Dungeon Drafters – PC Review

Dungeon Drafters – PC Review
Lord Crocosquirrel
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Genre: Mystery dungeon tactical RPG
Developer: Manalith Studios
Publisher: DANGEN Entertainment
Release Date: April 27th, 2023
Edited by AlexKnight2005

 

Dungeon Drafters is a card-battling role-playing game developed by Manalith Studios as their maiden project. “Wait a second,” I hear you all cry in the comments. “How do you get a deck-building RPG?” Easy enough— set up a turn-based strategy grid, and find a character from one of the half-dozen archetypes. They all have different starting conditions, but comes to the endgame (with the right decisions), they are generally equivalent. After being shipwrecked, you get a thorough education in the nuts and bolts of the game before facing the boss… followed immediately after by getting squicked with extreme prejudice.

It IS possible to win the critter at the end of the tutorial, but it’s a long slog, and largely dependent on luck. You’ll lose all of your drops, but wake up safe and sound at the local temple. You’re supposed to be a Crusader trying to stop the Ultimate Evil (of course), so that makes sense. Then you wander out into town, only to discover that everyone else ended up in the shipwreck. From there, you go on a massive hunt through several dungeons all with a particular elemental theme. Forest world, fire world, ice world, boss. You know the drill. At the center of the island is a massive tower, the top of which contains the final boss for the game.

Unlike other dungeons in the game, which allow you to leave after every level, the tower requires you to push through five. It’s a bit jarring initially, but then again, this is supposed to be the be-all, end-all of dungeons for the game—once it’s done, there’s no need for the Crusade you’re on, right? Not so fast. There are a few different ways this could end, but I’ll leave you to decide for yourself which to take. Just don’t take a certain somebody up on her offer if you’re planning on including a particular element with you on your journey.

It’s not all just clearing the dungeons, although that’s certainly an option— various side quests will give you some nice bonuses in the form of Curios, shards, money, and other considerations. Each element has an associated set of quests for mastery of that element. The Oracle, for example, wants you to kill targets indirectly in a single fight, whereas the Raider needs you to kill three enemies in a single turn. Of course, that’s just the first one. That’s already pretty challenging, and it only gets worse from there.

The game is done in pixel style, which for what we’re getting is a pretty good solution for the sheer amount of stuff we need to deal with. Putting all that into a completely 3D world would give us an entirely different gameplay style that would probably kill the whimsy that pervades the game (and the Mage and Shinobi’s cute factor). There are a million things to see and do, loads of mobs to murder with extreme prejudice, a handful of bosses (each with completely different mechanics) to get squicked by, and so much more. The music is a bit hit-or-miss, but more hits than misses, I think. That’s just me, though, and your mileage may vary. Don’t forget the puzzles—the treasure rooms all count on meeting certain conditions in the combat rooms, and if you don’t, the rooms stay locked. Which is too bad, since they put loads of really neat stuff in there.

Moving on, there’s a thing or three to gripe about, so let’s do it. The keyboard controls are solid— the controller, not so much. They work in general if you’re out for melee combat, but getting your cards out is hit-or-miss. The game doesn’t use a lot of buttons in the first place, so it shouldn’t be that hard to bind a key to the cards and then switch the D-pad to use your cards to give those mobs (especially the annoying ‘splodey ones) a good smackdown. As for the story, it’s there. It’s not a huge part of an ostensible RPG, and that’s an oversight in my book. For most, the barest premise is enough to get them invested. Not me so much—like the squirrel I tend to be, I wandered off after a while and never quite made it back. I DID get an ending, and whether or not it was a good one is subjective. They all are, it seems. The Tower had a lovely difficulty spike, but it’s talked up so much that one expects it in the first hour of gameplay. All of that said, aside from the controller issues I ran into, there aren’t any major bugs that create permanent problems.

In the end, Dungeon Drafters is a solid, if not great game. Good to kill an afternoon or three with, but like so many other games, it’s an ephemeral experience. Play it, look at all the shinies, and tuck it away in a corner of your library, only to remember it a couple of years down the road, if ever. I liked it for what it is, but I don’t think it’ll garner a massive following. A good freshman effort—Take the lessons learned here, and apply them to the next one. There’s a good game in there somewhere, if you can find it.

Lord Crocosquirrel gives Dungeon Drafters a Drastik Measure of 6.0 out of 10.0 (60)

Pros:

  • Light, fast-paced gameplay with roguelike dungeons
  • Card mechanics don’t bog down the gameplay
  • Pixel art saves space and load times in a 2D environment
  • Varied characters, each of which plays differently at the start
  • Lots of variability in play styles
  • Sound FX are nice and punchy

Cons:

  • The story is at the back of the bus
  • Music is of varying quality
  • Controller play needs some work