[I ♥ The PC Engine] Dungeon ExplorerPosted on September 28th, 2009 5 comments
Release Date: 3/4/89
Price: 5800 yen
Media: HuCard (3 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 23.66 / 30.00
Kōgien: “Proceed through the game’s dungeons, overcoming the traps and auto-generated monsters along the way. A game with a lot of action and pretty graphics. Use the Multitap to play with up to five people at once.”
This is one of those games that’s a bit difficult to gauge by modern standards. It’s heavily inspired by Gauntlet, an arcade game that, in Diablo, has an obvious successor that’s matured for years now. (The two DS/PSP Dungeon Explorer games released last year are basically Diablo clones, thus completing the two-decade-long cycle of idea borrowing.) Its most original gimmick is five-player simultaneous gameplay, which is nothing exciting or innovative to anyone with an Xbox Live account. It looks…well, very old and square and like something from a long, lost, forgotten age. But it’s still unforgettable…to me, and that’s what counts. But why?
Maybe it’s the historical value. This is the first PCE title (that I know of) that was developed by Atlus, just before it grew out of subcontracting and began to publish its own stuff. It’s also the first RPG (I’m calling it an RPG and I don’t want any guff from you homeboys who call Zelda an “action game”) on the PC Engine to support five players simultaneously, and this may or may not make it the first console [action] RPG to allow that period, the NES port of Gauntlet II not coming out for another 18 months.
For that alone, it’s pretty noteworthy, but 5-player isn’t just tacked on, either. The game’s balanced to be easier with more people, and having a “party” in the D&D sense of the term allows each participant to take a specific role — healing, short-range combat, speedily grabbing all the power-up items and pissing everyone else off. By the same token, Dungeon Explorer is frustrating in one-player for the same reason Gauntlet is — you’ve got zero room to make mistakes and (depending on the class you choose) few emergency escapes if you find yourself in trouble.
But maybe it’s the atmosphere. Dungeon Explorer is an aggressively dark game. It takes place in Cornelia, a “nation surrounded by beautiful nature” according to the intro, but in reality one of those abbreviated JRPG realms without any industry, agriculture, police force or any discernible assets apart from castles and monster generators. The entire realm is dark-colored, tiled, and aggressively depressing, like a trip through Pittsburgh in November except with fireballs. It’s hard fantasy.
Then again, maybe it’s the music. No, I’m pretty sure a lot of it is the music, actually. It’s done by a guy named Tsukasa Masuko, credited as “Macco” in most of the games he contributed to; he did lots of work for Atlus through the mid-1990s and still makes occasional contributions to games today, although he does a lot more sound-system coding than actual composition. Masuko got his start composing with 8-bit computers that overtook Japan in the ’80s, and like a lot of musicians from that generation, his stuff is structured pretty simply — lead instrument, bass, percussion and that’s it. But he uses these simple tools to create a very hard-sounding feel that oscillates somewhere between twee fantasy and low-end metal at times. (Listening to this game, I also get the idea that Ys and Yuzo Koshiro were a major influence on Masuko at the time.)
Put it all together, and you’ve got a game all but meant to manufacture nostalgia. The visuals, music, gameplay, and overall feel are made for hardcore folks, and yet the game itself is totally approachable. Atlus did a great job on it, and while it’s understandable that Dungeon Explorer never became a major brand, the sequels it’s received in Japan are a welcome sight.
I can’t find too many decent videos of DE on YT, but some guys over at Nico have posted a series of long videos showing a 5-member party running through the game, with people swapping in and out as the night goes on and everyone having a drunken good time. If you’ve never gotten a chance to see Dungeon Explorer “the way it’s meant to be played,” it’s a must-see. (The Virtual Console version only supports 4 players at once, so a video like this is a rare sight indeed these days.)
I had no idea this was made by atlus, I thought it was hudson internal. Are they in the credits?
I think it’s got good graphical style – it’s a good japanese take on american PC games of the time, and the glowing powerups all have physics and weight to them, which was neat.
Neat also is the cheat that lets you walk through walls and such, and break the game world into nothing!!
I agree that the game benefits from its dark, somber atmosphere (Faxanadu on NES is another game that had a purposefully somber mood and aesthetic as well).
Dungeon Explorer was a blast to play with folks back in the day, especially when hidden characters were unlocked (I don’t think the instruction manual or magazines mentioned the hidden characters, which made their discovery that much sweeter).
A princess, a robot (yes, a robot!), etc. were fun additions to the core cast of Dungeon Explorer.
Plus, there was a simple but satisfying sense of accomplishment when you defeated a boss as a team and then decided how you wanted to increase the attributes of your character.
But the music is divine. Period. Every single goddamned song is… fantastique. Even the arranged (Red Book) versions of these songs found on DEII (CD) fail to dethrone the original chip tunes.
Such is the greatness of DE’s soundtrack!
Actually, you can play 5 players on Virtual Console, you use 4 Wiimotes/Classic Controllers for players 1-4, and plug in a Gamecube controller to port 1, for player 5. There is an option to configure what controller is used for what player, before starting up the game. I have played the VC version 5 players and it’s a blast, although it’s very confusing!
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