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Dark Quest II

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Developer: Brain Seal Entertainment
Release Date: Feb. 27, 2019


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Switch Review - 'Dark Quest II'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 21, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Dark Quest II is a turn based RPG where you control a party up to 3 heroes on their epic quest to enter the castle of doom and defeat the evil sorcerer and his minions.

Dark Quest II has perhaps one of the blandest names for an RPG. It sounds like something cobbled together from a random name generator, and with a glut of games suffering from that same fate on the eShop, most players approach this title with caution rather than curiosity. If you happen to take a chance on it, you'll find a title that is more intriguing than expected.

The story setup is basic. One night, the king held a celebration with the rest of the castle's inhabitants while a sorcerer and his army of trolls snuck in through underground tunnels. The surprise attack resulted in the slaughter of everyone in the castle as the sorcerer took control. Hearing of the news in a nearby village, a band of heroes decided to take up arms and storm the castle, hoping to overthrow the sorcerer from his ill-gotten throne.

Until you beat the game, that is the most exposition you'll get. The sorcerer has no name, and neither does his subordinates. Your heroes are also nameless and don't have bios to flesh out their background. The missions provide little to no context, and speaking with other people fails to provide any more story than necessary. For those who jump into RPGs for grand tales, this will be disappointing.

At first glance, the game mechanics emulate those of strategy RPGs. Each of the dungeons is separated by rooms, and those rooms have grids laid out for them, so all of your movements are dictated by the squares on the grid. Whether you're moving to open a treasure chest or to attack an enemy, you move characters one at a time, taking turns with enemies until none are left. You can perform basic attacks, but you also have chances to use items or your special abilities, which differ depending on which character you're controlling.

The minute you go through the first room, you'll notice that the typical RPG systems have been greatly streamlined. For starters, even though you're on a grid, you aren't restricted by movement points, so you can go from one extreme side of the board to another in one go. The game also simplifies your action by eliminating menus, so pointing and clicking on a pile of gold means you automatically want to pick it up, while pointing and clicking on an enemy automatically makes you move into position and initiate an attack. Even accessing your inventory is simplified. Hitting the X button brings up both your potions and your active special moves, so you don't need to fumble through menus. The game also helps you out by providing basic stats on things if the cursor is pointing at them, whether it's their chances of blocking an attack or your chances of finding something valuable in a skeleton pile.

The streamlining is nice for genre newcomers, but there are a few issues that lead to some frustration and head-scratching. The automatic pathing is nice — until traps are introduced. Even if you uncover the trap from a distance without triggering it, the only way to ensure the game doesn't make you run over the thing anyway is to meticulously move your character one square at a time until you're far from the offending square. All of the other mechanics are governed by an invisible dice roll system. That's true for just about any RPG until you notice that the dice almost always seem to be loaded against you. Get into a fight, and unless you've initiated a sneak attack beforehand, there's a good chance that your first attack at close range can get blocked or whiff on an enemy while they get a perfect hit on you. Using a health potion rarely gives you any bonus benefits, despite the odds saying that you have a good chance of getting them. Using a room's Skull of Fate is a laughable plan, as you're more likely to get hurt or have nothing happen instead of gaining a random benefit from it.

Whether you choose to retreat from a dungeon or find the proper exit, you'll always return to the village, giving you the feeling that this portion was greatly inspired by Darkest Dungeon, since you have everything you need in one screen. Each of the villagers has a specific purpose, like the gravedigger who can resurrect fallen heroes for a price or the blacksmith who can give your heroes better armor and weapons. There's a potion seller, a barkeep who can help you hire new heroes for your party, and a madame who can give your party members temporary buffs.

There are two issues that mar the village. The first is that you can't expand your inventory, so while the various potions on sale are nice, the fact that you can only hold two at a time and not target anyone with them means that you're going to ignore everything except for the health potions, since they're the most useful thing when dealing with the stacked odds. The other issue is that you can't access everyone from the outset. You need to fulfill certain conditions or progress far enough into the castle before those options open up for you, so by the time you unlock everyone, it may be too late, as you won't want to toy with the extra options since what you have has worked well enough thus far.

Despite those drawbacks, the village does highlight a few positive design choices. First, Dark Quest II doesn't have a traditional leveling system, as the jars that you pick up in the dungeons serve as your means of learning new moves and powering up. Since those jars are character-agnostic, you can make multiple runs on the same dungeon with your known powerhouses and buff up the rest of your party. Second, the game lets you choose the path to reach the sorcerer, so you already know if you want to make a beeline for him or explore every dungeon to get the loot beforehand. Finally, each dungeon tends to spice things up by limiting the number of heroes who can go in at a time. This move makes the runs feel fresh, since you have to think strategically about who goes in rather than just putting your best people in and calling it a day.

If you ever got the chance to see Dark Quest II on the PC, you'll notice that there are two noticeable differences between the versions, beyond the control schemes. The first is that the Nintendo Switch version has multiplayer. That's a rarity for just about any RPG, so the inclusion of couch co-op is nice, even if the game doesn't seem to be designed with that in mind. The Switch version is also missing the custom level editor that's present in the PC version. That's not a bad thing, considering how the level editor isn't particularly user-friendly, but it's a bummer to miss out on community-designed maps, especially since the $3 price increase versus the PC version can't be justified by the trade-off.

The presentation, like the rest of the game, aims for simplicity. Graphically, the dungeons look decent, and the same can be said for all of the creatures and heroes. The attack animations look very limited, as you get the feeling that the body tilts compensate for more thorough animation, and the movement of each character from tile to tile looks laughable due to the rapid movements covering up for a lack of proper animation cycles. The effects are sparse, but at least the game doesn't suffer from any slowdown. Considering the lack of story and character-building, the lack of voices should come as no surprise as far as the audio goes. The lack of a memorable soundtrack is also expected, but what is surprising is how the game doesn't seem to know when it should start or stop. There are plenty of moments when you're moving through a dungeon with nothing but ambient noise when some calming music starts to play in the middle of a fight — and it continues until you enter the village and leave for another dungeon run. Proper triggering feels like an afterthought here.

Dark Quest II isn't half-bad. The upgrade system is easy to understand, the game does a pretty good job of explaining all of the odds to you, and it wastes no time in presenting you with interesting scenarios. The difficulty is slightly challenging, but its short overall length and threadbare story means that experienced genre players will scoff at it. If you're just starting out, Dark Quest II works as a quick throwaway game; it's something to consider if you can find it at a good sale before you settle on another title with some more depth.

Score: 6.0/10

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