DRAGON VIEW / Kemco / Super NES
Drakkhen is kind of a weird game to make a sequel for. What's even weirder is that Kemco, who initially just had the rights to do the SNES port of the original, paid Infogrames for the right to go ahead and make a full-fledged sequel on their own. I guess the game was bigger in Japan, because it was released there as Super Drakkhen. But the manual of the Western release still makes clear this is a sequel ... well actually, technically a prequel. Even weirder yet, Kemco basically threw out everything about the original game except for the polygonal overworld map. Combat and dungeons now use a beat-em-up style reminiscent of Capcom arcade fantasy brawlers like Dungeons and Dragons and King of Dragons, and there's some distinctly Zelda elements floating around in the inventory and finding of hidden HP/MP upgrades too.
Throwing most of the original game's conventions in the trash was actually a good move, as aside from the game's moments of entertaining bizareness and relaxing soundtrack, it really kinda blew. The overworld is even improved as you don't insta-die if you stumble into water any more, and you can see enemies coming (represented as Pigpen-like dust clouds that you can easily manuever around if you don't care to fight). There's even a halfway-decent automap system, though it leaves some chunks of the map totally uncovered.
The story is the one real weak point ... there really almost is no story. It's basically a slightly more fleshed out version of Ghosts N' Goblins. In fine arcade fantasy game fashion, it begins with some random wizard swooping in out of nowhere and Stealin' Ur Gurl. Then he's off to open the gates of Hell or something. As to why he needs this one particular girl, we'll have to wait about 15 or 20 hours of gameplay to find out. Strangely, though the game lacks much of an overall detailed narrative, the dialogue writers went to great pains to add descriptive flourishes as if they were writing a novel. The localization was also clearly handled by native English speakers who cared about what they were doing. Sadly the story goes down just about how you expect it will all the way through to the closing credits, with no twists or curveballs to spice things up, but you have to at least appreciate the effort. I wouldn't mind seeing more games take a crack at using this style. Betrayal at Krondor is the only one I can think of right off the top of my head that did something like this with really detailed second-person narrative, not counting text adventures.
Well, there's one other problem, and it's the main reason the game is a 3/5 instead of a 4/5. There's very little real challenge. The designers didn't really balance out enemy levels very well, tending to keep them way too low for most of the game. By the time you get to the end, some of the bosses are flat pathetic, doing only 1 damage to you while you hack off epic chunks of their life with each swing. The only real challenge lies in obscurity of finding items -- the short overworld draw distances make exploration tough sometimes. Some important stuff is literally lying in the middle of nowhere, like the first special sword technique. I don't know how designers expected you to find this stuff without a guide aside from just combing every inch of the map tediously. In retrospect, however, I guess skipping the optional stuff might actually even out the game's difficulty more ... at least until you get to the final boss, who spikes HARD in difficulty, and will probably require you to go lawnmow the map and look for every advantage you can find.
Dragon View has all the basic elements in place -- good gameplay, nice graphical detail even a pretty good soundtrack. But you're left wishing it was a little better than it actually was. Fans of the old-school action-RPGs should give it a try at a reasonable price, though.
* Gameplay Video