Review: The Nightmare of Druaga: Fushigino Dungeon (PS2)

The Nightmare of Druaga
Developer: Arika
Publisher: Namco
Genre: Dungeon Crawl RPG
Release Date: 10/27/04

The Nightmare of Druaga is a sequel to an old Arcade game made by Namco over 18 years ago. It’s so obscure I only first heard of it When Namco released it on the PS1 as part of one of the collection volumes. And if I haven’t heard of it, how many people have?

That original game was called the Tower of Druaga and was a 2D dungeon crawl involving killing monsters and finding keys in order to get to the next level. Repeat a few dozen times and you have the game. It’s little wonder this game was easily forgotten by gamers. A Game Boy, NES, and even a TG-16 port of Tower of Druaga was made, but none of them ever reached American shores.

So you have to wonder what the heck Namco was thinking creating a sequel to a game almost no one had ever played. I admit, sometimes making a sequel to a game that sold poorly is good, if only for the original loyal fans. There’s a few series that got that treatment. I’d say Persona, but that sold amazingly well in Japan, so let’s give a universal example in Shadow Hearts. Koudelka was an amazing game that didn’t sell that great. Yet Sacnoth kept the same universe, some of the same characters and gave us an amazing game. Hooray. But even with Koudelka, there was a group of fanatical fans. I’ve never heard anyone remotely mention Druaga needing a sequel, or at all actually.

I picked up the game solely because I knew very few people would review it. And because I like obscure games. Picking up games very few people have heard of has led me to some wonderful games, like Hell Night or Top Shop. Great games. So I figured I’d give this a shot. After al, if it was a great game, maybe I could get the word out and help Namco sell a few copies. Or if it was bad, it would just continue to languish in obscurity as it was destined to do anyway.

Let me tell you though, Druaga is proof that just because a game is obscure or little known, doesn’t make it a good game. And owning this game will in no way impress your video gaming buddies. If anything, they will throw things at you and taunt you mercilessly once they’ve seen it in action.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Nightmare takes place three years after Tower occurred. The hero, Gilgamesh defeated the Dark Lord Druaga and the Sumar Empire. Gil saved the Chosen One of the Goddess Ishtar, Ki, and everything was happy again. Typical good beats evil overlord of darkness plot so common to old school video games.

In Tower, Ki gets kidnapped again and brought into the tower. This time the evildoer is a vile sorceress named Skulld. Yes, I know. A terrible name. However, they hint strongly at who she really is/was in the game and if you pay attention or read your manual, you’ll know.

Gil gets his armour, a sword, and heads back into the tower. This time however instead of going up, Gil has to go down, down thirty levels to be exact, in order to save his bride-to-be. And that is the crux of the plot. There’s no real depth at all to the game. It’s enter the tower, kill, a tiny bit of exposition that really makes no sense, leave, and repeat until the game is beaten.

It’s appalling what little plot there is. Yes, Dungeon Crawl RPG’s are not necessarily known for incredible plots. Torneko’s Mysteruious Dungeon, for one. But some DCRPG’s are fantastic. Evolution and Azure Dreams for example. Great games that have the same style of gameplay found in NoD, but with actual depth. NoD is more an insult to games intelligence than anything else.

Maybe 18 years ago, an RPG could have gotten away with this little plot. But not today. There is no depth to even a single character and you often find yourself bored stiffless from absolutely nothing occurring save for crawling through the same few dungeons over and over again. 99% of the RPG’s out there have a better tale to tell than this game, and considering that’s why one mainly buys an RPG, this is a sad game indeed.

Story Rating: 2/10

2. Graphics

Now I know the PS2 is the weakest out of the three systems right now in terms of, well everything to be honest, but NoD looks like it was a college student’s final project for their Computer Science degree. We’re talking graphics that could easily be done on the PS1 or Saturn. Monsters consists of blobs and oozes for the most part, which I believe is their attempt to hide the fact no one on the design team had the ability to draw anything else. This theory of mine is further backed up by the fact that every other monster in the game is lacking in detail or any real form. The “vampires” look like violet shrubs for example.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. The villagers and towns look like something out of a late PS1 game, but not much better than that. By today’s generation of games, Nightmare of Druaga is a very ugly indeed. There’s no way a game this late in the PS2’s lifespan should be coming out looking like this. There are Ps2 launch titles that put this game to shame.

The cut scenes and CGI movies are better, but not by much. The fact remains, this game is easily something that could have been done on the PS1 and it looks substandard. I still can’t believe Namco put this out without making it looking even remotely attractive to a casual gamer. If you find a copy of this, grab it and look at the back of the box. There’s nothing there, in terms of writing or graphics that will make someone care enough to buy this.

When the best looking bit of the game is the front cover box art, you know you have a problem.

Graphics Rating: 4/10

3. Sound

Again, nothing to write home about. There’s no voice acting in this game. Just that weird scrolling noise RPG’s used to make back in the day.

The music is average. Like everything else about NoD, it was as if Namco commissioned Arika to make a game that was, at best, average. There are no real sound effects except for the same noise your character always makes when he hits, the armour clad stomping when he walks, and all the same noises the monsters make. There’s nothing terrible here. There’s just not anything that shows any effort or care either.

You really could play this game with the volume on mute or while listening to a CD or movie as the background noise instead. You won’t be missing anything.

Sound Rating: 4/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Have I made it clear yet that this is NOT a good game in anyway? Well hopefully this will help as well. The controls are okay. X attacks, Square lets you target a monster, you can rotate the field so you can get a better angle and there are short cuts to attacks and abilities.

The thing is, this is a dungeon crawl. This means you have a literal turned based game. For every step you take, the computer has every monster in the game take one. An action such as healing or attacking or using an item counts as one turn. It can be a very addicting game if it is done right. And Nightmare of Druaga DOESN’T DO IT RIGHT.

A lot of times the controls are clunky. Every time you enter a dungeon, you have to remap it, which make sense with MOST dungeon crawlers, as they have random dungeons. Druaga doesn’t not, so remapping everything is just stupid.

Often times you will accidentally hit the analog buttons and open up your shortcuts by accident. Items you collect are disorganized and it takes way too much time to scroll through everything just to find a healing potion or a feather.

It’s not like there were unresponsive controls or glitches in the gameplay or anything truly frustrating.

But most unforgivable is the save feature. Whenever you save the game, you have to turn off and reset your PS2. I’m not joking. You can’t save and continue. You can only quit. Because of this totally asinine save feature, it took me four hours to get past the first dungeon, even though I logged only two hours in actual game play time. You can also only save between dungeons. Which means if you’re nowhere near the goal, too bad! You COULD use a feather, but that means you go back into town and you’ll have to start the dungeon all the way from the beginning again. And by beginning, I mean the first level of the dungeon. Too bad, so sad, eh?

The save function of this game is quite possibly the most frustrating I have ever seen in any video game EVER. As you will se in the balance section, this aspect combined with how crappy the game is to you when you die means you this game will only drive people away instead of letting them be able to enjoy and have fun with it. Nothing is more annoying than resetting your PS2 twenty times in one gaming session. I wish that was an exaggeration. But it is in fact so.

The Controls of NoD are not laid out well and when you combine in the very bizarre saving method of this game, only a masochist could truly find anything redeeming about this game.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 3/10

5. Replayability

The game takes less then ten hours to complete. Rather a sad fact considering most Dungeon Crawls are usually twice as long at the least. The game is very linear with only a few subquests (that are more annoying than fun and are little more than a way to increase game length) to deviate from the set path. The dungeons don’t randomly change like in other Dungeon Crawls and you will find yourself playing to just get the game over with rather than because of any enjoyment from it.

There is no reason to play this game more than once unless you really want to get all the hidden silver and gold treasure chests. These chests only appear when you meet certain criteria for each level. The criteria changes on each level, and guess what? The criteria is SECRET! It never reveals to you what you have to do. Even after you fulfill whatever it is you had to do. How insane is that? And to get the gold chest, you have to fulfill the silver requirements first, then do the gold ones. I mean, it’s a nice reward idea, but to never give you even the slightest hint of what you have to do? I can’t get my head around that and can only blurt out, “WTF? WTF are these developers on?”
I can’t imagine anyone wanting to play this game even up to the half way point. It has so many issues you wish there was a video game psychologist out there to give it digital prozac.

Besides the treasure chests, you have the annoying save feature, and the subquests I mentioned do nothing for you. Nothing at all. You don’t get to keep any of the items or experience you find on these quests. The only word I can think to describe this game is dumb. Just plain dumb.

Don’t even play this game once. Please? Pass it buy or burn any copy you see on the shelves. Save someone’s sanity!

Replayability rating: 2/10

6. Balance

The game is amazingly easy. 90% of the monsters you will encounter in this dungeon crawl are amazingly weak and present you with little to no challenge whatsoever. When the monsters gang up on you, three to four at a time, then it gets a little trickier, but then only because of the numbers thing and you’ll only need a heal potion afterwards. No real threat to your life as long as you constantly monitor your health bar. The game is very easy and even people new to Dungeon Crawling should find the game a cakewalk for the most part.

The problem is when you encounter enemies like ropers (the best looking monster in the game) or Will o the Wisp, which you will only ever be able to do a point of damage to, and in return who can pretty much kill you in a hit or two. It’s nice to have monsters that present a challenge, but unkillable? This is not the Adventures of Lolo here. When you encounter one of these, you pretty much have to run away. You can avoid the monsters by taking diagonal steps where as they only seem to move like a rook does in chess. Diagonal moving across the grid leaves them in the dust. Still, the first time you encounter them, it’s a shame because a player who don’t realize how out powered they are will bite the big one.

And speaking of death, when you die, you will revive in the town the game takes place in, minus ALL your items and half your gold. You can get an item inscribed to ensure you don’t lose it, but that takes most of your gold and you can only have a very few select items inscribed. This is very frustrating when it happens. I allowed myself to die once to see what happens, because Dungeon Crawling generally do punish you for dying, but they only take away the items you FOUND while in the dungeon that time. Not EVERYTHING. Thankfully you have a feather, so a smart gamers will use that right before they die. Sure that means you have to go through the entire dungeon AGAIN, but at least you have all your stuff.

The most irritating factor of Druaga is when you try and reset a game. Remember in Animal Crossing if you try to reset and the next time you play, one of those moles comes out and scolds you relentlessly? Well if you reset or turn off your PS2 for ANY reason without saving, pissed because you died, had to go somewhere and just forgot, got annoyed at how repetitive and lame this game is, the next time you play it, the goddess Ishtar will come on and scold you. And not just a quick “Don’t forget!” scolding. We’re talking FIVE MINUTES or ranting at you. This programmers seemed to think it would be cool to have a game that lectures you as if it was your mother and you have nothing better to do than sit there and before to watch the game ask you stupid questions and shake its virtual finger at you. It really feels like every aspect of this game was designed to annoy and frustrate you into not wanting to play it and to give this game as much negative word of mouth press as humanly possible. Did Namco lose a bet? It sure feels like it.

In fact, the only thing even remotely praiseworthy in this game is the golden armor factor. Gil wears armor blessed by the Goddess. It illuminates the dungeon around him so that he can see what he is doing and doesn’t get himself killed. However, the longer Gil is in the dungeon, the more the glow starts to fade, and your field of vision decreases. You can get the glowing back, by sacrificing one of your items to the goddess. The better the item, the larger your field of vision and thus the longer it will last.

That is the only positive I can think of for this entire section of the review in regards to this terrible game. Otherwise Druaga is a poorly designed unbalanced snorefest.

Balance Rating: 2/10

7. Originality

Again, the only thing I can say in this game’s defense, is the golden armor and the reducing of your vision is a nice touch. But that sort of thing happened even way back in old school games like Shadowgate.

It’s nice that Namco decided to release a game that is obviously supposed to be a tribute to the golden era of RPG’s. A new game that feels like a retrogame. The problem is that Druaga gets nothing right, and instead of recapturing that feeling of Nostalgia we have from games like the First Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior, or Shadowrun or Shining Force, we have a game that makes us wonder if the good old days were actually any good at all.

It’s too bad, because a dungeon crawl style RPG done right is amazingly addictive and fun. This makes me think twice about wanting to touch Wizardry or Azure Dreams again. It’s truly that bad. If you want a good modern dungeon crawl for the PS2: Grab Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land. It’s better in every way possible.

Druaga lacks substance, it lacks style, and its most of all lacks any originality. I’m pleased someone tried to make a style of RPG that was, up until now, extinct, but if this is the best version anyone can come up with nowadays, they should have left the Dungeon Crawl RPG buried where it fell.

Originality Rating: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

I wish I could give this game a negative score in this column. The entire game is designed so you won’t want to play it. From a boring gameplay experience, to scolding you when you reset, to turning itself off when you save, to lacking in any plot or character development whatsoever, Druaga is a game that will leave you screaming in frustration, not just at how poor of a game it is, but because you spent forty bucks on it.

Druaga had potential to be a mediocre game, but sloppy and inane decisions by the programmers make this quite possibly the most “Stay Away!” from game this year. Hell, it makes Advance Guardian Heroes look good.

Addictiveness Rating: 1/10

9. Appeal Factor

I can’t honestly believe anyone out there will enjoy this game. I can see some people saying, “Yeah, it was an okay game.” But that’s it. This is not a game that will make you jump up and down with any sort of glee. AT best, you will get a tepid, apathetic response. At worst, you will have people say, “This was one of the biggest gaming mistakes of my life to buy this POS.”

Those few of you who may have fond memories of the original (What, all five of you), will be horribly disenchanted. I have a feeling the only people who will play this game are the poor schmucks out there who agreed to (or were drafted) into reviewing this. Can we say Martyr Complex? I knew you could.

Appeal Factor Rating: 2/10

10. Miscellaneous

Well it’s nice Druaga has side quests, even if they do nothing for you. And it’s nice someone tried bringing back dungeon crawling, even if they failed miserably at it. And it’s nice to see someone trying to breath life back into a classic game, even if this was akin to making a new Battletoads game and having it be a first person salad making game.

Druaga was a good idea gone awry. Horribly awry.

Druaga really could have been a decent game getting a score like a 5 or even a 6 if they had tried and refined the game a bit, fiddled with the balance, and took out most of the annoyances. Instead what you get is a ten hour dungeon crawl that has little to no redeeming value whatsoever. It’s not to say that Druaga is a game that you should flush down the commode so it can have a family reunion, it’s just that small and minuscule bits of the game that are good, are enveloped by the rest of the game which is simple outright horrific.

Miscellaneous Rating: 4/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Stay the hell away from this game. Namco, you should be ashamed of yourselves for publishing this. VERY ashamed. This game is almost completely devoid of anything even approaching quality. This is quite possibly the worst game of the year and has earned the lowest score I have ever given a game in the two years I have worked for Inside Pulse and 411mania. Dreadful, Dreadful, Dreadful.



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