Welcome to the town of Ecallia, a place for foolhardy and brave adventurers alike willing to take on the perilous promenade into one very dangerous dungeon. What awaits below? Take up a weapon, gather a party, and embark to discover the answer to this question for yourself.
Title: Dungeon Dreams
Developer: DDreams Ganes
System: PC (Steam Store Front Page)
Length: 45+ hours
Involving yourself with a roguelike can be akin to climbing a mountain: it won’t be easy at first, but with proper preparation and practice some of the difficulty associated begins to fade away with each piece treaded. Finding games that accurately capture this feeling of gritty gain and harrowing hopelessness seem to be far and few in-between, since most usually falter to provide anything resembling a challenge once the proper plateaus have been scaled either by overpowering obstacles or finding other means. Always enjoying parts of video games where the once difficult becomes nothing more than a mere annoyance, I do want to at least earn that right and still feeling like there is still something worth pressing onward for. Developed by DDreams Games, Dungeon Dreams is an example of a roguelike that provides said challenge and making it one that you will want to shoulder through.
Taking on the role of an inexperienced adventurer, they journey to the town of Ecallia, a relatively unremarkable spot if not for the mysterious dungeon that is said to house vast riches. Not being welcomed by the more experienced crowd, one of the best gives you a crash course in exploration. However, after not returning on a solo trip down and last seen with you, you’re task is now to explore the depths to see what awaits and elevate your reputation as an accomplished adventurer. Compared to titles that laden the players with a seemingly difficult task that immediately becomes innocuous…this isn’t one of them. With limited resources at the start, slow gains in money, and every trip into the dungeon a lesson in building strength and what do versus what you shouldn’t be (I.E: skills to invest in, etc), small gains are the most you will see early in. And when I say small gains…I mean anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours to even begin hitting a stride. As monotonous and taxing as that might sound, once falling into the routine of making those gains substantial, there is a very satisfying loop of activities and tasks that make scaling this mountain or dungeon a regular and easier venture.
Compared to many roguelikes, each visit into the dungeon is different as the items, floor layout, and even a few events are procedurally generated. For the most part, the procedural element works extremely well: many floors containing complex, yet easily navigable paths chocked with items and multiple ways to the next level with roaming monsters the only obstacle. Where the monsters are easily avoidable, the further you press (and most likely not strong enough to take them) the more aggressive they will be to engage you in battle. Granted that a poorly generated roll to the next floor can nearly be nightmarish to spawn you in the middle of enemies ready to pounce and if unlucky, sending you out of the dungeon with no loot (since death doesn’t allow you to keep anything aside from the experienced and cash gained) it does make you aware of your limits and encourage not making progress too quickly. That being said, the more visits into the dungeon made eventually make rolls like this unlikely to occur on floors where you are sufficiently able to kill foes and allow you to find items and save yourself for more trying and difficult floors.
Between trips in and out of the dungeon, the town of Ecallia and it’s denizens are equally just as charming and easy to get lost in. Of course, where buying items and preparing for your next harrowing adventure is the primary purpose of this hub, you can also form friendships, love interest, and companions out of the motley crew in town. From an old man and woman that can barely remember anything to a mage with no control over his own powers, the many NPC’s and party members are nothing short of delightful to converse with. Even the jerk of a rival Grant is fairly entertaining. Besides having a personality and face that makes you want to reach into the screen to punch him, the many times he runs pass interference into your affairs makes it all the more satisfying when you best or one-up him over the course of the game.
Aside from hanging around the NPC’s and teammates for entertainment, the quest and events you get also serve an important purpose for fostering deeper bonds and personal stories but also giving some more dungeon-delving advantages. Where many quests are seemingly straightforward and to the point, they are somewhat lateral and open-ended in nature allowing for different outcomes based on what you choose to do. For example: hanging out with party member Rudy will eventually lead him to search for a girlfriend. However, if you immediately jump on the opportunity to make this happen and try to hook him up with someone, you will get locked out of an exclusive class he can use instead of waiting until later to both help improve his love life and get the class. Having many quests of this level of exactness (some even hinted at during dungeon exploration), you are bound to miss a few things going through the first time, yet failure does yield its own rewards. Other events are more direct providing much needed cash, additional party members, and even building opportunities in order to open new shops or expand your house that begets even more events to open. All-in-all, it is a nice feedback loop that keeps you playing hours in before you know it.
Seemingly made in the RPG Maker engine, the quality of Dungeon Dreams is nothing too special to remark on in a visual sense. Using many common elements germane to the program, calling it a simple asset flip is a poor choice of words since it has far more elbow grease put into repurposing and making it all work. Surprisingly, I was pleasantly taken aback to find most of the main characters with full-body artwork during some scenes. Admittedly, playing through it for the first couple of hours, the artwork is somewhat of a disconnect from the actual sprites since they try to come close to matching the style. Grant and Fiona are some notable examples that can be clearly seen as with the rest of the cast to a lesser degree. Far from a critique than nitpick, it is nothing too pressing that will impact your enjoyment. On the other side of the equation, the soundtrack for Dungeon Dreams is really fitting. From the flamboyant Middle Easternesque world map theme to the unapologetic funk and rhythm of the Guild, the musical tracks are a pure joy to listen to. Another personal favorite comes from the lower levels of the dungeon that remixes the track heard on the first few floors for something more intense and percussive to match the hellscape you have to travel through. Then again, right behind that and the Guild theme, Grant’s theme comes in third place with the electronic/dubstep influence that is always a joy to hear as it is a slight annoyance to see him show up. Really hoping that developers have a soundtrack release in mind in the near future.
Final Verdict: Charming, challenging, and somewhat cheeky, Dungeon Dreams is another nice variation on the roguelike genre, but also a nice reflective refrain on what makes the formula work. Hard to say that most unfamiliar will find it to their liking, however, those that call themselves ardent fans of the genre and looking for something slightly different and enjoyable will find it here.
Disclaimer: In no way, shape, or form was I compensated for the composition or publication of this review. This is by my own volition. A review copy of the game was kindly provided by the developer.