Highbrow Homebrew: Tales of Dagur
Tales of Dagur is better than some commercially-released DS RPGs. Whether that says more about the DS RPG scene or the DS homebrew scene we leave up to you, brave reader.
[i][Ed. note: Highbrow Homebrew is a brand spankin' new Modojo column that will focus on the increasingly sophisticated and exciting world of PSP, DS, iPod, & mobile phone homebrew. If you know of a project you would like to see profiled, drop us a line.][/i]
Coming across a decent homebrew RPG for the DS is no easy task. Like the Irish Potato Famine of 1845, fans craving more of their favorite genre are left wondering why they're forced into an endless oblivion of id Software shooters and Sam & Max ports. And although we love our cyberdemons as much as the next guy, there's really nothing like an old-school RPG fix.
However, thanks to the talent of LiraNuna (coding), Enterbrain (graphics) and a handful of other dedicated individual, Tales of Dagur makes for an impressive showing in an otherwise lacking genre for DS homebrew.
The story starts out in familiar form. Average king rings up your avatar Alex and says "Listen here, buddy. We're in quite a pickle and only you're able to remedy the situation. Now hop in your Porsche and get over here!" And although the actual dialogue is slightly different, the premise of saving a lost queen won't be too foreign for those who've played, I don't know - say any Super Nintendo RPG? Of course, as you do get further into the world of Dagur, the story does begin to offer a bit more depth and even its own brand of humor at times.
Where Tales of Dagur really stands out though is not the plot but rather the great amount of effort put into the entire package. Foremost, the graphics are simply stunning considering homebrew roots and a lack of any substantial production value. Even when just starting out in the king's castle, you'll find yourself shocked by how much detail is put into the most basic background objects. Everything from the furniture to wall decorations make their presence known to the player and could easily be confused for graphics in a commercial product.
And while it's true that we do see very intricate 2D art work a fair amount in newer, commercial handheld releases, many of these games are also oriented in a new direction stylistically - racing for deep, extravagant animation. Tales of Dagur is presented in a very different way and in what I can only describe as an attempted throw-back to its 16-bit predecessors. For instance, landscapes, rooms, and the town manage to retain a sense of simplicity and wandering around the game's environments is easy on the eyes. The battle backgrounds are nothing to scoff at, either.
The sheer amount of programming and script work that must have gone into Tales is astounding to say the least. Character dialogue is well done and the large item database is something the game's developers should look back at with pride. And despite the simplicity of character customization, the options you have to work with are implemented in such a way where you'll still get that basic enjoyment of seeing double digit increases in damage with an extra point put into your character's strength.
Controls work as basically as possible. The direction pad moves your avatar, holding down B causes a dash, and the A button is used to interact. Navigating through the character menu on the top screen isn't brain surgery, either and is all managed by the d-pad and buttons. And despite failing to bring about any serious stylus action, the game's emphasis on simple controls certainly doesn't hurt the overall experience.
Most importantly, I love the game's music and you should too. Whether the music selection just appeals to my horrible taste or the developers made incredibly smart decisions with the soundtrack, something about it just makes me want to blast my DS's little speakers all the way up. Specifically, the audio masterpiece you'll be treated to in the confines of town is not unlike a theme you'd hear in a (bad) 80's comedy featuring John Cusack and probably named "Better Off Dead". Combat in the forest is accompanied by the soothing sounds of something you'd likely hear in a European club. In fact, listening too intently while fighting a bat almost caused me to take happy pills and road trip to Burning Man, although I'll save that story for a different column.
Of course, even with all of the musical glory in Tales of Dagur, there are a couple of issues notably present in its design. Most obvious is the glaring absence of animation throughout much of the game. Aside from very basic scenes during battle and AI movement, there's not much in the way of an active environment.
Traversing through zones can be frustrating at times, too. Since some levels don't enjoy the benefit of distinct borders, it's easy to mistake a dead-end clearing on the side of an area with a door. Moreover, the developers have yet to implement the magic system so combat is restricted to melee, although an update is promised. Lastly, the encounter rate seems a bit too high and could probably use some tweaking.
Regardless of my nitpicking, it's important to keep in mind that Dagur is a homebrew project and although the developers would probably love to incorporate some of these features, minimal resources make it difficult to add the degree of polish we expect in commercial games.
If your mindset in approaching the game is to come out with an experience equivalent to a Final Fantasy remake, you'll undoubtedly be disappointed. However, if you appreciate classic RPGs, Tales of Dagur can offer a world that'll bring about those pleasant feelings of nostalgia. Be careful though, it may also make you feel guilty for not dishing out fifteen bucks to play.
To download Tales of Dagur, visit the official website at http://www.talesofdagur.com
One last piece of advice: make sure to get the DLDI patch to enable saves!