Monday, May 4, 2009

Dragon Knight II

Elf / NEC Avenue
Super CD-ROM

Enter the realm of Phoenix and take a brief look at your surroundings. You’ll see them hanging around the town cemetery, serving drinks at the crowded tavern, standing by idly as transactions take place within the local shops. Girls with blonde hair, girls with blue hair, and girls with green hair. Girls dressed elegantly and girls dressed in bunny outfits. Cute girls. Sly girls. Vivacious girls. Beautiful girls. And not a man in sight.

Well, no men of any consequence, anyway. Sure, there’s the sleazy bartender, the bald-headed brute at the weapons shop, and the requisite old wise man, but certainly no one who could turn the heads of those lively beauties running rampant about town, making Phoenix the quintessential utopia for the post-pubescent male.

Enter warrior and traveler Takeru Yamato. Stumbling upon said utopia, Takeru does indeed discover paradise as he makes his way about town and pays his respects to the local ladies. All is peaceful, all is good, and all is beautiful.

Then, the girls start to disappear.

Now, this is the point at which most young men would exit stage left. After all, a glance at the newly desolate landscape followed by a look at aforesaid weapons shop brute would complete this metaphoric castration and render most males helplessly distraught. Such is not the case with our hero, Takeru, however. Sword and shield in hand, he sets off towards the nearest dungeon to challenge the evil witch Mesaanya--who is to blame for all this turmoil--and set things right once again.

Elf’s Dragon Knight II is quite deserving of the risqué label it commonly garners, what with the abundance of nude anime females it presents. You see, while DKII is a traditional-in-style first-person dungeon crawler on the surface, it ultimately asserts itself by having you engage in combat with beautiful girls rather than the genre’s typical palette-swapped blobs. After snatching the ladies of Phoenix right out from under Takeru, Mesaanya placed curses on her prisoners, transforming them into an army of bloodthirsty girl-fiends.

Girls wrapped head to toe in bandages assuming the guises of mummies. Girls with spider legs protruding from their backs tossing webs at you. Girls with unicorn horns sprouting from the tops of their heads. Centaur girls, serpent girls, and girls leading dragons around by chains.

You’ll scuffle with all of them in standard turn-based combat, shredding through their monstrous exteriors and exposing a good deal of bare skin when victorious.

Phoenix plays host to three separate dungeons; a six-story monster is sandwiched by two single-floor labyrinths. With the third maze acting solely as a site for the final battle, the bulk of the adventure takes place inside of the other two. Takeru’s main objective is to find the “sacred scriptures” (read: loose brown pieces of paper) that'll allow him to remove the curses that Mesaanya placed on her lovely captives. To achieve his goal, he will have to fend off hostile girl-fiends; solve rudimentary puzzles; and interact with the interesting denizens of the drab dungeons, among whom is a bespectacled talking rat.

The nuts and bolts of DKII’s gameplay are pleasantly simple and effective. An auto-mapping feature is present, and at no time will any portions of your map be forgotten or erased, regardless of how deep you delve into the devilish labyrinths. Parleys with people in town and random battles within the dungeons are handled via easily navigable menus.

Indeed, the menu-driven combat is so simple that it would undoubtedly grate on one’s nerves at some point or another if not for the gorgeous manner in which the battles are presented. The girls stand quite tall in their monstrous glory, occupying large portions of the screen with their presences and looming as ferocious yet beautiful adversaries (various physical mutations notwithstanding). These hostile vixens aren’t the only specks of beauty to be found in Dragon Knight II; encounters with the citizens of Phoenix are presented in the form of brilliant single-screen cinemas. The interiors of the labyrinths are quite dissimilar to one another in appearance, although a rather drab “grey brick” look was selected for the one that Takeru will spend the most time exploring.

Partaking in DKII’s nudity-ridden battles is enjoyable enough, but the real fun begins once you start removing curses with the sacred scriptures. A newly saved girl will break out of her beastly exterior and lie helpless and naked on the ground of the cold, filthy dungeon. Now, one might expect to see said girl immediately run for cover once she gains her bearings. And one would surely believe that if there were no refuge to be found in the immediate vicinity, chivalrous Takeru would lend the damsel a hand by covering her with a towel or jacket or... something. Anything.

But this is Dragon Knight II. And in Dragon Knight II, naked girls don’t look to cover themselves up when in the presence of strange warriors. Instead, they talk.

For a while.


This is where one gets a glimpse of the element that truly makes Dragon Knight II a winner. The game isn’t refined in its play mechanics. It isn’t particularly long or challenging or thought provoking. It doesn’t indulge in theatrics or feature a boatload of special effects. But it is kitschy--and it knows it and makes the most of it.

Once a girl has been saved, Takeru can head back to the town's inn and meet up with his new, beautiful acquaintance. Sometimes, the freshly rescued lass will be waiting in elegant attire, wishing to exchange pleasantries with her hero.

Other times, the girl will be completely naked and spraying her body with water.

Amazingly, Takeru never catches on to this pattern. Once a few girls have been saved, it becomes standard fare to head back to the inn in order to hold brief conclaves with them. You know very well that they will be waiting there for you when you arrive.

I also know that they will be there.

Even the weapons shop brute knows that they will be there.

Our good man Takeru just can’t figure this out, though. Thus, he typically cries out in surprise upon encountering the lasses. And his misgivings don’t end there. Even the most formal young ladies occasionally begin to strip in front of his very eyes, despite his protestations. We are left to weep for our poor hero when the screen fades to black with him still valiantly pleading with his visitor, delaying the inevitable.

Then it’s back to the dungeon to rescue more girls.

This is where the short length of the adventure becomes a blessing in disguise. The novelty of such a concept would surely wear thin if it were exploited too many times, which would be the case if Dragon Knight II were designed to be an “epic.” It’s not, however, and thus it retains its capacity to shock and entertain for the duration of Takeru’s journey. It’s worth noting that Elf consciously attempted to eliminate the possibility of tedium setting in with other fundamental elements besides length, among which is the game’s varied soundtrack. There are a number of different battle themes to be heard, and each dungeon floor features its own exclusive tune. Some tracks are frantic and upbeat while others are eerie and compelling, but all are appropriate and well done.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that all of the dialogue, as well as most of the text, is presented in Japanese, although those who aren’t familiar with the language can still complete the game and enjoy it immensely. (Those who would like to refer to a walkthrough can find one here.) The menus are extremely user friendly and should be quite easy to figure out. None of the puzzles are particularly difficult to solve. An enormous door stands in your way and simply won’t budge no matter how hard you push on it? Well, trudge on back to the tavern and have a talk with the musclebound behemoth who hangs out there; I bet he can be of some assistance to you.

Even with the adult themes, Dragon Knight II presents a lighthearted quest that you will laugh along with and laugh at but never become bored with. The simple puzzles keep the adventure flowing at a rapid pace, and there is a truly surprising plot twist near the conclusion of the journey that should please even the most serious minded of RPG fans. To be sure, there are some ethical issues to consider here; tree-huggers would do well to pick up Double Dungeons instead. For everyone else, Dragon Knight II may prove to be a guilty pleasure--and a highly enjoyable one at that.

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