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.
There is only a single save-game slot per character. The only time you can voluntarily save the game is at the end of the play session, after which the game simply shuts down. The game is automatically saved upon each entrance and exit of the dungeon, recording everything that happened there (including death). If, for any reason, you try to reset the game to avoid the death being recorded, upon starting the next play session, you’ll be greeted with a visit from the goddess Ishtar, who proceeds to scold you for “meddling with the flow of time” or some such nonsense. Try it multiple times, and the scolding gets longer. Oh, and you’ll lose all your stuff and half your money, just like dying. Now, I would have no problem with this save system if this were an optional, hardcore mode. But I’m a fan of being able to save often. It’s just my style. To take that from me, and then have the audacity to preach at me and tell me save/restore in a single-player game is “cheating”…well, something about that just got me riled up. Incidentally, I did find a workaround to this save/restore problem that didn’t make death quite so devastating. Funny that I hardly ever go out of my way to exploit loopholes in games until the game tries to tell me now naughty it would be.
If the main dungeon levels aren’t enough, there are plenty of bonus levels and quests to partake of. Almost each floor of the main dungeons can open up its own 4-level special dungeon. These dungeons are quite a bit nastier than the regular dungeons, not only because the monsters are a lot more powerful, but also because feathers don’t work there. Escape can only be made by finding the key and hitting the exit. While no experience is gained from killing the monsters in the bonus levels, they do tend to drop some pretty nice stuff, so it is worth taking a trip every once in a while. In addition to the bonus levels, there are also extra quests that can be undertaken. These quests annoyingly require you to remove and store all equipment. At the beginning of each quest, Gil is reduced to 1st level, and forced to complete the quest only with the special quest equipment or stuff he finds in his dungeon travels. Thankfully, you can still feather out of the quest dungeons. After the quest is finished, Gil is returned to his pre-quest level, and given some sort of award.
For those who absolutely have to complete everything, most floors of the main dungeons also contain hidden Silver and Gold chests, chocked full of some powerful items. How these chests become available is something of a mystery to me. I was able to find most of the silver chests by simply wandering around and killing stuff for a while, and stumbling on the correct requirement. The Gold chests, as far as I can tell, only appear on a level that has been cleared once, and then only after fulfilling some sort of arcane action. I only found a handful of Gold chests myself, and I’ve no idea how I uncovered any of them. I guess the point of the Gold chests is to get the gaming community in general working together to find each chest, but I’m not thinking this game is going to have all that much community support.
Graphically, things are a little drab and muddy. There are a few different tile-sets for the different dungeons, and these soon become repetitive. And, since much of the game requires moving through the same levels again and again, things become tedious quickly. The monsters themselves, and Gil, aren’t all that impressive either. In addition, only a small portion of the dungeon is in view at any given time, as the rest of the screen is buried in inky darkness. Sounds are even less impressive, and there’s no voice acting at all. The music is decent, though. Control of the game is pretty simple, and the menus are manageable. I would have liked a better equipment control scheme, especially when trying to store everything I owned for the optional quests. The Nightmare of Druaga
will undoubtedly find a few fans out there, but I’m guessing it won’t be a game that ever finds wide appeal. There is plenty to do, with the bonus dungeons, a whopping-big end dungeon, and the ability to combine and upgrade most of the items to find that perfect dungeon hacking tool. However, even though I found myself somehow drawn in when I played, it often felt more like work than play. This is a definite “try before you buy” title.
A bland, though somehow addictive, turn-based dungeon hack-n-slash. Would be a decent enough title if it werenâ€™t for the horrendous save system and penalty for character death.