Dungeon Crawlers are like the cockroaches of the gaming world (in a good way): despite how archaic they are, they never seem to really die. Considering they were one of the first genres ever created, back when most games were just lines of text, perhaps old fans will never grow tired of them.
Fighting Fantasy is one of the few old-school crawlers released this year. So how did it turn out? Does the new franchise recruit some potential new fans, or does it just stick to the same alienating crawler mechanics that dedicated fans know and love?
Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain‘s graphics consist of 3D and faux-3D visuals, the former of which are pretty impressive for a DS game. By faux-3D, I mean that all of the game’s enemies and characters are actually sprites that constantly turn to face you in order to protect their two dimensional farce.
Story wise, the game is just about as deceptive as its character models: there’s barely any to speak of, and most of the script is generic, with little dialogue choices. But that won’t really matter to most of you, given that the majority of your time is going to be spent completing quests and killing monsters.
The game’s control scheme works very well, with one caveat: the combination of touch-screen and button-based controls are hard to constantly compensate for at times. One minute you’ll be holding the DS with both hands, strafing and turning, and the next you’ll have to touch something on the screen in a split-second to interact with it (a hasty escape through a door, perhaps).
Fumbling around for your pen (or, as I did, just opting to quickly hit the screen with my thumb) gets really annoying after a while, and the game could have benefited from an alternate control scheme that uses a button to talk/interact.
Additionally, you have to look exactly at a treasure chest on the floor to open it; this can get really frustrating, as you’ll constantly side-step chests. However, moving with the d-pad and looking with the face buttons is probably the best FPS scheme the DS could ask for; Metroid Hunters fans (and non-fans for that matter) will feel right at home.
Despite the solid core controls, early game combat is a bore. Until you obtain more advanced spells, encounters mostly consist of trading blows (mashing the attack button) until one of you dies. For most close combat enemies, it is possible to dodge a bit, but this only prolongs the encounter. Luckily, as the game progresses, enemies will gain long range tactics and abilities, allowing you have more fun dodging them.
Thankfully, the game auto-saves upon entering every room in the game, but the tutorial even hints that relying on it can get you into trouble. For instance, running through multiple rooms with little to no healing items will spell inevitable death, so make sure you hit up the hard save orb stations every chance that you get.
It’s a minor gripe, but since there are barely any healing items to speak of towards the beginning of the game, I found myself leaving the DS idle while my health slowly regenerated multiple times, but this is quickly rectified after finding your first merchant about an hour in.
Once you get a few hours into the game, you’ll feel more at home with your character: spells will open up, and more strategies will become available for downing those super hard monsters. After you’ve beaten the game (in around ten to fifteen hours), you’ll find a new game+ option, allowing you to continue with all of your gear and statistics on a higher difficulty level, which is set up in a pretty cool way. If you’re so inclined, there’s also an option to beat it again, and try out new builds for your character.
Reports of this game being too hard are fairly over-exaggerated, and, as far as dungeon crawlers go, this is one of the easier games in the genre. For example, Fighting Fantasy has a mechanic that reloads the enemy spawns in any given room after loading an auto-save. What that means is that if you’re having too much trouble with a given room, you simply reload the enemy cache, and you might find easier enemies to deal with.
Another given with the dungeon crawling genre is the fact that some rooms with have really tough enemies, but there’s a fairly simple strategy to counter that: just leave the room and come back later. I found that after a few levels or so, those enemies were much easier to take down, and in fact, I only had to lightly grind until about halfway through the game. You’ll even find a green dot on your radar pointing you to the next story event. If I had one bit of advice for newcomers, it would be to abuse spells and ranged attacks: don’t be tempted by hand-to-hand combat!
Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain isn’t a “bad” game, it’s just missing one key ingredient for the most part: identity. Unless you get your jollies hacking away constantly at the same handful of enemy models, you won’t find much of a reason to keep trekking through, but those who do will have a blast.
Visually, Fighting Fantasy isn't going to turn heads, but the dungeons themselves are well designed, despite the generic enemy models.
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Fighting Fantasy controls rather well for a first person DS game, but the combat mechanics are far too simplistic, and the menu system is very clunky.
Dungeon crawlers generally lack music to add to the atmosphere, but the sound effects in Fighting Fantasy are very underwhelming.
The max level cap is 100, and there is a New Game+ option, but the main story takes around 10 hours to complete, which is a bit short for a dungeon crawler.
Fans of Dark Spire and other old-school dungeon crawlers will find solace, but most gamers will likely quit a few hours in.