If you were around playing games in the late '80’s and early '90’s you might have caught a fever, a JRPG fever. More often than not you would spend hours reading and gazing at the images on video gaming magazines at Japan-exclusive titles that were deemed unmarketable in the West. Among many of those games were the JRPGs staple series Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Epic storylines, turn-based combat, impenetrable walls of Japanese text, dreamy soundtracks… it looked like westerners were resigned to the short end of the stick and kid-friendly titles generation after generation of hardware until eventually public interest and sales figures of Super Nintendo titles such as Final Fantasy VI, Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger proved publishers otherwise, paving the way for the phenomenal worldwide success of Final Fantasy VII a few years later.
Fast forward to the present day and JRPGs are very much still a niche genre, and despite incredible epics such as Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the fact is not all of us can invest the amount of time needed to see them to completion. Is there a solution to satisfy our love for the genre? Enter EXE Create’s Dragon Sinker, the quintessential 8-bit JRPG experience that began its life on mobile phones but already made the successful the journey to video game consoles, Nintendo 3DS included. Having now arrived on Nintendo Switch with added subtitle Descendants Of Legend, is it a solid option for those who need to scratch a retro JRPG itch? Read on, wary adventurer…
Stop us if you’ve heard this one: A prince, a knight and a cleric walk up to a dragon and it goes horribly, horribly wrong… oh, you do know of this? Don’t worry, that is part of the design philosophy (and charm) of this game. You will not find much in Dragon Sinker that you haven’t seen before if you were an avid JRPG consumer back in the day, nor you will need to get joy out of it because what is on offer is rather solid. In true love-letter tribute fashion, EXE Create baked a mix of the most popular JRPG mechanics into a single package. There's a big chunk-sized overworld you can freely explore, towns where you can seek local shops to supply and better equip your hero, dungeons that warrant full exploration for treasures and bosses, classic turn based combat - everything is designed to tickle your nostalgic memories of the genre, including the big pixel 8-bit graphics (they do look absolutely huge when playing docked, akin to a playing a Game Boy game on a Super Game Boy) and a Master System-like SN76489 PSG chiptune soundtrack.
Thankfully, and despite all these old mechanics, there was still space for some features that make the game more accessible: You can set your combat to automatic, leaving the CPU to handle the best way to fight your foes while you simply observe until needed. Also, should you lose a boss battle, you can immediately try again from the start of the fight rather than be faced with a 'game over' screen. The game even enables you to customise difficulty levels and the enemy encounter rate. As such - and despite being an old-school, hardcore gameplay experience at heart - you are free to approach it as casually as you choose. This will certainly be a helpful option for the least experienced among you who still want to enjoy this JPRG.
Despite the adventure casting you only as Prince Abram, you will not be fighting alone for the duration of your adventure. Meeting and recruiting other characters by solving their side-quests is a major slice of the gameplay and you can have up to 12 of them traveling along with your royal self, divided into three or four-man (or women) squads. This offers quite a lot of strategy because the game also includes a job system reminiscent of Final Fantasy V. By combining squads of different professions you can get all sorts of bonus and it is not only rather fun to work these out for oneself, it is nice to have options when you are entering dungeons unaware of what lies on the other end.
There is a clearly defined path from start to finish of the adventure, but the game will reward adventurers that stray from the path by providing a generous dose of side-quests, extra characters for you to recruit, extra dungeons, extra bosses and extra rewards thus the amount of time that it will take you to complete the journey will vary depending on how much time you will invest in exploring. There is available DLC but sadly it is not really extra content but rather in-game modifiers like experience boosters and other such time-shaving, shortcut features that only make sense in the mobile, pay-to-win market. A sadly missed opportunity to expand the core game right there.
Dragon Sinker is fortunately no ‘Dragon Stinker’. True, there is nothing you haven’t seen before a couple of decades ago and there is little reason to once again venture into this quest if you happen to have played it on another platform previous to this release. But nostalgia is a powerful force and what the game does, it does so quaintly and provides many hours of blissful, care-free JRPGing tropes. Not revolutionary but still a very welcome choice for Switch owners with a retro itch. If you do love JRPGs, miss the simpler days and enjoy getting out of a game as much as you put into it, we have little reasons not to recommend you give this quest a go.