Let’s flashback to a simpler era, a time when games didn’t need such lavish things as “story” or “dialog.” Or, then again, perhaps they did need such things, but simply couldn’t afford to have either of them on a bulky, 6-AA-battery-vanquishing handheld. Yeah, that sounds a little more like the situation…enter Dragon Crystal.
In a way, playing a title like Dragon Crystal is refreshing. No long-winded cut-scenes with failed attempts at emotional sentiment, no hours poring over strategy guides to find precisely the right way to develop characters, no worrying about making your character the right race or complex stat modifiers. You simply travel from room to room on each floor searching for the exit. Each floor is randomly generated, with monsters, items and the exit location changing with every play-through. Compared to even many modern Flash games, Dragon Crystal lacks depth, but for US $2.99 it’s a decent romp for short car-rides or waits in the doctor’s office.
The game is turn-based; each step you take is answered by a step or two from your opponents. Walking into your opponent causes you to attack, and you can walk into it until it dies, you die, or you decide to run away. Weapons and armor on the floors along with single-use items like magic books, staffs, and potions to change the tide of battle. Money can also be found on the ground; there are no shops in the game, but if you die, you’ll have to have a certain amount of money banked to revive yourself (sans all but your equipped items). Killing foes yields experience, and experience can cause you to level up, making you stronger and giving you more HP. That’s Dragon Crystal in a nutshell.
Dragon Crystal offers quite the challenge. Each single-use item’s effect starts out hidden, so when you pick up “Mauve Ring” you don’t have any idea whether it will power up your character or curse it. Also laying around in the dungeons is food; traveling around the dungeons tires your player, so he must consume food to stay healthy. Running out of food results in your character slowly starving until more food is found, sapping your HP in the meantime. I’ll admit, this is a mechanic I wish modern open-world RPGs like Skyrim would adopt, particularly with all the food they have in their worlds. But even with those positives, Dragon Crystal has its flaws.
Some parts of the game feel tacked on, random, or just plain useless. I was never able to figure out how much money I needed to have to revive after death, making it feel more like luck-of-the-draw as to whether or not I could continue my quest after 20 levels of hazards. There are only 3 songs in the whole game, one for floors 1-10, one for floors 11-20, and one for 21-30, which encourages you to turn the sound off altogether. Also, even after using an item once and discovering its name, sometimes that item wouldn’t actually DO anything on the map, so I still couldn’t discover its real use.
The worst part, though? The “mysterious egg” that trails behind you, eventually hatching into a dragon, (SPOILER ALERT) does NOTHING. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. At least, nothing that I could figure out. No clawing enemies, no throwing fireballs…hell, I couldn’t even turn around and find out if it was mad at me, Pokémon Yellow-style. For a game to be called Dragon Crystal, and then for the eponymous figure to follow behind me all game and do nothing…well, that was a little lame.
All that being said, Dragon Crystal can still be fun for 3 dollars. With straight-to-the-point gameplay and some decent RPG mechanics, this Game Gear port can be forgiven for quite a few of its misgivings. And though the game features no inherent save function, you can use the 3DS Virtual Console’s save state function to create a save anywhere in the game, which may prevent many gamers from rage quitting after being mobbed for massive damage by food-stealing sharks (I almost rage quit a couple of times). Diablo it’s certainly not, but if you’re looking for a old-school, no-frills dungeon crawler, take a trip into the Dragon Crystal.