The general concept behind the Dragon Fantasy series' development is a laudable one. A love letter to RPGs of old, it brings back the gameplay and visuals that many remember with nostalgia. This latest version of Dragon Fantasy Book I comes with slightly updated presentation, including added effects like ceilings on buildings and a soundtrack that doesn't just consist of chip-tunes, but these updates can be turned off and on whenever you want.
Four chapters of varying length make up Dragon Fantasy Book I, with each chapter focusing on a different character's introduction (or at least fleshing out their story). The longest chapter, at 5 hours, is the first featuring Ogden, a down and out veteran hero who gets thrown back into the RPG savior business when his Queen's castle is attacked by a mysterious dark knight. He ventures out to gather up equipment worn by a hero of yore and free his kingdom. There are some laughs here and there but not a whole lot of intrigue or interesting plot points, and perhaps not enough laughs to make up for this.
Keeping to classic RPG inspiration, the battles are presented in first person and are entirely turn based. Combat consists of one-on-one encounters (Ogden versus assorted monster with some magic thrown into the mix). Most of the combat segments can be overcome by mashing attack until you win, with the odd heal thrown in here and there, and I never noticed any fight where any magic, other than healing, was necessary or even all that useful.
Saving takes place only at churches but you can quit at any point and go back via a one-time quick save, which is a feature I think all RPGs should probably implement. Being able to save anywhere is too easy to misuse but only being able to save your progress at certain points means you can't quit whenever you want. This system seems like the perfect compromise. Sadly, other than a noteworthy save system there isn't a lot about the gameplay in Chapter 1 that excites.
Chapter 2 is notably shorter (clocking in at an hour and a half) and focuses on one of the Queen's sons, Prince Anders, and his actions during Ogden's adventure. It has a couple of points that explain a scene or two from chapter 1, but it's pretty weak beyond that and ends abruptly without revealing as much as I would've liked about the prince and his royal family's involvement in the events of chapter 1. The ability to have multiple party members is added in this chapter, as the prince hires guards to protect him. As with Chapter 1, strategy isn't usually required and the most important thing is just getting enough money to equip yourself with the best you can get.
The third chapter is where things start to get interesting. It's two and a half hours long and stars a thief named Jerold and his niece Ramona. They're trying to get together enough money to buy passports and split the country, and they have no real qualms about where the money comes from. 20,000 gold is the goal and you're given several leads to take and the ability to steal from anyone you come across other than guards. The easiest way to acquire the money you need is to follow up on the leads the Thief's Guild gives you, but you technically aren't required to do so and are given free reign to earn the money as you please. Combat also receives a welcome boost since this is the first chapter where you have to face off against multiple opponents at once; there's even a fair bit of thought required for some of the non-boss fights.
Intermission M is the final chapter in which the four heroes from the other chapters are stranded on a mysterious island where mining is the name of the game and they all worship a man named Notch and his almighty Swedish hat. Yep, it's a Minecraft-inspired level and it's actually pretty great. Crafting and material collecting are brought into the mix, which is always a more enjoyable way to earn better equipment instead of just buying it, and one of the heroes gains the ability to tame enemies and use them in the party. With that said, though, the battle system is still a bit bland and this best chapter in the game only lasts 45 minutes.
The game's most notable flaw is the amount of times it restarted or froze my PlayStation 3. I counted four restarts and five freezes. I could only get past one particular glitch by using the cross save and switching over to the PlayStation Vita. While it's nice that the cross save allowed me to get past this apparently unavoidable bug, I don't really think that's the ideal use for the feature!
So there we have it, not the greatest RPG ever made but still worth it for those looking for the retro feel. I'm hopeful that the second book in the series will maintain the sense of improvement in gameplay that took place between the first four chapters, then we might have something special on our hands. As it is, I commend the developers for the concept, I'm just not too impressed by the execution.
This review was based on a digital download of Dragon Fantasy Book I for PS3.