Dragon Crystal (SMS) Review

Click here if you wish to visit the Dragon Crystal description page for screenshots and more information.

Review by tankMage (February 2016)

Score: B-

I do not know of very many 8-bit console Rogue-likes, so Dragon Crystal is a special treat. It’s also very stripped down and basic as games of this genre go, which makes it nice to pick up and play casually. There really isn’t much to be said about this simple game, but I’ll break down it’s finer points and explain how it got a B-.

Graphics

As SMS/Game Gear RPGs go, Dragon Crystal sports decent graphics. The world is colorful, monsters aren’t palette swapped and recycled much and the player character’s weapon and armor color change according to what is equipped. There is even a dragon that grows and evolves visually as the player gains levels. My only gripe about DC’s graphics is that unexplored areas outside the character’s limited field  of vision are covered up by tiles rather than simply being blacked out. This makes the display look messy and in some cases the problem is exasperated by the fact that it’s hard to tell what some of the tiles are supposed to be.

User Interface

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Basic inventory screen is basic.

    Menus are easy to use and simple, plus the controls work perfectly. You can even adjust the speed at which commands are input, which speeds up DC’s turn based gameplay. There are two issues with the user interface that bear mentioning. The first issue is that even in the slowest setting, the battle text refreshes very quickly and it’s easy to miss messages. Secondly, it’s very easy to step on the exit for a floor by accident and skip an entire level if you have the speed set high. A dialogue box asking if you want to leave the level would have been nice, but it’s not a deal breaker.

Story

Rogue-likes are almost always highly  focused on gameplay and less so on lore, character development, and plot progression. Usually the player is slogging through deadly mazes to retrieve an artifact for some god or some such thing. Dragon Crystal does not stray from Rogue-like conventions and features little story exposition, in fact I had to dig just to figure out what the hell the game was about. It’s a shame, really, because the story in the game manual is mildly interesting.

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Don’t know why I’m here, but I’ll kill stuff anyway.

Gameplay

Dragon’s Crystal is a very plain and, for the most part, orthodox Rogue-like. Players are expected to learn the game through trial and error as most of the magic staffs, scrolls, and potions are not identified until you use them. The inclusion of a dragon ally and the ability to continue after dying (given that you have enough gold) does mix things up a bit. You are also given the option of throwing various items at monsters, which is not only a useful way of testing items out, but also an effective strategy if you throw the right type of item. Loot abounds in this game and players will be quite busy picking up food, weapons, armor and other useful things. Thanks to it’s simple interface, Dragon Crystal’s combat feels very fluid and fighting hordes of monsters does not feel like the typical RPG grind (not that the average Rogue-like encourages grinding anyway). Because of it’s simple design, Dragon Crystal is very easy to pick up and enjoy, but this aspect of the game cuts both ways. Since their are no classes or character builds and the game mechanics are basic, DC does not have a lot to offer veterans and can get dull after a while. The fact that luck plays a big role in the player’s success (like many Rogue-likes) means that you will probably attempt to clear this game many times.

Music and Sound Effects

The sound track for this game can be summed up with one word: repetitive. There’s really only a couple of songs that play throughout the game and they get boring very quickly, I imagine most people would turn the sound of after only a short time playing Dragon Crystal. Sound effects are almost nonexistent in this game and the few that are to be heard are very generic.

Final Thoughts

There really aren’t very many Rogue-likes to be found on 8-bit consoles. Consequently there is not much to compare Dragon Crystal to and what is available tends to be similar (the Torneco games for NES come to mind). All I can really say about this game is that it is competently designed and interesting enough despite its basic nature.

Recommendations

Getting into the Rogue-like genre isn’t easy and a game like Dragon Crystal is a good place to start for the budding spelunker. Veterans may also appreciate its accessibility and the fact that it can be played through relatively quickly (if you are lucky and skilled) compared to games like NetHack and ADOM.

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