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Dragon Warrior II

Released: 1990
Company: Enix
Genre: Role-Playing

A commercial for Buick put it best: There comes a point when one more sequin ruins the dress; one more brushstroke wrecks the painting. The point is that simply adding things indiscriminantly to a video game can only improve it to a certain length; anything beyond that would not augment it, but rather bog it down. That commercial was running through my mind in Dragon Warrior II, especially late in the game.

To continue on the legend of Erdrick, this installment of the series takes place about two generations after your character from the original DW defeated the Dragonlord. The kingdom has expanded dramatically since then, increasing to about four times its original size. But alas, no game of this sort can begin without some bad guy flexing his muscle and putting the entire kingdom in distress. The Token villain this time around is Hargon the wizard. (Is it just me, or were medieval countries really really bad at policing their areas?) It becomes the duty of the Prince of Midenhall - whose castle is the starting point of the game - to beef up and destroy Hargon.

Unlike the original game, however, he isn't going to do it alone. Along the way he'll come across two companions - the Prince of Cannock, who isn't as strong as the Midenhall representative but can use magic; and the Princess of Moonbrooke; utterly useless in hand-to-hand combat but with a lot of magic power. Also, there are many more quests that must be solved before storming Hargon's castle, such as finding five crests, and acquiring such items as the Water Flying Cloth, Cloak of Wind, and the all-important Rubiss Charm. The need to prove one's lineage to Erdrick makes a return visit, and once again Erdrick's Token is needed for that.

Although the continuation of the original storyline is done quite accurately in this game, I can't help but feel a little disappointed with the plot. Many of the quests feel independent of each other, and thus for the most part the game feels like a wild goose chase. This is especially evident early in the game, when you have to retrieve the Prince of Cannock - you have to go from Midenhall to Leftwyne, to Cannock, to the Spring of Bravery, back to Midenhall, and back to Leftwyne. other quests seemed linked together only in the fact that it's the next cave ahead. And once you get the ship, all sub-plots vanish - a point I'll touch upon later.

Considering how the original DW was the first of the current birds-eye-view RPGs, I gave it some leway in terms of graphics and sound, mostly because they were starting from scratch. This time around, however, there is no excuse for the primitiveness of the game's presentation. It looks as if the programmers made no improvements on either the visuals or the music whatsoever, and that is a serious problem. Once again, the terrain looks like it's been haphazardly set, and most of the enemies that return in this game (such as the Slimes and Drakees) look exactly the same. The music is slightly better; this time around it actually has a theme to it, but still each instrument is cranked up to the maximum volume, making even the well-composed second overworld theme (There are two; one for when you don't have everyone and one for when you do) sound irritating.

The Play Control isn't much of an issue, except for one thing: Many commands that were in the original game aren't around anymore. Sure, I can live without the TAKE and STAIRS commands, but now unlocking doors takes an unwarranted amount of time now that the DOOR command is gone. Instead of two button presses, it now takes five. The other major problem I have is that sometimes, enemies appear without even taking a step. You just leave a town, and all of a sudden you're being attacked. It's bad enough that you sometimes get attacked two steps in a row, but this really annoys me.

The game is much more difficult that its prequel, mostly because of two things: First, gaining levels takes much more experience than it did before. Yes, I know that more experience is available since you often get attacked by more than one enemy at a time, but the thresholds for each level rise more than the bounty for each battle do. Also, it seems as if the enemies win the initiative much more often than they did before. They tend to go first more often and you're more likely to be blocked when you try to run. There are even some situations where you'll be trapped three or four times in a row before the enemies let you go.

However, none of these compare with the major problem with this game. Before you get the ship, everything follows logically, and the next destination is never too far away. However, once the boat is in your possession, the entire world loses all of its lineality. While lineality is a dangerous thing if used in excess (a game of Arcana should be lesson enough for that), you still need it in some form. However, 90% of the places you'll need to go come mid-to-late game will be scattered all around the world, making it impossible to know just where to go next. And since a number of important places are on their own island, that makes navigation a nightmare, since they're so small you oculd pass by them and never even know it.

In short, Dragon Warrior II was lacking in one facet: its flow. Everything seemed overly independent of each other, both geographically and in necessity. I still recommend this game, but only because it's a continuation of the series and isn't exaclty common. If you need to have a sense of progress, though, this game won't be played very often.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 10
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Boring)
Aesthetic Score: 15
Overall Score: 60%

You are now listening to the second Overworld Music to Dragon Warrior II.