I will confess that when I first saw Dungeon Encounters, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. I got the idea that it was a distilled dungeon crawler game which wouldn’t be winning any awards for its style, so it had to be the gameplay. Without actually trying it, I wasn’t going to dismiss it outright, nor was I going to put it on my wishlist… so here we are, roughly eight months later, finally giving it a whirl.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version.
For completion’s sake, I’m mentioning the options menu even though you can pretty much tell from the get go that graphics is probably not going to be any cause for performance issues. However, it still does have visuals. I want to point out the colourblind options in specific, as that changes the colour of the tiles, and NOT the surroundings.
I don’t believe I have colourblindness myself, but I chose to use this option to make the tiles stand out from the background. The fact that the surrounding area doesn’t change colours means neither the default nor the shaded options look any different from the field. I spent much time pixel hunting because of this, making loops around the map to find the solitary tile I missed. It’s already been so long and the Nintendo Switch version has no options to set the colours, so I suppose one must live with it.
Dungeon Encounters is about as no frills as any game can get, with simple shading, basically no special visual effects and no full body sprites that you can see. There is a nice touch where your leading character’s 3D model changes depending on who you have in the first slot of your party, as though the graphics team was afforded only One indulgence.
Like I pointed out in the Options section, this stubborn minimalism has meant the tiles can be hard to see, so a 100% exploration can become more difficult than it has to be. Anything you can interact on the field are marked by digits or letters on the tiles you can walk on, with a solid black for enemy encounters and white for “active” tiles, be it shops, or pick-ups. Should it be a one-time occasion, the letters will be faded out.
I like the music, which I’ve since learnt are arranges of classical music. Also Nobuo Uematsu, you know.
Much like its visuals, the gameplay is “simplified”. You have a party of four, each having minor differences in stat numbers. When you first start out, you can see that there are characters who are “Wandering”, KO, or just unavailable to select. To add characters to your party, they need to be on the same floor, the exact same tile as you, even. I understood this after a slight delay, when I went to fetch someone I had to leave behind.
Stat differences aside, for most of the game, your characters are going to be basically identical to each other. They can equip anything, up to two “offensive” weapons and / or magic, chest piece, helm, and accessory. It isn’t as easy as just slapping on the best gear you can find though. You’re gated by “Proficiency”, with characters only able to equip things under that upper limit. There could be some strategy there where you can remove all other equipment to chuck on that one thing, but I doubt it’s worth it.
The game employs turn-based combat with an ATB. I pretty much assume that the Speed stat will be king and you should prioritize that at any given opportunity. Your party members and enemies have two additional bars apart from their HP in the PD and MD bar, for Physical and Magical Defense respectively. Defenses must be depleted first before you can hit the HP barring certain skills, and even 1 defense point could mean taking no HP damage for one more attack of that type. With this system, having AOE attacks of both types is probably gonna be your next goal. At the very least, that was my thought process. As I understand it, trying to get new equipment to show up in the shops scattered around needs you to have it drop for you first, so a favourite spell of mine only had 1 in stock since I wasn’t lucky.
Levelling feels pretty slow, since encounters aren’t random. You have to purposely walk into the black letter tiles to enter combat, and the formations are predictable, set with each letter / number combination. You do want to step on every tile, as you get Ability Points for charting a certain number of tiles, and 100% exploring a floor. You need these Ability Points to equip passive, combat or exploration skills. While there is the option to speed up your walking speed, it gets hard to control as you skid across and bump into dead ends, so you might as well keep it on 2 at most.
The exploration and the making notes of map riddles, positions of certain tiles, is the reason why I feel Dungeon Encounters is similar to Etrian Odyssey. I also encountered that one tile of level 80 monsters when I’m level 15 and had a party wipe because I couldn’t withdraw, for a taste of that signature Atlus Bullshit. With all the systems combined, it feels like it comes down to a simple gameplay loop of The Grind. I’m… not so sure that’s a good thing.
On one hand, there is always that certain amount of strategy needed, taking measured turns to break the defense bars before you get to wail on the opponent. On the other, it feels like a bunch of busy work whose simplicity can quickly become mind-numbingly repetitive. I did have some fun, but once I entered that trap encounter, I didn’t feel especially enthused to continue further.
It’s fine. Not for everyone.
|Complexity in simplicity||Gameplay loop easily becomes repetitive tedium|