Thanks to KEMCO for the review code
Title: Dragon Sinker
Release Date: 02/06/2018
In this RPG from EXE Create, you take control of three heroes, each representing a different race that contributed to the destruction of an evil dragon known as Wyrmvarg ages ago. Now Wyrmvarg is back, and he wants to destroy the world, leading to Prince Abram to make alliances with the successors from the two other races, find the legendary weapons, and seal him away once again! Despite being a throwback to the 8-bit era, most of the traditions of EXE Create’s other games apply to this one, including the inclusion of side-stories, optional dungeons and lots of text to go through, although the game’s story doesn’t ever amount to much due to being fairly predictable.
Having reviewed several EXE Create games by now, I tend to gripe about how similar they look and feel, as typical 16-bit art style usually plagued by stiff animations slightly made up for with a battle system that’s either in 2D or 3D, so you’d think that even though this is the first 8-bit throwback EXE Create has put on consoles, that I would be equally tired of Dragon Sinker due to how many 8-bit throwbacks get released. The answer to that is yes and no. While general 8-bit fatigue sets in right away, the fact that this isn’t yet another 16-bit adventure from EXE Create is what makes Dragon Sinker feel a bit more special. The stiff animations don’t matter anymore, since 8-bit RPGs were full of them, and there’s tons of color on screen anyhow. The only design choice that I find a bit distracting still comes from how zoomed in the entire game is, and it takes a while to get used to.
Unfortunately, despite an art style that fits the typical presentation much better than their 16 bit efforts, the soundtrack doesn’t work well at all. While you do get chiptune songs, they are beyond repetitive, with the same dungeon theme being used for every single dungeon in the entire game, save for the final castle. Same goes for the Battle Theme and Boss Themes, they play for all their respective battles and never change, bringing to mind how the original NES Final Fantasy worked out with its repetitive soundtrack. While these aren’t eargrating enough that you’ll want to mute your TV, the fact they loop endlessly as you go through many different locations can get on your nerves and cause these tracks to get stuck in your head for all the wrong reasons.
Dragon Sinker follows the traditional EXE Create formula of going from one objective to another in order to progress the story along, recruiting new team members along the way as you partake in battles to level up and gain new skills to use in more battles. Kemco RPGs have a habit of introducing a gimmick to try and shake things up, leading to either a good or bad result, but in the case of Dragon Sinker, said gimmick doesn’t detract from the main game at all, to the point that you may not even find yourself using it that much. While a job system akin to Final Fantasy V is available, with new jobs being made available via characters you recruit upon completing specific sidequests, the main gimmick of Dragon Sinker comes from the three separate parties you have total control over.
Progressing through your adventure, around an hour in will you be introduced to the two other main characters, an elf named Mia and a dwarf named Bowen, who are the successors to the legendary heroes that helped defeat the dragon long ago. While you can equip them with weapons and armor, unlike the remaining members of Abram’s party, they can’t ever be combined with another party directly, since they’re each in charge of their own party of four. These remaining slots are taken by the aforementioned characters that will give you job classes, or from animal party members you can win by playing the in-game lottery, using DRP points not unlike the currency system I mentioned in other EXE Create titles.
Yes, this also means that if you know what to buy from the DRP store, you can become insanely overpowered from the very beginning of the game, although not on the same level as Antiquia Lost, since for equipment you can only really buy items that will boost your EXP and JP after battles, and not overpowered weapons. One item that you must get right off the bat though are a pair of shoes that make your characters move insanely fast, to the point that playing the game without them feels a lot more tedious in comparison. This isn’t just a double speed feature, as the shoes make the game feel like it’s moving at triple speed, to the point where it can be difficult to move slow enough to open chests due to just how fast you are. Easily the one item that you shouldn’t hesitate to get, even if you don’t want any of the booster items to make the experience as vanilla as possible.
If the purchasable DRP items weren’t enough for your fancy, the lottery lets you dump DRP for the chance of winning prizes across multiple tiers, with these prizes including the best equipment and armor in the entire game (even surpassing the postgame dungeon weapons in usefulness) and the aforementioned animal characters, which can’t change class and are just clones of other classes with a few more benefits, so they aren’t really that great compared to a powered up party member. In all honesty, the fact that the absolute best weapons in the entire game are locked behind a gambling system just feels wrong, and while you can’t even buy more DRP to my knowledge, (all the PSN store DLC is just for EXP boosts and similar items to the accessories you can buy from the DRP store, just better) instead having to rely on enemies dropping points at random, the game isn’t brutally hard if you don’t have those items, and you can still get lottery tickets in-game every time you purchase 300G for a lottery that offers more basic prizes like HP/MP restoration items and some mid-tier equipment.
With all the bonus stuff out of the way, Dragon Sinker moves along at a pretty decent pace, continuing the Point A to Point B trend EXE Create’s other titles tend to do, but remarkably, I noticed that this game has a lot more optional stuff to do compared to their other titles, which pretty much lock you on a linear path and save the optional stuff for the postgame. For starters, there’s a quest where if you tackle five optional dungeons and beat the bosses, you’ll gain stone tablets that can be used to open the way to a dungeon filled with superbosses and extremely powerful enemies, culminating in a final challenge that practically requires you to be at level 99 to stand a chance, especially if you want to beat the boss ten times in a row for the sake of a trophy. The game doesn’t care if you run into one of these optional dungeons by mistake either, since if you’re able to push through the challenge and succeed, you can get these areas done at any time, as long as you’re equipped for the situation.
This made the game really addicting after the slow first hour, since I had just enough freedom to look around for sidequests to do or to see if I can run into any ultra powerful enemies that I’m not supposed to in order to try my luck, and believe it or not, the game allows you to go to a part of the world map with enemies meant for the end of the stone tablet sidequest just an hour into the adventure, all by ignoring the directions to the Elf Kingdom and going down and left across a poisonous swamp instead of going right towards the castle. Crossing a bridge next to a sign that warns of the danger ahead, you’ll come across enemies that will one hit kill you and be around at least 30 levels higher than you would be at that current point in the game, but if you somehow manage to defeat one of them, your party will gain so much EXP to the point you’ll be able to catch up with those enemies in no time, especially with the accessory that boosts your EXP by 100%.
Once I got a consistent pattern down with fighting a lone bat enemy that can spawn in that part of the world, I was able to have all my characters jump from level 10 to level 40 in just a few battles, making me pretty much indestructible for most of the game. And if you want even more EXP on top of that, fighting enemies on higher difficulties that you can switch between will reward higher bonuses, just like in the other Kemco RPGs I’ve covered, so you could abuse this even more if you want to. Needless to say, I decided to see how early I could complete the tablet sidequest, and I was shocked to learn that as soon as I was able to clear a main story mission that removes red water from the world map, I could just complete all five of the side dungeons and head to the cavern that opened up, and push my way through with little resistance, since if your parties are above the levels of a normal enemy at the start of the battle, they’ll die right after the encounter begins and you’ll still gain all the experience, JP and Gold you would have if you fought them normally.
Before long, I managed to beat every single superboss save for the absurdly powerful one at the end of the dungeon, getting me the best equipment in the normal game and raising my party to the 70s before I knew it. While you will obviously face more resistance if you play on a difficulty higher than normal or easy, I found that after beating this optional dungeon how not even the Expert Difficulty made me immune from being a machine of destruction, since most enemies would die right away and the bosses fell apart in mere minutes, not helped by the fact that Abram learns some extremely damaging skills. Before I knew it, after six hours and twenty minutes I had completed the epilogue to the main story, cleared a good fourth of the sidequests, beat all the superbosses save for one and obtained all four endings of the game, making this the first EXE Create title I bothered to finish in every possible way. Granted, The shorter length has to do with the fact that it’s very easy to break the game due to the exploit I mentioned earlier, but even without the EXP boost from that the game still moves at a quick enough pace and dungeons don’t get ridiculously long until the very end of the game. Not to mention the fact you can easily run away from every battle save for bosses, and the game’s not really that difficult unless you self-impose a challenge through the expert difficulty or dare to fight the final superboss, since you have three full parties that must be wiped out before you lose a battle. It creates an addicting rush of “one more chapter” that I haven’t felt from a simple RPG in quite a while, despite the game’s story not having anything to really motivate me to push onward.
In conclusion, Dragon Sinker is one of EXE-Create’s best titles, thanks to the fact that the throwbacks here feel more fitting and the usual gripes I have with their 16-bit throwbacks don’t really apply here. As always, the battle system is very simple to get the hang of, and the game world is more open than usual, despite being part of a much, much shorter game. Even without the item that boosts your speed, this game’s not that difficult to understand if you have any experience with RPGs in the slightest, and unfortunately my main issues with it come from how the game locks the best equipment in the game behind a silly lottery system and with how irritating the soundtrack can be, especially if you played this game for four hours in a row once like I did. Definitely get this game if you aren’t the kind of person who likes RPGs that feel like they go on forever, and for something more simplistic and less gimmicky. It may not be a balanced throwback, but it sure one with an addictive hook hiding within.
I give Dragon Sinker a 7 out of 10, and you can check out the game’s Playstation Store listing here.