Dungeons & Darkness
Reviewed on Steam
I am always fascinated by dungeons: exploring the known yet at the same time unknown territories, filled with goodies and monsters. If ‘’Dungeon Exploring’’ would be an occupation in real life, I know what my profession would be. Of course there are similar jobs in real life but eh. Naturally I am drawn to games that have dungeon exploring as a key element, hence why I bought this little indie game called Dungeons & Darkness during the last Steam sale. Just looking at the page however, reviews were mixed and popularity was very low. That only gives me more reason to check out and review this game!
I wasn’t able to find much information about Dungeons & Darkness or the developer, and the information I did find was in Japanese so please excuse me if I do get some details wrong. My Japanese is still pretty limited, though I am working on it. The game was developed by a Japanese game studio named Yamiuchi Project, and released in 2016 for Steam only. This is also their only game released in the west, with smaller Touhou side projects released over there at events such as Comiket. They’ve been active since 2012, and formed a partnership with a well-known indie publisher know as AGM Playism to release their game. While I can’t speak for Japan, the game didn’t do all too well over here, which is weird since I would say the biggest dungeon crawler fanbase would be over here in the west. Hopefully I can bring a little bit more recognition to this game—or can’t depending on if I like it or not. Though honest talk: naming this game Dungeons & Darkness probably wasn’t the best idea as it is overflooded by media with similar names, most obviously Dungeons & Dragons.
The unnamed player arrives at a peaceful town which is currently prospering due to the existence of dungeons, attracting people to them to gain lots of juicy loot and become rich gentlemen. But what is the history behind said dungeons? Your intentions are to return peace to this world, and by doing so you gladly help out people in the tavern who want to gain something from the dungeons. Not before long you’ll come into contact with archaeologists who are attempting to discover the history behind the dungeons and world in general, and eventually you’ll find yourself involved in a plot about an old destroyed country and higher beings who weren’t so pleased with how humanity has acted. Now it’s up to you to discover more about the world and push back ze evil!
What I mostly like about the characters in Dungeons & Darkness is that we never get to see their faces, but we get to know them by just text. It helps that the game only has about seven characters total, which makes it easier to distinguish characters from each other. It would be even easier for me if some of the names weren’t similar to each other but I digress. For example, a character who lost his son only appears in the beginning and near the end, but despite that you still recognize him. The ease of writing also helps a lot with this, making it not too long while describing the environment for example. This isn’t unusual for dungeon crawler games, but it’s easy to mess up writing and that fortunately didn’t happen.
You don’t get to see anything of the town itself as everything happening there is done through text, whereas the actual gameplay is only present in the dungeons themselves. Dungeons come in different variations, each with their own gimmicks. By picking a mission from the tavern, you usually only get a select space of the dungeon to explore, or a new part can for example be unlocked. You’ll go through the same dungeon every time with the only randomized part being the enemies. There is nothing wrong with the dungeons in general so I personally don’t have a problem going through them multiple times, and it’s not like you have to go through it in its entirety every time because objectives are only dedicated to certain parts of the dungeon. It can even be as simple a mission as ‘’kill 10 enemies’’ where you’re basically free to go where you want to go.
Stats are always an important mechanic of dungeon crawler games, and you can influence it with choosing what class you would like to be. There is one for every main form of attack, and one to limit yourself and make the game more difficult. Obviously the main combat forms are melee, ranged and magic. Though you will specialize in one, it is recommended to use all of them during your playthrough as there are some enemies you’d rather not fight head-on. Every enemy has their weaknesses displayed underneath their name and health bar. While melee comes with many different types of weapons, ranged is exclusive to ammo and magic to a select amount of spells. For melee you can choose a wide variety of single- or two-handed weapons.
Combat itself is.. a mixed bag however. Many people compare the gameplay to King’s Field on the Playstation 1 and while I unfortunately can’t compare them because these series of games in particular are very expensive, I can see what they mean by looking at gameplay. When attacking with melee, you’re stuck into a single swing motion and cannot move in any way. This leaves you vulnerable to attacks from enemies and if you do get damaged while attacking, you won’t cause any damage. This gives a desire to strategy, but doing so is hard when you’re attacked my multiple enemies who all have different patterns and timing. Because of it I often had to play the waiting game: wait for enemies to come to me and dodge their attack, hit them and repeat the process. You do get one of the most broken abilities in the game however, and that’s the shield bash: a guaranteed stun on smaller enemies and—depending on whether they’re still stunned or not—deal massive damage to them. Ranged and Magic are actually preferred ways of attacking while yes, you have to charge up your arrow or spell, you can move around freely. This is precisely why I mentioned that you’ll need all three styles of attacks because the latter two makes picking off enemies a lot easier, and then you can actually strategize with melee to take the remaining one(s) out. I don’t think melee combat overall is bad, but you do get punished hard for using it while multiple enemies are around you. Also you can kill enemies by luring them into traps meant to hurt you such as sawblades. Brilliant, I love doing that as it insta-kills them without me having to do any effort.
Magic in particular is fun to use with three different spells that can potentially do massive damage to one or multiple enemies at once. It’s a small amount of spells but ones that work. Depending on your intelligence stat however, the amount of spells you can cast during one dungeon visit is limited, so yet again you can’t count on magic being your only form of attacking. Stats obviously increase by gaining levels, which is rewarded after quest but it also converts from Evil Souls gained after slaying an enemy and handed out after finishing a quest. The catch to this is that when you die, all the souls will be gone with no way to reclaim them. It might as well have been just experience and progress being reset after you die but this is one way of doing it I suppose. After losing the battle you restart at the beginning of the dungeon (or elsewhere depending on if you have set up a camp in advance), and aside from Evil Soul you also lose collectables unless you have taken pre-measures with skills sets. These can be reclaimed however by travelling back to the spot where you died. Stats can also be gained from placing furniture in your room, a small side distraction but a beneficial one. Furniture is usually hidden in dungeons, hidden behind riddles.
One great thing Dungeons & Darkness does however, is the crystallize mechanic. At any given time, you can convert gear and weapons to crystals, which can be sold to a collector alongside other collectables later. No longer are you in the middle of the dungeon with an over encumbered inventory and having to choose what items to drop to make room for better items.. is what I would like to say. This mechanic only applies to gear, while the other inventory for healing items does not have such a mechanic. And the problem here is that the bag gets filled up really fast due to everything having a weight to them, some more than others. Even arrows take up one weight value each, and you want to carry as much of them with you as you can. Money can eventually be spent on healing items, but most important of all: skill books and arrow quivers. Without a quiver you can’t shoot a single arrow, and surprisingly those aren’t found in dungeons at all so you’re forced to buy one before you can even become an archer. Skill points increase your stats, but also allow you to have some passive buffs when certain parameters have been met, such as not losing items when dying or immunity to poison.
Enemies all have their own form of attacking like charging or just regular attacking. Usually they’re vulnerable for a short amount of time after their attack animations which is your time to shine. Small enemies that are around your size can be stunned as well. All attacks can be avoided and parried, but the fire ant is probably the most broken enemy because his hitboxes are really weird. Apparently attacking his head or tail will damage him but not his main body..? Bosses also have their own patterns but are overall pretty pathetic as their vulnerability time after attacking is even longer, and because of their size you just have to stand behind them and slash away without being damaged at all.
Because attacks are easily avoidable, if you take your time and learn the patterns Dungeons & Darkness should not be too difficult a game. However, there is a noticeable if not unforgiving difficulty spike in the final dungeon with enemies being much tougher than the ones before. Doable yes, but I wasn’t very happy the first time I arrived. There are selectable difficulties at the start which cannot be changed midway through the game. For completionists out there: there is an achievement in which you have the beat on hard mode with the commoner class. This game is so unknown that there isn’t even an HowLongToBeat page, so you’ll just have to take my word and believe me when I say the game can be beaten in 12 hours, which includes having done everything you can do in a single playthrough. This probably goes for 100% completion as well if you choose to do the hard mode achievement right away. Since missions and dungeons don’t change, replayability is on the lower side, though you can of course experiment with different builds if you do so desire.
Presentation is actually where the game struggles and probably why not a lot of people picked up this game. The game looks like it was stripped right from the Playstation 2 if not Playstation 1 era. I have mentioned before that graphics are of least importance for me and I still stand by that point, but the abyssmal framerate when multiple enemies are on screen are less pleasant. In gameplay everything is shown pretty well on screen, and combat styles can be switched at any time with the press of a button. However—and this is something I can’t defend—, buttons can NOT be remapped and given that some buttons are placed pretty unfriendly or unusual, that doesn’t score the game any points. Dropping and crystallizing items also has to go one by one and random items are automatically picked up, making the UI very basic and not too pleasant to work with. The soundtrack is fine, but I can’t let you hear any of it since it’s nowhere to be found, not even in the Steam game folder itself. Another disadvantage of being an unknown game huh.
Dungeons & Darkness is probably hurt by its title being too similar to the big guns; there’s almost nothing to find on this game and only the people actively searching for a game like this will find it. Which is a shame because overall, it is a fun game to play. The UI is hard to work with and definitely the game’s weakest point, but dungeons are fun to explore and combat works. Melee does take some getting used to however, with attacks being locked into animations and becoming unmovable while its happening. The furniture and crystallize mechanic however, that is something I will definitely applaud the game for. The difficulty is fair but despite being able to choose a class, you’re pretty much forced to use all of them; just having one isn’t going to work out, and that might put off some people. There is a demo on the Steam store as well which I do recommend checking out, because my recommendation is dependent on whether you like the points mentioned in my review or not. And with that, here is my final verdict for Dungeons & Darkness:
This was a tough review to make, mostly because there was so little information to be found. I hope I was able to live up to your expectations regardless. If not well.. bummer. The game is only available on Steam, and is able to be played with both keyboard and mouse, and controller which the developer made it seem like the game was developed for.