Golden Games: Dragon Crystal (1991), The Roguelike

Not too long ago I wrote a post on Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. While watching ‘Summoning Salt’s’ video regarding competition on said game, I realized something: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out had been my entry to fighting games and had laid the foundation for an appreciation for an entire genre that I still love to this day. I called it a ‘Golden Game’ for that reason. So from here on in, I would like to talk about all the other games that had this sort of formative influence on me and my taste in games. If there’s more than one game that blurred together, I will try to choose my most formative and favoritest or all, for that genre. 

Image result for dragon crystal

This game came out when I was 11 years old and I had no idea that there was a genre on these games. Not really until the indie roguelike resurgence hit did I think that it was anything other than a strange fluke in my gaming history.

The way I came across this game was from a friend. He had a Game Gear and few games. One of the games that he really didn’t like, but it turned out that I loved, was Dragon Crystal. As my wife would say when something is no longer interesting, his Game Gear was ‘Chum bap’, or ‘cold rice’ to him once he got a Gameboy. I took the opportunity to borrow it, and although there were some fun games he had for it, I spent the bulk of my time playing  Dragon Crystal. It had such an addictive quality, such strange and foreign mechanics to it, that it took me a little bit of time to get my head wrapped around it.

I was never privy to Rogue or its other early iterations and so this was truly my first ‘roguelike’ experience. The website ‘Temple of the Roguelike’ has a set definition of what a classic roguelike is, with a list of seven qualifications. There are other definitions, but I’m choosing this one as it’s pretty clear cut. According to the sites qualifications, Dragon Crystal is indeed a classic roguelike. It is turn based, grid based, has permanent failure, procedural environments, random conflict outcomes, inventory and a single character.

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I suppose, what’s interesting about it, is that it’s Japanese, and that its turn based but in real time. Apparently there weren’t a lot of Japanese rogue-likes, being more of a western genre for PC owners. As far as its turn based aspect, if you move your character on the grid down one space, all the other things take a turn and move at the same time. In the above picture, the frog might move one space towards your character for ever step you take on the grid. When fighting you take turns attacking.

I’ll say this right now, I never beat it. My friend wanted it back before I could do so, but I got pretty darned far in it. A lot farther than he did for that matter. I remember what really intrigued me about this game was its random assignment of item functions and abilities. For example of the many sets of items in the game, there are the potions and they had different colors, but every time you play the functions that corresponded color of a potion would all be rearranged the next time you played. You had to experiment every time you played, sometimes the result was fatal. When I realized that I couldn’t memorize the functions of the items every time I played, I got out a pad and paper and take notes for each time I played writing down the functions. It was a totally unique gaming experience. I didn’t even have the word ‘permadeath’ in my vocabulary, I just kept trying and trying and trying.

Sleeper hit ‘Fatal Labyrinth’, available in the Genesis collection, never work up 😦

My memory of this game was rekindled when I played Fatal Labyrinth from the and not too later, Rogue Legacy. I got Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PS3 on a whim and was astounded  to find out that when I fired up Fatal Labyrinth I was practically back in the 6th grade. Fatal Labyrinth is almost the same game, but just a bit different from Dragon Crystal. As for Rogue Legacy, I had gotten it through the PSN free games and realized that what I was enjoying so much was very similar to that old game from when I was in elementary school on my friends Game Gear. Currently one of my favorite games to play with friends is Spelunky, that draws heavily on a lot of rogue-likes qualities. Had I not played and fallen in love with Dragon Crystal on that battery hog of a handheld system I doubt that I would be able to appreciate all the rest of the games that followed in or related to that genre.

Image result for 3ds virtual console dragon crystal

If you are looking for a way to play it that isn’t the Game Gear, apparently in 2012 it was released on the Nintendo 3DS virtual console. Whatever that is.

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