Take a look at just about any digital storefront and you'll see that many Indies are focusing on creating JRPGs that harken back to the classics of the 8-bit or 16-bit eras. While it's nice to see how a new generation of developers have been inspired by the games they played as kids, the problem is that many of these new games lack depth and are a dime a dozen. Enter Dragon Fantasy: The Volumes of Westeria, a JRPG that's been published by the studio responsible for the BIT.TRIP games. While Dragon Fantasy doesn't manage to push the genre forward in any meaningful way, it does provide a rock solid effort that feels straight out of the era it tries so hard to emulate.
The story is fairly uninspired and basic at its core, but the witty writing and interesting characters save it from being forgettable. It all begins during the ceremony where the Queen of Westeria is preparing to pass the torch on to her son who is finally of age, but things go awry when the Dark Knight shows up and kidnaps the Prince. While it may be a plot that we've heard a thousand times before, it's given a lot more longevity by the fact that players can experience it from the viewpoints of three different characters. Not only does this effectively triple the total length of the game, but it keeps things interesting when you get to see what the other characters were up to while you were playing through one particular storyline.
Though many of the typical tropes of a JRPG are present and accounted for, the tongue-in-cheek manner in which they're presented make it an entertaining journey, to say the least. Self-aware jokes and sarcastic lines are the norm and this gave us a strong desire to keep playing and to continue pushing the story forward; it's quite fun to encounter new enemies in the field just to see the kinds of attacks and dialogue they'll present.
Gameplay is exactly the kind that you'd expect out of a standard JRPG, and while it doesn't innovate in any major way it doesn't strictly do anything wrong. Traveling throughout the overworld triggers random encounters and these can be just a bit too frequent. It's a lot like walking through caves in Pokémon and encountering a Zubat every three steps; for a while you can deal with it, but it becomes irritating when you're just trying to get somewhere and become trapped in a continuous stop and go cycle. In caves or dungeons, however, this problem is alleviated when enemies are shown right there on the map and you have the option to walk around them.
Battles unfold in a typical turn-based manner, with the player having access to standard magic and physical attacks. Experience and gold are acquired after each fight and stats and levelling progress in a linear manner. Of course, new weapons and armour can be bought or found in the overworld that help augment various stats, and this adds a light layer of strategy to proceedings. Additionally, the option to use a net to catch and add certain enemies to your team adds some much needed diversity; all of this combines to create a gameplay loop that - while ultimately rewarding - can grow repetitive over time.
The sprites that make up the majority of the game are all brightly coloured and lovingly animated, and the developers even included an option to toggle between 8-bit and 16-bit visuals. This feature adds a surprising amount to the experience and it's quite interesting to switch back and forth to see how certain enemies or environments look in one particular art style. The music is catchy and does a good job of matching the pace or mood of whatever's on screen, while also offering the option to switch between 8-bit and 16-bit.
Off-TV play is supported - the entire game is playable without the TV - and while it may feel like the GamePad could've been used for more than just a simple screen mirror, it does bring one quirky benefit: the entire game is playable on the touch screen. It seems to be a bizarre inclusion, as physical buttons are immediately available, but everything from character movement to menu management can be handled by taps and swipes if the player so chooses. While this may be an admittedly marginal feature, it's nice that the developers chose to work in an option such as this to give the player more choice over how to play.
The greatest strength and weakness of Dragon Fantasy is how closely it adheres to well-worn JRPG systems. On one hand, this game was created as a love letter to the JRPGs of yore and it certainly hits the nail on the head in that regard. On the other hand, it occasionally gets it a bit too close and feels archaic and dated as a result. Ultimately, this game is one that we'd recommend, as you simply don't find many modern attempts on the classic-style of the JRPG genre that feel as well rounded as this. That being said, if you weren't a fan of games like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest back in the day, Dragon Fantasy definitely won't change your mind.