It seems to have been a moment or two since the last release from the bulging sack of KEMCO retro styled JRPGs, but this has now been remedied by the release of the latest title, Dragon Prana. With a more retro-than-usual style to play with, yet the normal story tropes to look forward to, what I hope to discover in the process of this review is whether this is worthy of your time. So come with me to a world of Elves, Dwarves, Humans and Daemons.
As we all know, it’s narrative which is mostly important in an RPG, especially a JRPG; they pretty much live or die on the strength of the narrative. And fortunately, there is an interesting story in Dragon Prana, struggling to get out. See, 120 years ago, a coalition of the three races of the goodies (Elf, Dwarf and Human) put an end to the rule of the Dragon Daemon Lord Kheel. Kheel was sealed away in a crystal, and peace returned to the world. The Humans ended up gaining the “Suzerainty”, which I have researched exhaustively and discovered to be “the right of a country to partly control another”.
Obviously, the Elves and Dwarves don’t love this, and so seething resentment begins to grow. Fast forward to today, and the Dragon Daemon Lord has broken free, starting to lay waste to the world. Can the three races become one again in time to save the world, or will their divisions prove insurmountable? Well, this is where you come in as I’m not going to say any more about the story for fear of spoilers. Be assured, it is pretty strong.
Presentation wise and Dragon Prana is a bit more of a hard sell. Having come fresh from the delights of Persona 5 Royal, with its lush graphical style, Dragon Prana has required something of a mental gear change. The graphics are almost 8-bit in their appearance, with all the characters being little more than piles of pixels arranged into vaguely humanoid shapes. Think Final Fantasy VI and you’ll be on the right sort of path. The usual tropes are in place in regards to the monsters as well, with the same creatures appearing in different colours, and being treated as whole new enemies. So far, so KEMCO.
The sound is okay as well, with pleasant enough music and sound effects to ensure that it does just enough to make playing it a not unpleasant experience. Visually and in terms of the audio, Dragon Prana will leave your socks firmly in place, but for the style of game it works well enough.
The actual gameplay is standard fare as well, but with an added twist. It has all the usual tropes of these types of games: there is an overworld that you can run around on (or sail on the sea after a certain point) and in this overworld are dungeons, for want of a better word. Anyway, you are given a quest to go somewhere, fight your way to the end of the dungeon/location, before getting sent off to the next location. As you go you’ll come across random fights with creatures to take part in, and a little light grinding will usually pay off in the long run.
The usual KEMCO difficulty spikes are all present and correct too, and luckily there are the usual pillars that allow you to summon three sets of monsters to fight, and these are a good place to level yourself enough to take down the bosses that await. The normal turn based options are here, with the ability to use a physical attack, a skill or magic attack, defend, use an item or run away. As is also usual in the KEMCO games – and there have been a few of them – it is possible to set up an almost AI-type behaviour and let the characters take on the fights themselves. This works pretty well, with the ability to choose whether to concentrate on attacking or being a support character, for instance.
The twist I spoke about is in regards a job choice mechanic, with certain roles having specific advantages in certain places. Was that sufficiently vague? In an early dungeon, as an example, the way is often blocked by rocks and only a character of the warrior class can smash said rocks with his or her hammer. Other jobs involve being an archer, a cleric and so on, and each job can also be upgraded. So, for instance, a cleric can be upgraded to a priest, and an archer to an ace hunter. Making sure that you have a range of classes is very important, as having a group of all-out brawlers is great for the DPS, but without healing, they will soon get smashed to pieces.
Whilst the story and combat work well, and the exploration is fun, apart from some serious difficulty spikes the main issue with Dragon Prana is that the story feels bloated; like it is about five hours too long. I’m not a fan of make work quests – you know the sort: go here, talk to this guy, then return back to the first person and we’ll send you somewhere else – and even though the best KEMCO games are quite tightly scripted, this one feels loose and baggy.
Aside from that though, Dragon Prana is pretty much business as usual for KEMCO – expect a retro style and a decent story, and you’ll not be far from what makes these games tick.
Dragon Prana is available from the Xbox Store