The Dragon Fantasy series is something that I’ve known about since the very beginning, but I’ve never really played much of it. Until now, of course. The goofy RPG that makes fun of genre tropes now has its own sequel, called The Black Tome of Ice.
The Black Tome of Ice begins with the still-balding hero, Ogden, having a vivid dream about saving princesses from dragons and the implied return of some entity from the first game that apparently wasn’t terribly nice. But before Ogden can get the whole message, he’s woken up — and the (mis)adventure begins.
I’m sure fans of the first game will recognize several familiar faces, but even if you’ve never played Dragon Fantasy before you should still be able to manage just fine in The Black Tome of Ice. Each significant character gets their own brief intro/description to bring you slightly more up to speed, and references to past adventures are mostly kept to a minimum. And even when they do come up, it’s not that difficult to follow along.
While the first game used a combat system similar to classic RPGs such as Dragon Quest – with the random encounters and first-person perspective – The Black Tome of Ice mixes things up a bit, doing away with random encounters and instead showing all of the enemies on the screen. If you get too close a battle will start, but it is possible to avoid most fights if you prefer (though it’s not recommended). Enemies will usually chase after you for a bit as well, so you can lead them away from important areas or even try to group more of them together in order to earn bigger rewards in a single fight.
Once combat starts it’s still turn-based, though now enemy positions matter a whole lot thanks to attacks that can hit multiple targets at once within certain ranges and directions. Sometimes enemies will end up in new spots after attacking, which can be kind of annoying if you’re trying to land a 4-in-1 hit and suddenly only connect with 2, but for the most part I really appreciate the added layer of complexity this updated system provides.
You can also capture the monsters you fight and use them in your party, which brings a little Pokemon/Dragon Quest Monsters into the mix. It’s a fairly simple matter of weakening monsters and then using a net on them (and hoping it works). The monsters you recruit can level-up, learn new special attacks, and even use equipment.
The default control scheme, which uses a kind of virtual analog stick that will trigger whenever you touch and drag on the screen, provides some irritation. The idea itself is fine, but sometimes it feels like it goes from walk to run too easily, while other times it seems to refuse to run until I lift up my thumb and start moving again. The virtual D-pad option works much better since it offers dedicated movement and run buttons, but it’s super ugly and takes up a lot of the screen. I wouldn’t expect something like touchy controls to be that much of a problem in an RPG like this, but when you’re trying to avoid or otherwise control the movement of enemies, it can be a big deal. An early sequence where you have to run around a ship gathering ammunition for the cannons while a timer constantly ticks down (to indicate when your own ship will get blasted) really drives this point home.
The ability to play in either a vertical or horizontal orientation is also a bit hit or miss. Playing horizontally gives you a better view of the action, but playing vertically lets you see a map of the area that can be pretty useful. The combat interface is also better when playing vertically since you can select individual enemies and see how an area-effect attack might work – the horizontal view doesn’t really offer that. Again, not a deal breaker, but it can be oddly annoying.
Quibbles about the controls and orientation quirks aside, The Black Tome of Ice is definitely a worthwhile sequel to Dragon Fantasy. Heck, it’s a worthwhile RPG regardless of how familiar you are with the first game, or how interested you are in a game that pokes fun of cliches.