Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of the Ancient Arts Preview
Remember when Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance came out? Fans of the PC titles mocked it as being too simple and "console-y," as it had lost some of the role-playing elements and the developers had implemented some platform/action elements (like jumping). Essentially, it was a real-time hack Ďn slash with an RPG foundation, which is exactly what Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of the Ancient Arts appears to be. This upcoming PSP title seems to combine the age-old hacking action of Gauntlet with the dungeon-crawling RPG goodness of Diablo, and if that's not enough to get you interested...well, then you just don't like games. There should be plenty of aspects from both worlds to keep different gamers happy; the action aficionados will have their non-stop hacking and the RPG lovers will get a solid (albeit standard) role-playing core. Those of you who enjoyed previous games on the handheld like Untold Legends will probably appreciate this one, but just don't expect something that falls squarely into any one genre.
Much like the aforementioned Dark Alliance, players will be able to choose their race when they start a new game of Dungeon Explorer. There are three- Izark (they look like humans), Ist (um...appear to be elves) and Olff (a cross between an orc and a lizard, apparently). Yes, there are only three, but there are multiple classes to choose from after selecting a race. You'll recognize plenty of these from other RPG titles, and with the likes of Fighter, Hunter, Thief, Monk, Shaman, and Bishop at your disposal, you can design a very unique character. Also, not unlike other games in this "straddling genre," we'll start by allocating a certain number of points into available skills and abilities. As we progress and level up, we'll get more points to allocate. It's a tried-and-true system, one that's both simple and effective. Obviously, if you kick things off with an Ist Bishop, you'll play the game very differently than you would if you played as an Olff Fighter. As you might well expect, this kind of freedom always adds a lot to the replay factor because, theoretically, each character style will offer a unique gameplay experience.
As for that gameplay, while you adventure by yourself in games like Gauntlet and Dark Alliance, you will have a party in Dungeon Explorer. Now, if you hunker down and play alone, your team will consist of two additional computer allies (which hopefully will possess competent AI). But if you want to bring in some friends for fun, they can be your party members! Making your way through the dark, intimidating dungeon environments might prove challenging, but with three human comrades, it could be loads of fun. Ad-hoc play is one of the most appealing features of the PSP, and just about every high-profile title is starting to support it. Just like with online multiplayer for consoles, a game can find greatly enhanced longevity and whole new experiences when a player jumps on the Internet for fun that doesn't involve AI. The only concern we have is the camera view. When playing dungeon-crawlers, you really can't be blind, and if the camera sits too close, we'll constantly be surrounded without even knowing it. Please let us control and set the camera any way we want it, Hudson!
The game will include both Weapon Art and Job Art (hey, what's with the Final Fantasy Tactics reference?), and both sets of abilities are going to be different and more effective in certain situations. Furthermore, not only can these Arts be utilized by the individual, but also by the group as well! Of course, this begs the question- will we require a certain team in order to access certain group Arts? Or can all Arts be used by everyone, regardless of race, gender and class? If there are combination requirements, the possibilities seem endless, but we have this feeling that an Art will either be "individual" or "group." It's an intriguing system, and yet another one that skirts the boundaries between action/RPG and straight-up RPG, which may or may not appeal to your tastes. Either way, though, Hudson has made the concept ultra-entertaining and it should prove to be fun for one or multiple players. We wish we knew a bit more about the storyline and plot, but in all honesty, it's not a major focal point, here. We're talking about a dungeon-crawler; who the heck cares about that kind of thing? It's the gameplay that takes center stage, as it should always do.
Lastly, we can definitely expect plenty of items to find. The developers are promising over 300 types of weapons and armor, all of which can be upgraded into better equipment. There are also 150 different Arts to unlock as well, which means Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of the Ancient Arts could be one hell of a lengthy title. Now, we do expect the almost requisite number of useless items that always seem to pop up in games like this, but that's okay. We can always sell them, right? By the way, in case any of you old-school veterans were thinking, yes, this is actually a remake of the old Turbo Graphx title. ...we're expecting this modern one to be a bit better, obviously. Look for it to hit store shelves some time in February.
12/4/2007 Ben Dutka