REVIEW: Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts

Old Dungeon Explorer for TurboGrafx-16 is Gauntlet super-sized—more classes, detailed statistics, and interesting areas. 20 years later, Dungeon Explorer: Warriors of Ancient Arts is made as two completely seperate games on PSP and DS. The PSP version shares some with the original (both emphasize teamwork and have Gauntlet monster spawners), but is mostly a sequel in name only.

Arts Warriors (as I’ll call the PSP version) is a hack-n-slash RPG akin to Untold Legends and others on PSP. So let’s see what makes it different.

* Team play. You don’t gain experience in multi-player (a waste of time), but even by yourself, you lead a party of NPC hirelings. These change at your leisure, but earn levels and skills alongside you, so investing in a consistent party is encouraged. AI is controlled with numerous variables (likelihood to use attack magic/support magic/physical attacks/items, following distance, attack prioritization of spawners or enemies). Still, they’re dim, but always helpful. Especially with teamwork mega-attacks and a special collaborative ability to cure status effects and resurrect.

* Dungeons. The dungeon network is difficult to describe and utterly unique. Rather than linearly, dungeons are accessed through a hub where you select a dungeon (jungle, cave, pyramid) and a level to visit. Dungeon levels aren’t single floors, but groups of floors ending  with bosses. For instance, level 6 of every dungeon is 6 floors: 3 random tunnel mazes, 2 monster-filled open rooms, and 1 boss. Other variations include mapless floors or treasure floors. Dungeons levels go into the 20s, some having 30 or 40 floors and taking hours.

* Progression. Progression is somewhat free-form. You take quests at the guild, after you complete enough, a plot-advancing quest opens. Between these, you quest or raid dungeons at your leisure.

* Classes. Mastering combinations of 6 basic classes unlocks 6 advanced classes. You can switch classes for no penalty and you’re able to master more classes than necessary by the game’s end. Each class has unique skills can wield their own weapon types that gain power with use. Arts Warriors has vast arsenal of weaponry: scythes, throwing axes, katanas, etc.

* Crafting. I hate crafting/smithing/synthesizing. Thankfully, Arts Warriors’ crafting isn’t as cryptic and annoying as many. From dungeon-found materials, recovery items can be made and equipment can be upgraded. But the abundant quantity and small variety of materials makes this less frustrating than (for instance) the Class of Heroes tedium.

There is much to like, but still Arts Warriors isn’t for most. It’s nothing but an intensive self-directed grind for stats and equipment—more so than even Valhalla Knights 2. While there are  12 classes, 3 races, and numerous dungeons, the difference between them is too minimal to add more than the illusion of variety.

But I love grinding, stats, and dungeons so Arts Warriors is fun enough. And truly OCD people could easily put a hundred hours in. In the realm of PSP hack-n-slash it stands above Warriors of the Lost Empire and Valhalla Knights but below Alien Syndrome, Dungeon Siege, Phantasy Star Portable, Bounty Hounds, and Rengoku. But you’ve probably played all those and are looking for something “new”, so give it a whirl.


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