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Review by tankMage (April 2016)
Never heard of Doraemon? That’s not particularly surprising since the anime series never made it to western shores, although the curious can find fan translations with a bit of searching. Speaking of fan translations, Wakdhacks was kind enough to do an English patch for this RPG back in 1999. I’ll be honest, this is perhaps the worst fan translation I’ve played, but I appreciate the fact that someone took the time to make it available to a wider audience and after attempting to read texts translated from Japanese into English by software, I have a great deal of respect for individuals who are able to tease a semi-coherent translation out of a Japanese game, so thanks Wakdhacks.
As an RPG, DtRoGZ is somewhat mediocre, but it’s wacky sense of humor and interesting source material made for a fun ride nevertheless. With that in mind, I couldn’t give it a very high score, because there really isn’t much to Doraemon; the monsters, story, spells, magic system and just about every other aspect of the game are all very bland and basic, not to mention the fact that the game is very linear. If not for a few cool moments and it’s licensing, DRoZ would easily be a top contender for the title of “Most Boring RPG Ever”.
So on one hand we have a game that has a variety of locations, all with their own unique tile sets, and some funny monster sprites. On the other hand, we have yet another Dragon Warrior clone battle engine that lacks attack and spell animations, so battles are basically a spreadsheet with pretty pictures. At first I thought the sprites for monsters, characters and portraits were just badly drawn, but after seeing the original anime, it seems that Epoch was merely replicating the style in which Doreamon was drawn. Excluding the battle engine, I’d say this game sports decent graphics that are true to the source material, but lack inspiration.
Sound and Music
The soundtrack and effects are a major plus for this game. Most of the songs are catchy and there’s a good selection of them. While many of the sound effects are typical, there were a few that stood out. Also some of the weapons and spells had their own unique sound bites, which gave battles a much needed sense of depth.
There are several issues which make critiquing this title’s story rather tricky. First of all, the developers (rightly) assumed their audience had an interest and fair bit of knowledge concerning the mangas (that’s Japanese for comic books, gaijin), anime and movies. Since the Doraemon TV series had run from 1979 to 2005, you can expect it to be fairly entrenched in Japanese pop culture and anyone buying the game would likely do so, because of the licensing. Unfortunately, being an American, the series was new to me and I could only watch a few episodes and read up on the subject to avoid being completely lost.
Secondly, Wakdhacks didn’t do the best of jobs transcribing this puppy into English, which made some of the scenes confusing. In one instance I had no idea what an NPC said, because several lines of text were missing. Regardless, the Hero, Doraemon and eventually, Nobita (Doraemon’s partner in crime) go around visiting various places from the series in order to find the parts to Doraemon’s time machine-spaceship-thingy. Did I mention Doraemon is a time traveling robot cat from the 22nd century? Anyway, an evil creature named Giga Zombie is trying to conquer the multiverse by resurrecting and controlling powerful beings. Doraemon, Nobita and various sundry characters from the series attempt to travel to Giga Zombie’s time to defeat him, but their ship gets zapped and the entire crew is flung all over space and time. Fortunately Doraemon lands in modern day Japan and enlists the aid of the Hero/Heroine to save his friends and reassemble the ship, so they can go knock Giga Zombie’s skull in. Still following this? If so, you’re doing better than I did, since I was lost the second they stepped into a magic phone booth and were transported to an alternate reality where magic is real and cats can cast spells and use swords.
Despite my ignorance and the poor translation (no offense Wakdhacks), DRoGZ had a sort of ok story. Sure, the plot was nothing spectacular, but I can imagine visiting various scenarios from the series, talking to its characters and controlling some of them would have been amusing if I were a fan of the Doraemon series. Having said that, the story is basic, so don’t expect any riveting plot twists or complex philosophical themes here. At least there is some funny dialogue here and there that spices things up, in fact you will read some things in DRoGZ that you’d never see in a Nintendo Entertainment System game that was released in the USA, that’s for damn sure.
For what it’s worth, most things in this game work as they should. The battle menu is easy to use, which is of vast importance in an RPG. The usual fight, run, magic commands are present in the battle menu and anyone who has played an RPG from this era should have no problem using the dialogue boxes. Just keep in mind that characters do not autotarget a new monster after one dies, so if your hero/heroine kills a mouse that Nobita was also set to attack, he/she will lose his turn, much like in Final Fantasy. The dialogue box for the ingame menu is a bit cumbersome, which is standard for RPGs from the 8-bit era. Speaking to NPCs, for example, is a bit clunky since you need to select a command, but at least the option to do so is at the top of the list. The inventory system is a nightmare, however. Each character has a personal inventory with about eight slots and Doraemon’s pouch acts as a shared inventory (don’t ask). Problems arise when you open a chest or purchase an item, because any loot you find is automatically placed in the pouch. This means you have to access the pouch, give the character the desired item and go about equipping it. The process quickly becomes onerous, because the pouch menu closes after each action, so you’ll be bring up a lot of menus if you buy or find multiple things. This issue is compounded by the fact that you will probably be handing gear down from character to character as you find new stuff, which means more menus.
Doraemon is rather typical as Nintendo Entertainment System RPGs go, aside from it’s trappings as an anime based video game. Like nearly any RPG from this era, players need to do some grinding, but there’s also tools available that alleviate the need to grind to some extent. This is mostly thanks to the DtRoZ’s rather unique magic system; spells are found in treasure chests or given to the party by NPCs and are usable by a character when he or she has it in their inventory. Furthermore, spells cost gold rather than MP and everyone shares the same gold pool. This makes using magic really easy and different. The only drawback is that gold is so plentiful that I was able to cast spells rather recklessly, so challenge is not this game’s strong point. Needless to say, I was able to go through the game with fairly minimal grinding as long as I was willing to make the most of Doraemon’s magic system and made sure spells were distributed among the party’s inventory strategically.
There’s also plenty of incentive to explore, since shops in this title do not sell equipable items or spells. This was an excellent decision on Epoch’s part, because as a player, I felt compelled to explore the dungeons and towns thoroughly in order to get better weapons and armor. Unfortunately, the gear in this game was very plain and just offered increased attack power or defense. Without a sprite or special properties, the weapons and armor felt shallow and I had to really push my imagination to make the gear feel like something more than a word on a list….of course having to use your imagination isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so I’ll leave this aspect of the game up to the reader to judge.
While Doreamon had some nice incentives to explore and an interesting magic system, the gameplay was ultimately very basic. To progress you need only walk around, talk to people and head to the next town or dungeon in order to push forward. The puzzles were very simplistic, which is better than cryptic I suppose, but they didn’t contribute a much needed sense of depth to the game design. Bosses were also little more than fluff for the most part and usually didn’t require much strategy or preparation to conquer. A few of the bosses did use some spells and status ailments, but they were easy to deal with if you were prepared.
Much of the entertainment I derived from fighting battles can be attributed to DRoGZ’s diverse and imaginative Beastiary, which was filled with everything from skeletal rodents that would cause Doreamon to freeze in terror (apparently he is afraid of mice) to dinosaurs. Many of the foes had the ability to inflict status ailments and could be tough if you are underleveled. Coupled with the fact that random battles were quite plentiful, you really had to be careful early on. Later in the game, players have tools which will allow them to deal with random fights more effectively or avoid them altogether.
As I mentioned earlier, the game has a number of unique settings that really add some much needed flavor. While the level design wasn’t terribly creative, dungeons were varied enough not to be totally dull and thanks to the repel spell I could cruise through them with ease, which was a nice touch, especially considering the fact that you have to balance using it with fighting carefully, lest you find your party broke and too weak to survive. The characters were very plain in terms of mechanics and only distinguished from one another by their names, stats (which consisted of Hit Points, Attack, Defense, and possibly a hidden Agility value), and in Doraemon’s case a paralyzing fear of rats. No one had any special spells or powers and everyone could wear any equipment.* You could customize characters to some extent by giving them certain spells, but this didn’t make them feel anymore complex.
In the end, Doraemon: Rise of Giga Zombie has some fairly solid, if not deep gameplay and I had fun with it despite its lack of complexity. This game would have benefited greatly from more challenging bosses and less linear gameplay. Considering the fact that party members revive with one HP after battle and the player has a vast pool of gold to draw off of for spell casting, DRoGZ also lacks the sense tension other NES RPGs often possessed, which only made the game feel that much more generic despite it’s licensing.
There is something I find comforting about these old RPGs. Sure, they’re full of grinding, slow paced and are often little more than spreadsheets with pretty pictures, but there’s something magical about sitting down with a game like Doraemon: Revenge of Giga Zombie or Dragon Warrior on a rainy day and pounding away at random battles or wandering around dungeons while a somnolent tune drones away in the background. DtRoGZ certainly has value, but it’s an understated sort of worth that the player has to be open to in order to appreciate. While linear and bland, I never felt that it was a chore to play and was somewhat sad to see this title it go.
This is very much niche title. Doraemon is a good choice for players who wish to break into JRPGs (specifically, those that were never released in Europe or North America) since it is not terribly difficult. Fans of the anime series may find some merit in this game as well.
I’d like to thank Golden_Torizo and Skater43 of Gamefaqs for not only bringing this title to my attention, but also providing helpful information and advice that has aided in the research needed to write a proper review.
*It turns out that there is at least one special weapon hidden within this game that can be used only by a particular character.