Sunday, May 15, 2022

Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line (Nintendo Switch)

Three Luminaries Is Company

While Enix’s Dragon Quest, at the time of the original eight-bit entity’s localization known as Dragon Warrior, was my very first Japanese RPG, I oddly didn’t get around to playing any of its translated sequels until a few console generations later, but to me, they definitely emphasized the series’ tradition of security and steady evolution instead of doing things drastically different with each installment like the rival Final Fantasy franchise. Constant remakes would also be one of Dragon Quest’s chief traditions, with the first two entries commonly collected into one package, although their latest rerelease on the Nintendo Switch would be separate but still inexpensive. Does the franchise’s first sequel, Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line, hold up today?

The second series entry occurs a century after the first, the descendant of the legendary hero Erdrick and his love Princess Gwaelin of Tantegel traveling beyond their continent, their successors founding several kingdoms, among them being Moonbrooke, whose king is talking in the palace gardens with his daughter, one of the subtitular deuteragonists, when the forces of the evil wizard Hargon destroy the castle, a lone survivor traveling to Midenhall to inform its monarch of his homeland’s destruction, with the kingdom’s prince and namesake protagonist setting out in search of his cousins, the other being the remaining titular playable character, the Prince of Cannock, to put a stop to Hargon’s ambitions.

While one could argue Dragon Quest II is light on story, which it often admittedly is, it does still have one, but unlike in contemporary roleplaying games, the developers didn’t exactly force it down the player’s throat, and it serves as a reasonably-serviceable continuation of the saga of the legendary hero Erdrick and his descendants that forms the first three entries of the fabled franchise. Akin to the initial eight-bit incarnation, furthermore, the dialogue adopts a Shakespearean flair that serves the game well, with plentiful puns in regards to the enemy names, although there are occasional odd stylistic choices such as preceding most character names with adjectives, for instance, “foul Hargon.”

Players commence the second Dragon Quest with solely the Prince of Midenhall whom they name, and who is a pure physical fighter lacking any magical capability. Mercifully, however, early-game hell is minimal, with levels rising at a decent pace, and the acquisition of the Prince of Cannock, who is equally capable with offense and magic, somewhat making encounters more bearable for those with limited experience of the series. The third and final playable character, the Princess of Moonbrooke, is a poor physical fighter but an excellent magician, and throughout the game, the player’s party randomly encounters enemies that attempt to hinder their progress.

Dragon Quest II follows the traditional turn-based structure where the player inputs commands for each playable character, the Prince of Midenhall only able to attack with his equipped weapon, defend, use an item, or attempt escape (which of course won’t work all the time), although his cousins can cast MP-consuming magic spells. After the input of orders, the heroes and the enemy exchange actions, with the order of combat sometimes fluctuating yet typically depending upon units’ agility stats, following which, if neither side emerges victorious, another opportunity to give orders, the process repeating until all units on one side or the other are dead.

Should the player’s party vanquish their adversaries, each character still alive acquires experience for occasional leveling that yields increased stats and maybe a new magical spell in the case of the protagonist’s cousins, and as always, money to purchase new equipment and items from shops in towns. However, should the enemies win, the game teleports the player to the last town where they saved their game, with the Prince of Midenhall needing to pay a priest to resurrect his relatives alongside the penalty of half the gold held at the time. Mercifully, there exist within many towns banks where the player can safely deposit their money in thousand-gold increments, not to mention excess items that may lose their importance later on in the game.

Luminaries, furthermore, was one of the earliest Japanese RPGs to feature a minigame, in the sequel’s case tombola that requires special tickets sporadically acquired to play slots where the player must stop the reels and match icons for rewards such as special items that could actually be useful, especially in the case of prayer rings that grant magic-casting characters recovery of MP before ultimately breaking. Matching two reels provides the player another chance to play, with three different matches of icons stopping the game until they find more tickets to participate.

Other notable features include seeds that provide permanent increases in character stats, with their targets largely being obvious, such as those increasing strength on either prince, using MP-boosting ones on the Prince of Cannock or Princess of Moonbrooke, and so forth. The game mechanics generally work well in spite of their relative simplicity, with the pace of battles generally being quick aside from spells affecting multiple units doing so one at a time that somewhat bog things down, as does the frequent randomization of turn order. Offensive magic also frequently does no damage to certain foes, and quality-of-life features such as how much health enemies have left are absent, but otherwise, the sequel’s gameplay successfully abides by the mantra “Keep it simple, stupid.”

On the matter of quality-of-life aspects, Dragon Quest II does have a few things going for it such as the simplicity of the game menus, adjustable text speed, an in-game map of the overworld that displays the locations of both towns and dungeons, teleportation magic both to exit dungeons and travel among visited towns, a suspend save feature, being able to see how equipment increases or decreases stats before purchase, item and spell descriptions, and the like. However, there are issues such as the endless dialogue when shopping and performing hard saves of the game, not to mention NPCs occasionally getting in the way of the player’s party, a lack of in-game town and dungeon maps, and towns not always having all facilities such as banks, and in the end, interaction is middling.

As usual, however, composer Koichi Sugiyama did a superb job with the soundtrack, with plenty of solid tracks such as the Erdrick trilogy overture, the castle and town themes, both overworld tracks, the dungeon theme, and especially the sailing music “Beyond the Saves” that brings to mind Johann Strauss II’s “The Blue Danube,” the ending melody “My Road, My Journey” rounding out the musical presentation. Granted, there isn’t a change in battle music until the absolute final boss, and the franchise’s trademark digitized sound effects won’t resound well with everyone, but the sound as a whole is one of the sequel’s high points.

While certainly not the strongest of the series or Japanese RPGs as a whole, the visuals definitely have plenty going for them, such as the vibrant colors that serve environments and the character sprites well, although the former contain plentiful pixilation. In spite of inanimate enemies, however, the graphics are probably strongest in battle, with their respective environments and Akira Toriyama’s monster designs, despite many reskins, being surprisingly sharp without visible pixels. In the end, the second Dragon Quest is far from an eyesore.

Finally, the sequel is somewhat longer than its predecessor largely due to a larger world to explore, somewhere under twenty-four hours, although there isn’t much lasting appeal due to the absence of things such as sidequests and achievements.

On the whole, Dragon Quest II is very much a competent continuation of its predecessor, an evolution of the first game’s mechanics that never becomes overly-complicated, although admittedly, the relative simplicity of its mechanics will definitely off-put players who prefer convolution in their RPGs, and the second entry retains some of the dated user-unfriendliness of the franchise. Even so, however, it definitely has many positives such as the excellent translation, superb soundtrack, and visual presentation that at times shines. Those who prefer tradition and security in regards to roleplaying games will definitely appreciate the latest version of the series’ first sequel, but gamers who feel otherwise probably won’t.

This review is based on a playthrough to the ending of a copy digitally downloaded to the reviewer’s Nintendo Switch.

The Good:
+Simple but solid gameplay.
+Good continuation of the Erdrick saga.
+Superb localization.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Akira Toriyama’s monster designs shine as always.

The Bad:
-Some randomization in combat.
-A little user-unfriendly.
-Story isn’t exactly deep.
-Visuals could have used more polish at points.
-Little lasting appeal.

The Bottom Line:
The best version of the game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Mechanics: 7.5/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 7.5/10
Localization: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 7.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 3.0/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: Less than 24 Hours

Overall: 7.0/10

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