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Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground

Platform(s): PSP
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Global A Entertainment

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PSP Preview - 'Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 10, 2007 @ 5:27 a.m. PDT

Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground offers addictive game play with a simulation dungeon creation element and real-time battles hunting for monsters to collect items, gold, and to fulfill requirements to complete the various quests given by townspeople.

Genre: Simulation/RPG
Publisher: Xseed Games
Developer: Global A
Release Date: June 19, 2007

Among the most memorable aspects of any RPG are the dungeons. In recent times, RPGs have taken a turn toward focusing more on unique combat mechanics or huge epic plots, but one thing will always remain true: The heroes involved with have to trek through some dungeons in order to complete their goals. Dungeons range in types, from simple caves populated by bats and wolves to gigantic underwater ruins filled with amazing treasure and terrifying monsters. Yet, for the most part, many of these dungeons always seem awkward and rather unnatural in design. As gamers, we generally overlook this as just being part of the strange world of RPGs, but Xseed's new PSP title, Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground, attempts to offer an explanation for these strange designs, although in a rather bizarre fashion.

The plot of Dungeon Maker gives a good example of the strange tongue-in-cheek humor that populates the entire game. You play as an unnamed noble who comes to a small town for a single purpose: to build a fantastic dungeon in order to attract powerful monsters. Oddly, the townsfolk have little problem with a monster-filled dungeon being built right outside of town — in fact, they support you the entire way! Everyone from the local carpenter to the Princess will aid you in some form or another as you attempt to create a dungeon great enough to attract even the most rare and deadly of monsters. Most of the cast is fairly eccentric, from the twin sisters who run the magic shop and who seem a bit too friendly toward our hero, to the apocathary owner with an unnatural obsession with the dead. While not the most developed of characters, these various attributes give the townsfolk a real sense of life that is rare among nameless NPCs.

Building a dungeon isn't quite the same as Sim City or similar kind of games. Instead, you must actually visit the dungeon yourself, rather than relying on an invisible hand of god to create it for you. Every time you reach a dead end in the dungeon, you can choose to modify it in a number of ways. Want to create a longer corridor? Go for it. Likewise, you can create rooms, stairways and various other twists and turns to make your dungeon a place to be truly feared. All this is done in real time as you explore your dungeon, and all of the dangers and treasures within. It's also very simple to do. When you reach a dead end, a single press of the Triangle button brings up a menu, allowing you access to all of the available options to increase the dungeon's size. More complex additions can be done via the in-game menu, which allows you to alter multiple areas at once for more efficient dungeon-making.

However, making a dungeon isn't quite as easy as just placing new corridors and rooms willy-nilly. A poorly designed dungeon may be easy to navigate, but monsters will take no interest in it. For mindless beasts, monsters are fairly picky creatures about where they live. Monsters love twisting maze-like corridors, so good dungeons are the kind where straight paths are few and far between. However, only the simplest beasts will be satisfied by living in a dank twisting cave, and stronger and more intelligent monsters must be pleased in other ways. Some require posh surroundings, so you must modify the dungeon to have fancy bedrooms and wooden corridors. Others may be attracted by rooms with strong magical energy or holy alters, or even things as simple as libraries and storage rooms. Even water fountains can be the key to finding new and strange kinds of monsters. Of course, recreating the same levels over and over can get boring and decrease the interest of roaming creatures. After all, if the player doesn't want to explore the same rooms over and over, why would the monsters? Thus, mixing up your dungeon levels is the key to keep the interest of creatures.

Attracting monsters serves a number of purposes. First and foremost is that defeating monsters is the only way to make money besides completing quests. More money means more materials for your dungeon, which then allows you to attract a better class of monsters. Better monsters equal better material, and the cycle continues onward and onward. Of course, better breeds of monsters are tougher to defeat as well, so it may not always be in your very best interests to improve your dungeon unless you're confident you can handle the new residents.

The ultimate goal for each level of the dungeon is to complete the specific task that allows you access to the next floor. This usually involves completing a quest or defeating a boss monster. Quests are given to you by the various townsfolk, and usually involve collecting a specific material from the dungeon or slaying a specific monster that is plaguing the city. (They never comment on how you're the one attracting those monsters, however!) Boss monsters are a little more unique. You have to get a special room built inside your dungeon to attract them, and they are among the hardest monsters to please. Of course, not only do you have to attract them, but you have to beat them as well!

So how do you go about defeating monsters? It's actually fairly simple. While you're looking for new places to build up your dungeon, you'll come across the various creatures that have already taken up residence inside your well-built deathtrap. Fighting is as simple as pressing Circle to launch a weak attack or Triangle to launch a charged attack. Repeated hits lower an enemy's hit points until they are defeated. Magic and items can be accessed from the menu using R, allowing you to summon anything from raging flames to a magical unicorn that heals your wounds.

As you create new and deeper levels of the dungeon, you'll come across or buy better weapons, armor and various other gadgets to increase your attack power. Although it sounds simple, combat has its various intricacies. Different combinations of light and strong attacks can unleash powerful combos, like a whirlwind that cuts everything nearby. Likewise, a bow can be used to strike from far away, but misjudging your attack can mean a swarm of angry kobolds in your face before you can blink.

One of the more unique items involved with improving your attack power is the Root, which are basically sentient creatures that function almost like your character's pets. They can be equipped to your character to increase their overall stats far beyond the usual limits. However, the improvements to your character depend on what you feed the Root. Each item you can feed a Root increases its abilities in some way, be it granting additional elemental damage or simply boosting the attack damage they add. However, each Root has a limit to how many items it can eat, and the easiest items to find are often the ones that give the worst upgrades. So creating the ultimate Root takes a lot of time and effort, and dedicated players will certainly have a challenge ahead of them in their efforts to perfect a Root for their playing style.

One interesting thing to note about Dungeon Maker is that there is no experience bar. No matter how many times you fight a monster, you'll never get stronger simply from hitting something. Instead, leveling up revolves around your culinary prowess instead of your capacity to grind. Each day after you journey into the dungeon, you can come home and have a tasty meal. However, these meals not only satisfy your hunger, but they also make your character more powerful to boot. Each recipe you find has a different attribute; some raise your strength, others increase your hit points, and yet others can increase your magic capacity. Naturally, the more useful (and better-tasting) recipes require rare ingredients only found in monsters deep in the dungeon.

Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground is an interesting concept. Like the recent DS title Etrian Odyssey, Dungeon Maker revolves around a small town and the dungeon on which it relies to thrive. However, while Etrian Odyssey is built around mapping an unknown dungeon, Dungeon Maker invites you to create one of your very own. With a nearly infinite number of possible dungeons to create even after you're finished all of the game's quests, it seems like it will be fun just to create new dungeons in an attempt to discover the perfect combination. PSP gamers desperate for dungeon-crawling adventures will almost certainly want to pick up Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground when it is released later this month.


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