Nightmare of Druaga

Review

posted 12/20/2004 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager
One Page Platforms: PS2
I found The Nightmare of Druaga to be at times tedious, infuriating, frustrating, and, somehow, still addictive. I just can’t quite explain why that is. I’d find myself dreading putting this game into the PS2, and yet I couldn’t easily drag myself away once it was running. I’d be slogging mindlessly through countless levels of bland dungeon-y terrain, and I’d still be unable to turn the darned thing off and move to something a bit more exciting or, I hate to say it, fun.

The Nightmare of Druaga is the sequel to a little-known old-school arcade dungeon hack that came out some years ago. Seems Gil, Our Hero, had to rescue his bride-to-be, Ki, from an evil nasty Tower of Druaga a few years ago. That all went well, and soon Gil and Ki were betrothed. Fast forward a few years to the night before the wedding. Nasty things start happening again, prompting Gil to don some shiny, goddess-blessed armor, and dive into the first of many dungeon levels. From here on out, the game pretty much involves walking through level after level of monster-infested dungeon, beating up monsters and taking their stuff. Just don’t ever get killed. Or, for the love of all that’s good and holy, don’t ever turn off the game without saving.

Nightmare is a strictly turn-based affair. Every step through the grid-based dungeon, every attack, every use or equipping of an item constitutes a single turn. Each monster in the dungeon will act simultaneously with Gil, either moving or attacking accordingly. Actual timing of events depends on the weight of the gear Gil is carrying. Here is where most of the strategy in the game comes into play. Gil can opt for lighter (and usually weaker) weapons to get the first strike, or can go for more punishing weapons and try to soak up a bit of damage. Monsters are helpfully given color-coded auras to indicate their relative attack speeds. Blue means that Gil will have the first strike in a toe-to-toe attack, while red mean the baddies will hit first. Gil can also get the upper hand in movement thanks to these auras. He’ll likely be able to move out of the way before blue-aura monsters take their attack, and if the player can guess correctly, they can attack the square a red-aura monster will step into, hopefully hitting the monster as it walks into the waiting path of Gil’s weapon.

Progress through each dungeon floor is made by finding the key and then using it on the exit door. The dungeon can also be escaped at any point using a “feather” item, which is given to Gil upon every venture into the depths. This feather allows an instant teleport back to town for healing and shopping, but doesn’t give a path back. So, leaving the dungeon for any reason means going back to the beginning of the dungeon (or one of the too-few portal points) and starting over, retracing each step, regrabbing the keys, and refighting the monsters. While this is good for leveling and loading up on the loot, this makes for some extremely tedious gameplay. I found that many of the monsters could be killed in one or two hits. Unfortunately, I would come across the occasional monster that would do a mind-boggling amount of damage compared to the rest of the critters on a given level. Gil cannot be killed in a single hit, he’ll instead be reduced to 1 hp, and then be easy monster chow. While this usually allows ample opportunity to use the feather and escape, if there’s another monster standing nearby, those massive-damage monsters can spell the end of Our Hero. Death doesn’t come all that often, though, especially considering the care taken to avoid the stringent penalties. Still, I found it incredibly frustrating to make my way through 14 levels of laughably easy monsters, only to get cornered by these SuperMonsters, make a hasty retreat, and repeat an hour of adventuring.

Still, escape and repeating is generally much better than simply dying. Although not a game-ending occurrence, death in Nightmare of Druaga carries some very serious penalties—every item Gil was carrying is lost, along with half of his money. Since players tend to use their best items, this means the loss of not only the time spent through that particular dungeon run, but also the loss of whatever time went into finding and upgrading the equipment. It is possible to “inscribe” a few of Gil’s items, meaning these won’t be lost upon his untimely demise and subsequent resurrection. However, there are only a few inscribing slots available, not enough for all of the useful equipment Gil could be carrying, and these inscribings are quite expensive. Death is made even harsher by limiting the freedoms of the game-save system.
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