Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Game #46: Dragon Crystal (Game Gear*) - Because Dragons Are Cool (Finished)

Game 46

Title: Dragon Crystal
Released: 1991 (December 22, 1990 JPN)
Platform: Game Gear
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Rogue-like
Exploration - Top-down
Combat - Turn based
Series - Standalone (related to Fatal Labyrinth)

There was no clear release date for the US, so I stuck this at the end of the year in hopes I'd have a 3DS capture device by now. Unfortunately, that's not the case, so I used an emulator for now. Hopefully one will become available by the time I reach Defenders of Oasis (I've already completed Crystal Warriors). All US released Game Gear RPGs have been made available on the 3DS Virtual Console for those interested in playing them in an official manner. Trying to get video output on a Game Gear is complicated, and takes some soldering, so I opted not to go that route.
A short game from beginning to end, but getting there takes a few tries
My warrior by the end was not nearly as well equipped as the one pictured. Dragon Crystal is a rogue-like game with randomly generated floors, items of mysterious effect, and turn based action. Every action uses one turn, and enemies act after the player. Identifying each item is done by using them, or throwing them at enemies. Weapons and armor are static, but can randomly be cursed. The goal is to reach the 30th floor, and touch the dragon crystal. The story is inferred from images that show a normal looking man trapped in a crystal turn into a warrior. This game is very similar to Fatal Labyrinth, but it's not clear if they're supposed to be the same game, or merely were developed in unison.
The emulator I used had an optional overlay, which obscures the screen to the standard resolution, but I chose not to use that for this title. The result was graphical artifacts normally hidden from view that disoriented me many times.
Everything's fine, just keep your eyes focused on the center
The items in this game differ slightly from Fatal Labyrinth, and some are unique to this title. Scrolls are replaced by books, and there are rings, staves, and potions in addition to weapons and armor. There's a food meter, but no fear of eating too much. HP regenerates over time as long as the player is fed. Levels are once again obscured by titles rather than a set number. In my travels I only reached Dragonlord, which is two below max level. The floors are revealed by walking along the walls, where they'll change color from a dull grey to each level's color palette. The early levels are this forest green.
Exit in the very last place I look
Each floor has an exit denoted by a six-pointed star hiding along the wall inside a room. The rooms can contain enemies, gold, or items. Connecting each room are single-file passages clear of anything interesting. Enemies keep to their rooms unless aroused by the player's presence, whereupon they may give chase into the hallways. The player is accompanied by an egg, which grows into a dragon as progress through the floors is made. This dragon doesn't do anything other than act as a barrier to enemy movement, and he always trails behind the player.
Ninja throw shuriken guarding some food
Enemies have unique patterns that require their own strategy. Ninjas teleport around a room randomly, but will target the player if they're in a straight line. Most enemies will follow the player, but some get an extra action while others won't move at all. Even others move at half speed, and one type is asleep until attacked. Later enemies have permanent status effects such as lowering strength, levels, or rusting equipment. Sorcerers can cast dizziness or fog, and land sharks steal food. Enemies get stronger each floor, and after about floor 20 every battle is dangerous enough that I started to avoid them as much as possible. The last couple of floors contain dragons that hit for over a quarter of my HP, so taking them on is out of the question.
Especially since most status effects don't work; like the reshape staff that softlocks the game when used on a dragon
It took three good runs to reach the end, and a number of false starts. Many of the items can result in an unrecoverable situation. Knowing when it's safe to experiment, and which items are useful for dragons is half the game. Overall it was an enjoyable game, but there's not much to it. Death isn't permanent, but it costs gold to continue; more each time and it might be limited. I don't think I took out a single dragon in my winning run, mostly due to dying on the 29th floor. Getting to the crystal was nerve wracking, and unfortunately I forgot to take screenshots during that run, but at least I remembered during the ending sequence. I'm not sure how easy it would be to repeat this success.

Elapsed Time: 6h45m (Final Time: 6h45m)

Remember when games thanked the players?
Combatant - Combat is well balanced with a number of strategies dependent on random item placement. Enemies seem to be a hodgepodge of different types without any explanation for them to exist in the dungeon. Stats do play a role, but equipment is more important than character abilities. It's difficult to tell when the next level-up will happen as experience is hidden from the player. Later levels were rarely boring.
Rating: 7
Credits are strangely short
Admirer - There's not much here to excite a customizer. There aren't any abilities or special skills gained. About the only thing to customize is equipment, which changes the appearance of the character. Controls are smooth, and I had little problem with doing what I intended.
Rating: 3
I wonder how many of these people worked on Fatal Labyrinth
Puzzler - I'm only giving this points for the variability in how to reach the end goal. Different items and level layouts lend to different strategies, and figuring out how to optimize exploration against resource acquisition leads to interesting decisions. No side-quests, no actual puzzles, and not much to do outside combat.
Rating: 2
There's an SMS version, but it wasn't released in the US
Instigator - There's kind of a story here, somewhere. It's only a framing device to give the player some motivation to reach the end goal. It doesn't contribute to how a player might approach the game. Even the dragon following the player is never explained, and disappears at the end.
Rating: 1
It's easy to see in these shots the resolution of the Game Gear
Collector - While there are many items in the game, inventory space is very limited. Each category of item has 8 slots that quickly fill up by mid-game. Trying to have one of each is out of the question. Equipment strength is only identifiable while equipped, and offloading useless pieces is troublesome as they must be dropped or thrown one-by-one. Gold is available, but it's only used as payment for extra lives.
Rating: 3
Coordinated what exactly?
Explorer - The game is pleasant enough, but I don't think it's anything to write home about. It's interesting that the path to the end is completely open from the beginning. Being strong enough to get there is another matter entirely. Just take a look at the TAS (Tool-Assisted Speedrun), which uses this fact to manipulate the RNG for a path straight to the end in about 1 minute. Extra bonus points for the new world every time.
Rating: 3

Final Rating: 19 [32%]
Thank you especially to these people and/or companies
Tied with Fatal Labyrinth makes sense given how closely they resemble each other. It's fun to play through the game every once in a while, but I don't think I'll have time to touch it again. I feel this game is harder than Fatal Labyrinth, but Dragon Crystal benefits from a run button.

Next up we have a childhood favorite. Lagoon holds a special place in my heart. I'm not even sure why I like it so much, but it's a stand out title that I enjoyed renting so much that I eventually bought it. We'll see how it holds up to the test of time.


  1. You're not kidding about the similarity with Fatal Labyrinth, they're so similar (especially some of the monsters) that I wonder why they made any changes at all. I'm assuming it was made by the same people?

    It's a shame the dragon that follows you doesn't do more, that would have made it stand out a bit.

    1. Strangely the only credits shared are the music and sound composer. Even the SMS has a different list (other than E. Fugu). Still, the similarity is definitely there. Almost like they both branched off from the same design document.

  2. Nice write-up. Have you considered purchasing a Retron 5? I have one and adore it. A Game Gear attachment is supposedly coming soon, and the system allows one to save screenshots on an SD card in PNG or JPEG format. I take virtually all of my screenshots in this manner (well all my screenshots to R5-compatible games, that is.)...

    I've always heard that this game is a "sequel" to Fatal Labyrinth, much in the same way that Illusion of Gaia is a sequel to Soul Blazer, and Mystic Ark is the sequel to The 7th Saga. "Spiritual Successor" may be the proper term, I suppose.

    Anyhow, Japanese roguelikes rule. Wish there were more of 'em.

    1. I've heard the compatibility with Retron isn't always there, so I haven't paid much attention to it. I have the consoles and a setup to get screenshots from most systems. DS capture is the only thing I'm currently lacking, but I'm hoping a new run of boards will be released soon.

      Both games were released within a month of each other, so they weren't exactly sequential. Dragon Crystal is definitely reduced in complexity, most likely due to hardware limitations.

    2. I concur with David Kyle Scott, people I've talked to who have it say they ironed out all the problems and it works with pretty much every game, even some unofficial ones now. It played a bootleg Mega Man Wily Wars on one guys console. I've heard nothing but good things about it after the firmware updates.

    3. Retron 5 is just an emulator that uses carts, so there'd really be little advantage to using it for screenshots vs just firing up a PC emulator.

    4. I don't see myself getting one just for Game Gear. There are only a couple more games to play through on it, and hopefully I can get a 3DS capture card before the next one (I need it anyway for the DS games). If original hardware is prohibitively expensive, then I might consider getting a Retron, but I already have most systems it supports.

  3. Retron 5 compatibility is just about at 100% with the latest firmware update. Every compatible game I own (several hundred titles) works with it. I believe its only issues are with homebrews, hacks, etc. (There were mad issues with the launch models right out of the box though, this is probably what you're thinking of.)

    Sounds like these Sega roguelikes were likely developed simultaneously.

    Interested to hear what you have to say about Lagoon. I love it personally (the music totally slays). I think it gets a bad wrap by folks who don't understand computer ARPG design and instead compare the game to the likes of console titles like Zelda and Mana (which are fundamentally different in so many ways).

  4. I had pretty much the same experience with Lagoon. I remember renting in and loving it, but I don't remember any specifics really. It just gives me a good feeling whenever I think of it. I think I may have gotten stuck at some point, which would explain why I never purchased and won the game. I'm looking forward to your posts on it!