By Philip Orona
Coming off from playing a few remastered, hi-res RPGs of late, a return to the roots can seem like a good idea from a rose tinted perspective. I fondly recall playing a ton of Dragon Warrior 1 as a kid, and playing it on Nintendo switch made me remember how many parts of the game I hated. Also after re-playing a few hours of Phantasy Star 2, I recalled that a good story and dialog made up for the arduous grinding required to get anywhere in that game. Old school RPG fans will always look back on the Ultimas and Final Fantasy series of yore and can generally recall what made them special, but will also remember that those experiences are sometimes better left in the past. Pixelot tries to recapture the nostalgia factor of games like Dragon Warrior 3 and the like, but doesn’t quite grasp the tangibles that placed those games near and dear to our heart, and without those X-factors, it may fail to grab its target demographic.
You start off in your new game by choosing your class and right off the bat we are presented with a problem. Each class should have its own set of stats, strengths, and weaknesses as we would expect in an RPG but when comparing each one, while they do differ, they do not seem to differ enough that choosing any of them would change the way you play. An Oracle’s power and HP are pretty much the same as a Ninja or Paladin. To that point, a Sage’s speed is on par with the Ninja which is also the same as the Oracle. I can only fathom that the Reaper class is like a dark knight but why is his agility so much higher than a Paladins? Some of the stats don’t seem to make sense. Once you select your class, you can play with gender, hair color and skin to customize your blocky avatar and off you go into “A Link to the Past” type backstory before being dropped into a quick tutorial.
The battle is simple – you have attack, magic, and item as your options. You target your monster and attack in a turn-by-turn battle system that involves using the mouse. Once that’s done, you have your “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this” moment, and then are escorted outside by a local portal. Once in the overworld, things get very “Pokemon”. As you walk through the thickets of underbrush and shrubbery, you can encounter random monsters, but if you cross the sight path of a local bandit on the path, you must duel—err… fight. Here, Instead of throwing pocket monsters, you throw hands till someone’s HP hits zero. After every battle, mana and HP is fully restored. You also receive materials such as wood and leather which can be used to upgrade your equipment. After enough battles your character can level up which increases your stats.
A couple of quirks to note here – there is no save option. The game autosaves after each battle for you. If you want to reload the game to fix a mistake, you have to quit the game and restart it, then load your save and hope it didn’t autosave after your mistake. The music in the overworld is very “pokemon-ish” but the battle and victory tunes sound more like something you would hear in Ultima, so sound design is a little disjointed. Also the inventory is a bit of a mess. There is no way to re-organize it and there are spots for key items that you do not yet own like color keys. I don’t need spots in my inventory with a count of 0 for things I do not have! Also, during some boss battles, the game closed\crashed on me for some reason, which was a little frustrating.
The game is very thin on story. Go to town A, there is a problem, solve it by fighting monsters then move on to town B. While there are some attempts at humor with 4th wall breaking dialogue and references, there is little to no character development, which to be fair, is in-line with the first couple of Dragon Quest and Ultima games, but there is a reason we moved beyond that. We want a reason to care for the pixels on screen and to identify with someone we are playing as if we are going to be spending hours on end with them. I’m not saying they need to fridge a playable character with inexplicable permadeath for shock value (I’m of course looking at you Phantasy and Fantasy titles) but give us something to work with beyond a few lines of “Argh, I’m a bandit!” or ”Hello, I’m a priest here to destroy the undead!”
On the positive side, the longer you play the game, the more there is to discover. If you have the fortitude to push past the initial slog, you will find an expansive party and dynamic battle system that gives you different moves and techniques to fight with as the battle progresses. However there isn’t much beyond this and a multitude of fetch quests and A to B monster hunts till the very end. Still, If you are a sucker for RPG tropes and other franchise references, this game is a love letter to you.
The multitude of retro-like titles strive to stir the feeling of nostalgia, but at the end of the day, there has to be some depth to keep us involved and engaged. Pixelot really tries to deliver with the optional, hidden playable characters and quick and intuitive battle system. Having said that, without character development, world building dialog and a more diverse job system, it is difficult to find motivation to continue questing through this 8-bit world to its conclusion. However, for 6 dollars and a first time effort from developer Kyle Berger, I can applaud the effort. It is a solid game to play in short bursts as it is easy to pick up and put down and is simple enough for my kids to play and understand. In a world of heavy topic titles like Final Fantasy and Xenogears, perhaps simple is something we need to provide balance.
What I like:
Easy to pick up and put down
Easy to understand
What I would improve:
A more diverse job system
Add the ability to manually save and load
More cohesive sound design
Half minute hero for PSVita
Dragon Quest 1 for Nintendo Switch