero and a rod that drops you down a level. Again, restore points can nullify the need to learn by trial and error, as you can set one right before you use each item, then go back to reverse the damage.

Combat is simple, but not without strategy. You walk into your foes to attack them, much like the original Ys. However, most enemies only move one square at a time, and won’t budge until you do, letting you manoeuvre around enemies and dodge projectile attacks before moving in close to take out your foes.

As you get further into the game, you'll discover more weapons, rings and armour. Like other items, you don't know their attack power and defence until you equip them and, again, some have detrimental effects: you might equip a ring that makes you eat food very quickly, and thus die faster. These damaging items can't be unequipped until you try numerous potions or books in an effort to find one to unlock the curse. Again, the restore points make this much more manageable, as you can set it right before you take your chances exploring your inventory.

If you die — which you likely will — you only get to continue if you have enough money, with the cost increasing each time you die. You can only resurrect three times and doing so wipes out your inventory, so it's not something to rely on. However, you will keep the equipment currently equipped and, in a rare stroke of kindness, also retain the names of all those potions, rings, magical rods and spell books you experimented with.

The graphics can be a bit repetitive, with the same borders reused throughout the game. Environmental mazes are constructed of pine trees, cacti, sunflowers and statues that look plucked from Easter Island. The enemy types become more diverse as you play however, save for the occasional palette swap. One nice touch comes from the dragon companion that trails you throughout the game: he won’t do much, but he does transform from a rolling egg into a baby dragon before becoming a flying behemoth. Your character also looks more fearsome as you progress, his weapons and armour becoming larger and more ornate as you collect better equipment.

All in all there are 30 stages to complete, and things change a bit in the final stage. Without giving too much away, let's just say you're not looking for an exit. Even with the inclusion of restore points, there is still a good chance you won't make it through on your first run. If you do, the levels are so random that you never get the same playthrough twice.


Dragon Crystal in its emulated form offers two very distinct ways to go about playing. If you want a masochistic adventure filled with numerous unknowns and permadeath, play without restore points. If you want a more methodical, balanced approach that allows you to slowly calculate each decision, play with restore points. Either way, you’ll probably want some pen and paper by your side. The environments may be rather monotonous and the combat quite simple, but there is a fair amount of strategic depth, thanks to the slow pace, vast inventory and ever-depleting food and health system. At just $2.99, it thriftily serves as both a manageable introduction to the roguelike sub-genre and a throwback to its challengingly cruel roots.

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User Comments (37)



sam322 said:

Great review and this game yet catches my eye. But I was wondering, is there content in this game which makes it enjoyable?



HanuKwanzMasBif said:

Only a 6? You didn't make it sound that bad in the review...
Well, wasn't gonna pick this one up anyway.




I had no problem with this game at all when I downloaded it last week from the eShop. The game feels good where it lets you walk around, find and pick up items, and battle enemies without having to go into a another screen to do so. It also offers a lot of hours of gameplay because you'll always want to be determined to get farther than you did on your first run. The only thing that gets to me about Dragon Crystal is that it feels like you're getting absolutely NOWHERE! when you come to a dead end and find no portal in the room to transport you to the next room. It's OK if you have the right item to help you out. But if you don't, basically you're screwed over. Anyways OVERALL, I give this game a 7.



Flowerlark said:

I'd give it a 7 too. Just beat it last night. BY THE BY, there ARE portals on every floor. If you run into a seemingly dead-end, repeatedly press the A button next to the wall and it might open a path to a place you couldn't get to.

My only big problem is it gets crazy hard around floor 25. The enemies suddenly get insanely strong, even if you've taken the time to level up as much as possible and collect every item. Not only that, but the enemies can permanently lower your stats as you fight them, or rust your weapon or steal your armour... I ended up using restore points and running away from everything on the last 5 floors.



ejamer said:

It's a very fair review and score. But I can totally understand how some people are still left unsure about the game after reading it.

Rogue-like games have some appealing features: every time you play, the randomly generated levels/enemies/items ensure that the game is a new experience. They are perfect for people who don't mind losing games, but like having a challenge where each time they start over the goal is to improve just a little bit.

However, the genre also could be called old-school to a fault. Death means game over: no extra lives, no continues (at least not usually, this game is an exception), and nothing to show for the effort of your last game. The randomness ensures that each game is a new experience, but also means you have to start from square one each time without even knowing what a potion or rod will do. This particular game is also very simplified - which may appeal to some but will probably turn off rogue-like fans who enjoy the complex interactions and designs of free-to-play PC games like NetHack.

So it's a niche genre that will probably appeal greatly to a certain type of gamers, but will be a terrible experience for others. Frankly, it's hard to recommend even if you do enjoy the genre. I guess if you like playing Toejam and Earl solo then this might appeal to you also?



alLabouTandroiD said:

Great review!
I loved playing Chocobo's Dungeon on the Wii. Somehow got distracted though and never finished the game. Since then i couldn't muster up the courage to play another roguelike yet. Now's the time to do that i suppose. (Well, not exactly now, NoE's frontpage shows it will release the 29th.)
And while i don't think it will be as great as the Chocobo game (dozens of bosses ftw!) i expect to enjoy it heaps.
@ everyone owning the game: From footage i've seen i got the impression that once you've beaten all enemies on a floor there won't appear new ones in this level. Is this the case?



XXITheWorld said:

It is the case, basically you want to kill all enemies on a floor and then move on to the next



Morpheel said:

Just so you guys know, a 6 is not a "BAD GAME " and I think it suits this game perfectly.

The_Rules wrote:

6 - Not Bad
This game is not good enough to rush out and buy without doing your homework. Whilst you should approach with a degree of caution you might still really enjoy this game.



Yogsoggoth said:


Some rooms have secret exits you have to stand at each wall and press the a button a bunch of times to find them. I actually had to search one room twice to find the exit. The instructions should have been clearer on this.



Knux said:

This game is fun, but hard as hell. Prepare for the challenge of your life even if you're abusing restore points!



BulbasaurusRex said:

I'm not interested in any rogue-like games that don't feature Pokemon, plus this one sounds a lot more masochistic than the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games.



ejamer said:

This game is a LOT more primitive than Chocobo's Dungeon on Wii. Same concept, but just pared down a lot. Given the price and portability, it should still be entertaining though... at least I hope it will be.



Stuffgamer1 said:

@battLeToaD: Yeah, what ejamer said. As it just so happens, I've finally gotten around to playing Chocobo's Dungeon recently, and I love it. But Dragon's Crystal is lacking in a LOT of features that make Chocobo's Dungeon great. There's no towns, no shops, no way to upgrade equipment, no job system, no intriguing story, no moving diagonally, no in-depth descriptions of what stuff does in your inventory even when you DO have the name of it, dying is more harshly punished...and it's not cute like Chocobo.

If you're okay with that ENTIRE list, sure, give Dragon Crystal a go. Personally, it felt like an IMMENSE downgrade. A six is definitely an appropriate score for this game, whereas I'd give Chocobo Dungeon a nine (those damn one-hit death dungeons...).



Flowerlark said:

Hmmm, you guys are making me want to play this Chocobo Dungeon because I rather enjoyed Dragon Crystal. It was my first and only rogue-style experience.



MeloMan said:

Yeah... nah, I'm good, I've got much more entertaining stuff to play currently.



lockelocke said:

I actually really like this game, and it's left me wondering why portable hardware hasn't become home for rogue-likes. They're perfect pick up and play titles, that still offer a greater depth over a long period of play.



RR529 said:

Think I'll pass. Still glad I got Shinobi though, that game's great! It even has gotten the best review (on this site, at least) amongst the GG games.

This is quite inexpensive, though, and I need something to do...



Stuffgamer1 said:

@Flowerlark: Oh, I'd definitely recommend it. Chocobo Dungeon is my new favorite rogue-like game. And it's actually not too hard to get at a reasonable price if you can order online.



Pogocoop said:

Should have waited for this review before I got this absolute rubbish...
But it is nice looking at the game gear emulation features, plus the icon looks nice on the home menu, so It was worth the 2 bucks...



Sam_Loser2 said:

I absolutely love the original Rouge, that alone might be enough for me to try another rougelike. So far this game sound almost exactly like it.



EvilLucario said:

Forget pen and paper, use those frackin' Game Notes. They actually play a role for the game.



Ras said:

I've had a couple of games that featured the "guess the potion/magic wand" thing, that could do you more harm than good. In Ultima Underworld 2, you could either try your luck or pay a mage to identify the spell for you. I think AD&D: Treasure of Tarmin for the Intellivision had the same thing, but you just took your chances with potions. Also in The Immortal.



alLabouTandroiD said:

@XXITheWorld(#12): Much appreciated, thank you. This will be good to try out the stuff you’re getting since you’re not risking too much then.
@ejamer(#17) & @Stuffgamer1(#19): From footage I already got the impression that it’s a lot more basic than Chocobo’s Dungeon. I think I’ll even enjoy it because of that simplicity but i don’t expect it to go anywhere near its greatness. Still, thanks for your impressions and recommendations.



Betagam7 said:

Dragon Crystal is a fantastic game, way better than Fatal Labrynth. I spent hours and hours on it with the Game Gear back in the day (there was a thing called an AC adaptor which this reviewer perplexingly fails to acknowledge). These days I play it again on a little cheap GG handheld type device and its still great fun. Never the same game twice and with all the best qualitites of roguelikes. I can only laugh at people complaining there are no towns/story etc. This isn't a JRPG! It's not meant to have any of that.
This game is perfect for a portable. Quick twenty minute sessions that leave you wanting more. Get it.



MegaAdam said:

This game is actually a lot of fun, but I equipped a ring that randomly teleports you around the level and it is absolutely no fun.




YES!!! I absolutely LOVE roguelike's so much! Getting this game NOW just because it's a roguelike, that explains it all. Superfun, replayable, random generated dungeons, total adventure, experimenting with books/spells/potions ect.. so much fun in roguelike's.



Hairmanban19 said:

This is a great game and its only 3 bucks,and it got me to start playing more rouguelike games.

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