Dawn’s Light 2

Casual RPG-maker John Wizard has only been around for about a year, but it has already released a quartet of games. What’s more, in Dawn’s Light 2 the fledgling studio is confident enough to assume that players are at least familiar with its predecessor (expect plenty of references to characters, places, and events from the original game). However, while returning players may get a few more jokes, there are enough new gags and personalities that the game can still be enjoyed without having experienced its forebear. That’s good news, since Dawn’s Light 2 may well be John Wizard’s best effort yet.

The story begins with Harvey, our hilariously self-involved ginger-haired hero, up to his neck in a failing marriage. On the same day his wife finally leaves him he is visited by his dead brother (one of the first game’s notorious tricksters in disguise, we quickly learn) who sends him on a quest to locate a series of artefacts scattered around the world. Itching to get back to the business of adventuring, he rounds up his old—and rather more level-headed—sojourning pals Vera and Tyson and heads out on a 20-hour adventure that leads him to a variety of new dungeons, islands, and towns.

Dawn's Light 2

The chief appeal of John Wizard’s games has been their sense of humour, and the studio’s often weird wit is in full effect here. Some examples: An immortal “master chicken” cursed by evil bread; a new bra-burning feminist party member who dominates poor Tyson; and a dungeon that is in fact the guts of a huge, sick monster (we have to battle the infection in his organs).

The funny even becomes a bit meta at times. Always eager to poke fun of RPG conventions, John Wizard’s designers include a recurring joke in which characters join, leave, create, dissolve, and re-establish parties—with invigorating music and character splash screens accompanying each decision—several times in a matter of minutes. Eventually they arrange themselves such that the quest can continue, and not always as you might expect.

Happily, Dawn’s Light 2‘s play elements are nearly on par with its exceptional comedy and storytelling. Most dungeons offer a healthy mix of action and puzzles, both of which, if not entirely innovative, are nonetheless quite engaging.

Battles are turn-based, with players choosing an attack, skill, or item for each member of the party as they come up in rotation. Options grow significantly as the game progresses and characters earn more powerful weapons and learn new abilities. And while early fights are basically a matter of repetitiously punching the enter key to input the same attacks over and over again, by mid-game many battles—particularly those against bosses—require decidedly more strategy, forcing players to abandon standard attacks so that they can heal, temporarily improve their stats, use weaker moves that strike multiple foes, or employ a specific attack that will soften up an enemy for the next character to lay a devastating blow.

The puzzles between battles are equally absorbing. Many involve creating or following paths according a series of logical rules—transform into various colors of frog in order to deftly leap across correspondingly hued lily pads, send a snowball rolling over lava to create a safe trail of ice, etc.—while others simply involve switches, keys, and moving blocks. None of these navigational enigmas feel particularly original, but they’re pulled off competently and compellingly.

Dawn's Light 2

While exploring dungeons those with keen eyes will detect entries to secret rooms filled with collectibles, and treasure areas loaded with useful items that can be purchased with dungeon-specific tickets earned in battle will reward players who take the time to fight every enemy they run across.

Indeed, there’s no shortage of extras and bonus objectives. Craft items collected during your adventure can quickly and easily be transformed into new and powerful weapons at any time, collectible stickers and outfits will keep completionists scouring the nooks and crannies of every dungeon they visit, and rare, stat-enhancing equip-able trinkets and gadgets are well worth taking the time to find.

One small beef: There are no dungeon or field maps. It would be nice to be able to keep track of one’s location in some of the game’s larger areas using something other than one’s memory. There is a very basic world map, but it’s not of much help when, say, you’re in the middle of exploring a specific dungeon on one of the world’s 18 islands.

No complaints with the visuals or audio, though. A collection of diverse and dynamic tunes kept me from turning down the volume and switching to my own music. Objects and characters are pretty standard for a sprite-based game, but the diversity of environments and character types helps keep things fresh. Plus, the enemy and hero drawings seen in battle are full of personality (I agree with Harvey: he may have made a lot of mistakes in the seven years between this and his last adventure, but his new beard isn’t one of them).

John Wizard may be becoming one of the more prolific casual RPG makers around, but the speed with which each new game arrives doesn’t appear to affect their quality. This sequel to the studio’s first game is one of the best casual RPGs I’ve played. If a little relaxed dungeon crawling is the sort of thing that hits your spot, Dawn’s Light 2 is an essential play.