Title: Dragon Crystal
Released: Dec 22, 1992
System: Game Gear
Developed: SEGA of America
Well, it’s an armored knight inside a crystal ball being held by, what I guess, is the claw of a dragon.
Which makes sense, since the title is DRAGON CRYSTAL.
And you do play an armored knight.
And there is a dragon involved.
And sometimes a crystal.
Yeah, this cover artist is taking a VERY literal interpretation of the game; Dragon Crystal was a launch title for the Sega Game Gear, so anything vaguely fantasy would immediately appeal to those of us who were fans of Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy. I suppose I’ll give the marketing team credit as that is the reason why I wanted this game in the first place. Other than that, it’s pretty standard fantasy art, and not terribly good art at that.
Dragon Crystal is a Rogue-like RPG in which you must journey through 30 randomly generated levels (floors) in order to find a mythical crystal ball that will lift the “dragons curse”. Along your journey, you are followed by a mysterious dragon egg that slowly hatches the further you delve into the dungeons. As in all rogue-likes, everything that you find from armor to weapons are randomly placed with random status effects during each play through. Items that you find must be identified in order to be used effectively as they could be either beneficial or detrimental to the player if equipped or used.
My first rogue-like. And, no I don’t mean that this game is like a dumbed down example of the genre, I mean this is my FIRST rogue-like. And it’s a real rogue-like at that…and in case I haven’t used the term “rogue-like” enough at this point, here’s a quick description of what a “rogue-like” is for those not in the know: A “rogue-like” is a subgenre of RPGs typically characterized by random world generation, permadeath, a large amount of lootable gear and items that have randomized properties per each gameplay and turned based gameplay which usually consists of one to one style movement in which every action or movement that you make allows all enemies to move or act as well. Typically, rogue-likes are prided on being extremely strategic as they employ a risk/reward system that has permanent consequences on how you progress through the game.
Oh and it’s called a “rogue-like” because the genre was derived from an 1980 game called “Rogue” that specialized in the procedural generation of game content.
(and for more about rogue-likes, check out this old monthly column @Play by John Harris on gamesetwatch!)
I love this genre. What I like most about it is how fresh everything feels each time that you play it; it’s literally almost a new game. The emphasis on exploration and adventure is amazing, not to mention the survival aspect of these games. When it all comes down to it, these games are all about survival as even with the large amount of gear and items that you’ll find in the world, you will ALWAYS be outmatched by the enemies around you. But, enough about my love of this genre, back to Dragon Crystal.
The reason why this game was so great is because it is a pure rogue-like that has been placed on what I consider to be a perfect platform for the genre, a portable video game system. When most people think mobile or portable gaming, for some reason the words “bite sized” are always used, as if portable gaming is only for short attention spans to be played in 2 minute bites. I say that the medium is perfect for long sprawling rpgs as what a better way to fill waits at the doctors office or auto shop than by grinding out a few levels in Bravely Default.
Case in point, Dragon Crystal. This isn’t a bite sized game, it’s a full RPG. Levels (floors) are long and sprawling and very maze-like. Monsters swarm out of all corners of the map and hunt you down, meaning that you’ll have to explore every nook and cranny on each floor to make sure that you’ve picked up all available gear in order to even have a chance. Items that you find are first identified by color and unless you throw them, there is no way to know if the item will help or hurt you. Swords and Armor can curse you, other items such as Rods, Scrolls, Books and Potions can perform any number of effects on you from sapping your hunger meter, making you dizzy so you are unable to walk in a straight line and waste “turns”, blind you or they could heal you, make you more powerful or even advance you to a different floor. There are a dizzying amount of items to find in this game all appealing to the inner loot whore within us.
Another fun part of rogue-likes are the monsters that you face. In games like these, it’s always fun to run into increasingly bizarre enemies as even early slimes and frogs can do significant damage to you. This game doesn’t disappoint as it’s monster table is pretty substantial, you’ll end up running into monsters that move faster than you (can move two spaces to your one) can teleport, or can even be immobilize and block your path. Some of the freakier enemies that you’ll run across are Sand Sharks, Ninjas, Floating Eyeballs and of course Dragons. Ooh, lots of Dragons.
Oh and the graphics…beautiful. You start in a lush looking forested area, the fog of war is represented by a modified version of the tile-set (in area one its trees that turn from white to green as you explore the area and reveal the maze, in another area is sunflowers that bloom, etc). Every three or so floors the backgrounds change to something more bizarre than the last. The best I think are the Moai island statue area as each you pass eerily goes from inanimate to grinning as you pass. Creepy.
If there is any downside to this game it’s the music. Pretty standard Game Gear affair, not that great, tones are high pitched (much like on the Sega Master System) and the track loops too quickly. Luckily the music tracks do change every ten or so levels so you won’t have to listen to the same BGM for the entire experience, but more than likely you’ll turn the sound all the way down before the end.
I first played this game on a cross country road trip so I’ll always associate this game laying down in the cramped back seat of a car, trying to shift to a comfortable angle zipping through Arizona, New Mexico and the lower southwest of the United States. The only problem I had was it’s on the Game Gear, 6 AA batteries sucked dry in about 3 hours. Solution, a quick stop to a Toy’s R Us somewhere near the California border for a Game Gear car adapter and I was good to go. Probably the only time an accessory cost me another game, but I didn’t care. Dragon Crystal was enough for me!
+ Full fledged Roguelike experience on a portable system
+ Beautiful graphics!
+ LONG game with an amazing amount of replay value.
– It’s on the Game Gear…plug in to an electrical socket!
– The music kind of drones…like most Master System/Game Gear music unfortunately 🙁
Have a 3DS? You can play this game right now! Check it out on the 3DS Virtual Console for only $2.99!