So when I heard Dubloon was a pirate-themed indie RPG, my hope was that there would be some strategy and exploration element akin to Uncharted Waters or Pirates! to it. Nope - it's basically a straightforward JRPG skinned with pirates. It's actually pretty well-made, however, setting aside the expected limitations for a two-man shoestring freeware RPG Maker effort.
The tone is on the silly side, the graphics recall Earthbound (minus the polish), and the quest is kinda arbitrary. You play as a very generic pirate whom you name, who begins the game by somehow sailing his own ship up to a Navy vessel and trying to one-man board the thing. You actually make it to the Navy's Super Sekrit Treasure, but then get your ass beat by one of their leaders and imprisoned. You break out along with a lusty pirate wench, who seems to think the Sekrit Treasure you saw is highly important for some reason I can't even remember, so now you're off searching the ocean for it.
It's a fairly basic RPG with an active-time battle system (a la the SNES Final Fantasy games), but there are a few advanced wrinkles to put it ahead of the morass of generic RPG Maker games. One element is that there are some action-oriented aspects to battles. Certain battle items have you play a little mini-game to increase their effectiveness (like manually shaking up the Shake Bomb with your mouse). Some bosses also have special attacks that you'll have to use the mouse to block, like an incoming wave of boulders or a laser beam.
The other unique element is the use of special items (like bombs and a parrot-boomerang) in dungeons to clear obstacles, a la Lufia 2 or Zelda. None of these puzzles are ever all that complex and the whole system feels a bit limited, but it is a nice little addition to give the game some personality.
There is one other idiosyncratic touch, but it isn't a great one; the world is composed of islands, and when you sail between them you're forced to play an odd, simplistic side-scrolling sh'mup. Fortunately, you're at no risk of grim death scenes a la that Galaga-style mini-game in Tales of Destiny. You just get bonus points for shooting up as many sea creatures as possible and lose points for getting hit. Your point total translates into bonus money at the end of the sequence, but usually some trivial amount that wasn't even worth the effort even if you do well. Thankfully, you're only forced to play the shooter sequence the first time you sail a new route, and can then skip it afterward; there are enough routes that you're still forced to play a ton of them, however.
Also on the not-great side is the soundtrack. It actually has some pretty good moments, but much of it sounds like partially-finished song concepts that just sort of abruptly end after 30-45 seconds then clumsily loop after a pause. It definitely feels like a first or early-career composition attempt. The composition credit is just to someone named "Prophecy" so I have nothing further to offer there.
At about 5-6 hours of total playtime Dubloon is a snack of an RPG, and one that goes by painlessly as it's consistently pretty easy. A couple of bosses can be challenging if you're under-leveled, but catching up on those levels takes very little time. It sometimes feels more like a demo to test out some concepts than a full-fledged game, but it's surprisingly well-done for a freeware shoestring project and could be worth a peek if the idea of Earthbound Pirates with some action-oriented battle mechanics stimulates you.
* Official Site (freeware)
* If you're on a Windows 8 or newer PC, you'll need to make sure DirectPlay is enabled (under Legacy Components) or the game will crash when going into a battle. View this video for an explanation.
* Gameplay Video
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