Let’s crawl through some dungeons

It’s like some kind of crazy perfect storm of dungeon-crawling out there. I downloaded and previewed the Japanese Etrian Odyssey IV demo, and it is really good! And then Xseed did this thing called Unchained Blades today for PSP (though sadly not Vita). And then on top of that Skyrim got an add-on update full of vampires today. I could care less about vampires, but I sure do love dungeon crawling.

I’m not really sure why dungeon-crawling happens in tartan skirts these days, though. Damn kids. Get off my dungeon-lawn.

I’m not sure how to quantify the appeal of plunging into dungeons and wading through an ocean of the virtual dead as my party lays about themselves with blades, spells, and more arcane devices. I played a handful of dungeon-style RPGs back in the day — Arcana, Swords & Serpents — but I never thought much of them. When I became an RPG addict, I focused entirely on games with a strong narrative thrust: Your Final Fantasies and Breaths of Fire and whatnot. It wasn’t until the one-two punch of Nightmare of Druaga and the original Etrian Odyssey that I said, “Hey, these are pretty rad!”

I guess maybe that coincided with my realization that RPG stories are generally pretty meaningless. At that point I suppose I realized I might as well just focus on what RPGs do well, which is empower players to kill stuff. Not the most noble of callings, but man, just look at the way those numbers get bigger!

6 thoughts on “Let’s crawl through some dungeons

  1. There’s something thrilling about testing your luck to see if you can explore just a bit further in dungeon crawlers that doesn’t translate into similar experiences in most other genres.

    Still, there are always exceptions — the original Metroid, for instance. Excited by what one might come across next, you were determined to dive into the maze of planet Zebes with no clear idea where to go. Progress was slow and gradual, requiring careful observation, reflexes, and a bit of luck.

    This approach to exploration reminds me of my experiences with the Persona and Etrian Odyssey series, in spite of the undeniable fact that most traditional RPGs boil down to grinding to build stats and obtain loot in order beat mandatory bosses who advance the story. Each of these games are primarily about exploration and taking bold risks. One just requires a little more finesse, and the others patience.

    And then there are the wonderful hybrids like Vagrant Story and Demon’s Souls. Dungeon Crawlers may be a niche genre, but their appeal of exploring the unknown will always be universal.

  2. My first numbers-for-the-sake-of-numbers RPG was good ol’ Castle of the Winds. Of course, I was eight at the time and didn’t know you could search for hidden doors, so a lot of my attempts ended up with “dead ends”.

    I wouldn’t revisit until Azure Dreams, which I actually preferred to other titles for the mix of 3D combat and the fact that I felt like I was making progress even if I died, something Nightmare of Druaga never instilled thanks to the “lose everything when you die” model.

      • It’s pretty crunchy now, but I had a lot of fun with it. Pretty good for a free game. I remember switching the main character graphic with the Final Fantasy ninja battle graphic. Nothing was animated, but it was better than the bare chested doodle.

      • Really? Amazing. It’s such a classic I assumed you’d have heard of it. It’s a pretty basic game (it actually used the Windows 3.1 icons filetype for most graphics, but with unique images obviously) and while I can’t promise it was the very first graphical Roguelike, it comes damned close. It also is pretty much completely fully-featured for a Roguelike, being fairly complex as far as the exploration goes.

        The game consists of a three dungeons- A four-level tutorial dungeon and eleven-level abandoned castle in Act 1, and a twenty-five level final extravaganza which has a nasty surprise at the bottom in Act 2.

        If you choose to play the games, you’re going to basically be treated to the prototype Blizzard used for Diablo: Hub towns lead to dungeons which randomly spawn the next level when entered, but remain the same once spawned, and a major focus is on using spells and scrolls to warp between the portion of the dungeon you’re in and the town to offload excess weight and buy shiny things from the shops.

        I’d recommend save scumming a bit at the beginning to make sure that a Large Backpack or Small Chest is available at the equipment shop in the first town, to make carrying the loot easier. It’s absolutely worth a shot, since the first dungeon should only take you an hour or so, though I can make no promises about the others.

        Just remember to run it on a 32-bit version of Windows. You can pick up a copy of Act 1 and Act 2 at The Temple of Odin: http://lkbm.ecritters.biz/cotw/

        I quite recommend giving it a go. It’s very good for a game more than 23 years old!

  3. As much as I love the thought of playing RPGs with a strict focus on mechanics, the reality is that my brain gets bored looking at repetitive maze-like dungeons. I’m more likely to enjoy something like Pokemon, where the narrative is still very much secondary, but you get a sense of exploring a big world with visual variety. I guess I’m just not a big fan of the “get to the bottom/top of the cave” type setup.

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