It's a crazy world we live in. For the past two years the only tactical role-playing game on the PSP was a disappointing Lord of the Rings RPG put out by Electronic Arts. Yet here we are two years later and all of a sudden we're swamped with nothing but big budget tactical RPGs. In the second half of 2007 we have and Dungeons & Dragons Tactics, the amazing Jeanne D'Arc and a remake of the original Final Fantasy Tactics ... not to mention the Japan-only R-Type Tactics. It's as if tactical role-playing games was to the PSP what first-person shooters is to the next generation console, that one genre of games that everybody is dying to have.
Unfortunately because of how many high quality RPGs are hitting the PSP at the same time it's almost impossible to talk about one without comparing it to the others. That's the biggest problem with Dungeons & Dragons Tactics, Atari's newest portable role-playing game. It's extremely difficult for me to simply erase all of my memories of Jeanne D'Arc, especially since I just recently finished going through that 30 hour epic. Yet I'm going to do my best to not taint this review with too many unfair comparisons, because this tactical Dungeons and Dragons game deserves to be evaluated on its own merits.
Right from the very start you'll notice that Dungeons & Dragons Tactics is a dark and gloomy adventure game. Instead of giving you a fantastical world full of amazing vistas and exciting battlefields, you get boring corridors and depressing dungeons. While other PSP tactical role-playing games are going for a cartoon-style look, Dungeons & Dragons Tactics wants to be as realistic as it can; a bold style choice that continues to come back to haunt this game.
The story of Dungeons & Dragons Tactics is right out of the pen and paper game; it's all generic adventure plotting, featuring huge monsters, towns under attack and a world that needs you to rescue it. It's also extremely convoluted and full of boring characters chatting your ear off about all of the things that need to change and how the world needs a new hero. You play that hero, a figure that is up to the task of leading a small group of warriors on a quest to defeat all sorts of fantasy nonsense.
You do that by taking part in a turn-based role-playing game; essentially you move your character and then the enemy moves. Back and forth the two of you go until one of the sides has been defeated. Here's hoping that it was the bad guys that perished, because otherwise you're going to have to load your game again and try a second time. Either way, expect to do a lot of waiting and planning as you take your small team to victory.
Dungeon & Dragons games have a reputation for being insufferably difficult for new fans to pick up. Often these games will expect you to know what kind magic defeats what kind of monster, who the best warriors are and how to take advantage of that installment's rules (and loopholes). Thankfully Dungeons & Dragons Tactics is a little easier to manage. Based on the recently created 3.5 edition rule set, Dungeons & Dragons Tactics is a fairly easy game to get into. Once you've picked and customized your hero it's off to take part in one small skirmish after another. Eventually you'll run into massive battles, but for the most part the game's missions are bite-sized pieces of entertainment that fit perfectly on a handheld console. Thankfully most of these missions don't require you to have the rules memorized, at its core Dungeons & Dragons Tactics tries to be an accessible adventure that can stand on its own legs.
The operative word there is "tries." Dungeons & Dragons Tactics can try all it wants, but this game is definitely not the poster child for accessible RPGs. Navigating this game is much more difficult than it needs to be, often giving me the impression that the developers went out of their way to make this as difficult as humanly possible. And it's not just working through the various pause menus, it's also frustratingly difficult to pick up dropped treasure and customize your characters. To make everything worse the whole process is extremely slow, which makes doing any actual role-playing feel like a thankless job.
Sadly it's not just the menus that will get on your nerves. It's also worth mentioning that even the simplest items are often marred by questionable design decisions. For example, who knew that picking up treasure would be such a monumental pain in the butt? Like a lot of modern role-playing games, Dungeons & Dragons Tactics keeps track of how many items you are carrying and has that affect your overall stats (such as your speed, etc.). But in this game you'll never actually know how much something weighs until you've picked it up ... and even then you actually have to go looking to figure out how it's going to affect your character. I'm not saying that everything needs to be spelled out for the game playing audience, but the developers certainly could have thrown us a bone and given us the information we actually need to play in this world. This is but one of the numerous oversights that plague this Kuju Entertainment developed game.
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