Namco's dungeon-crawling RPG, The Nightmare of Druaga, is unfortunately named. Unfortunate in that it opens up a mediocre-to-poor game to lots of plays on its title. The Nightmare of Druaga is a relic. In fact, it is much less than a relic. It is a poorly realized throwback.
A follow up to the arcade classic The Tower of Druaga, The Nightmare of Druaga places you in the role of Prince Gil. On the night before his wedding and coronation as king, his intended Lady Ki is kidnapped and dragged off to a dungeon by a mysterious, evil sorceress. Gil must hack and slash his way through multiple levels of the dungeon in order to find her. Our hero also has the option to take on optional quests from his people.
It's a solid, clichÃ© of a story. With any kind of game play, it should be enough to provide an entertaining experience, but The Nightmare of Druaga fails to present much in the way of a compelling adventure. The game features a “revolutionary at-once turn system,” in which the attack speed of monsters and weapons are taken into consideration. This ostensibly creates a faster, more strategic style of play, but in the end, it still ends up feeling like a dull repetitive crawl through unimaginative dungeons.
Baffling menu configurations and save policies add to the frustration. For the most part, the game has an auto-save feature. This is fine, but it is absolutely useless since you have to finish a dungeon before leaving it, auto-save or not. If you leave a dungeon and teleport back to town (your hub), you will have to start over from scratch when you go back to that dungeon. In addition, when you try a manual save in town, your only option is to save and quit. The only thing worse than playing through a dull, dungeon level once is playing through it a second time.
The sub quests that you can pick up in town are also a pain. For some odd reason, you cannot start these quests with any of the items that your character currently possesses. It is necessary to play through these quests with quest-specific equipment that is assigned to you, so you have to go and store every item, line by line, before accepting these quests. Once the quest begins, you find that your character is re-equipped with all of the default equipment he possessed at the very beginning of the game.
It gets worse. I played through a couple of the dungeons of the primary adventure and got up to level 6 before deciding to try out a sub quest. Once I was in the sub quest dungeon, I noticed that I was a level 2. Also, any items you acquire during a sub quest disappear immediately afterward. There are rewards to be had for completion of these quests, but the larger issue is that these examples of equipment management and arbitrary level changing seem to be a cheap way of enforcing the difficulty of a particular quest. There are much better ways of handling this in order to provide story continuity and foster that feeling of ownership and pride that one takes in building up a character in an RPG. As it stands, The Nightmare of Druaga destroys both of these fundamental RPG truths.
If a particular, optional quest should be completed at an earlier level, do not allow the player to accept the quest once that player has attained a certain level. Don’t bump my character down a level and make me dink around with my equipment for no good reason. In a word: cheap.
That said, Nightmare of Druaga has a few redeeming qualities that keep it from diving to the lowest depths. There is a fairly extensive system of weapon and equipment customization whereby you can assign abilities to a piece of equipment, and there are plenty of opportunities to combine items to create more powerful items. It’s just too bad that there are not more interesting ends to which you can put these items and weapons.
If you’re looking for a title for somebody who is new to RPG’s, this may be a decent starter title for them to get their feet wet. They may not know enough to get as frustrated as even a casual RPG fan would get with the baffling design of The Nightmare of Druaga. Beyond that, this is a very disappointing title. You’re better off breaking out Diablo again.
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