One thing Gameloft is good at is making technically competent clones of popular franchises or genres, and Dungeon Hunter Alliance is no different. Practically the exact same game has already seen a release on iOS devices, as well as the PlayStation Network. Now that the Vita has seen the light of day here in North America, we get a port of this loot-whoring, dungeon romp on that device, as well.
The issue I have with many top-down, dungeon-crawling RPGs is the fact that none of them, sans perhaps Torchlight, have lived up to the big names in the genre they hope to imitate. While that certainly isn’t license to stop trying, it unfortunately doesn’t hold up well when checking out the game with a critical eye.
While this style of RPGs have never been known for their strikingly in-depth story and character development, the attempt here to form a story around a deceased hero that has been returned to life to help save a kingdom that has fallen into disarray when the queen was turned to the side of evil is almost laughable in its simplicity. The way the story is presented is very blatant and in-your-face, and not in a good way.
True, sometimes more subtle approaches to storytelling that raise more questions than you’re given answers might be annoying, but the dialog and very cliché way in which the story plays out leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t mean the story is cliché from an overall plot standpoint (although it most certainly is), I mean the dialog itself is horribly written to the point that I laugh at almost all lines being spoken, and I’m certain they aren’t meant to be funny.
Townsfolk: “Help, there’s this goblin king that has blockaded the town. Please do something about it.”
Your character: “Yes, I think I will. This problem must be resolved for the good of the people!”
The dialog is so devoid of emotion, depth and extrapolation that it is hard to take any of it seriously. But, then again, I’m not entirely sure the story and dialog is exactly the reason for which people flock to games such as this, but even fairly recent entries in the genre, such as the aforementioned Torchlight, do a much better job in engaging the audience in some semblance of story and thought-out dialog. All that is missing here, and it is hard for the game to hold your attention through that aspect alone.
The visual aspect of the game isn’t horrible, but it isn’t what you would expect to see on the Vita, a device that Sony has promoted as being able to handle some graphically complex titles. Many of the combat animations are snazzy and fun to watch and perform, but beyond that the visual aspect of the game is altogether unremarkable.
Combat, on the other hand, is a bit better. As you adventure through these dungeons you’re presented with quite a few tools to do your job. At the beginning of the game, you’re given a choice between three classes – mage, thief, warrior. Unfortunately, that is where the character customization stops, which is also rather disappointing. There’s no cosmetic customization, no gender customization, no customization whatsoever beyond your class.
Once you chose, the game begins and you can slowly learn how to handle yourself in combat. Unfortunately, while better than the story, by far, the combat is rather erratic, as well. The controls handle well enough, but targeting is difficult. Many times, playing as a mage, I completely ran out of mana before I could hit a monster once or twice, which is especially annoying during boss fights. The lack of any camera control whatsoever doesn’t help matters, either, although you can pinch and push the touch screen to zoom in/out on the field of battle, which does help in assessing the extent of the abominations convening on your location in hopes of dismembering you.
As you progress, you level up and gain talent points that you can spend to learn new abilities and techniques, which is a nice way to include at least some customization in the game. Aside from that, being a haven for loot maniacs, you have more than enough ways to customize your character’s gear, as well. My problem here is the same as it is with most games of this type – the vast majority of loot does nothing but fill up space in your inventory, because it’s useless to me.
Another aspect, and one that makes use of the rear Vita touch panel at that, is your fairy companion, which follows you around (sort of) to sniff out hidden treasure for you. The only problem here is that the rear touch panel should not be used for this. Ever. The right analog stick can accomplish the same thing, but the fact that the touch pad functionality is there anyway inevitably means you’re accidently sending the fairy to various corners of the screen during combat as you grip the back of the system. In my opinion, this was horrible use of the rear touch panel – a feature of the hardware that needs to be used in a smart and intuitive way to be successful.
Combat is fun…for an hour or so. Then it starts to get repetitive, as there isn’t enough variety to keep you going for long trips through dungeons exploring them. Many times I had to just turn my system off to take a break because I was, quite honestly, getting bored. Because this genres has a few stand-out titles, perfected very rarely, combat has to stand out and break the mold right away, which nothing here seems to do. At all.
What does spice things up, however, is the co-op. I’ve found over the years that even games with lackluster combat and gameplay are greatly improved when playing with friends, and the exact same is true here. Regardless of any other areas the game may lack in, co-op is still incredibly fun, and Dungeon Hunter Alliance includes up to four-player co-op, so you can slaughter hordes of enemies with your friends and have a jolly good ol’ time.
I really would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention the cost of that fun time. Each player has to have a copy of the game, naturally, and the game is sitting pretty at $35.99 on the PlayStation Store. That is a hefty increase over both the iOS version and the regular PSN download, and the Vita iteration is almost exactly the same game. I can’t really fathom why the game would get such a price hike switching from one platform to the next, but the dream of some fun times with your friends may end before it even begins if you have to shell out $140 to enjoy it with four people. Unfortunately, the rest of the game isn’t that great anyway, so it might not even be worth it.
Overall, Dungeon Hunter Alliance would be great if you are just looking for quick co-op adventure to spend some free time with, but the other aspects of the game just don’t add up, especially when you consider the extreme asking price. It’s great that the Vita is supported at launch with an RPG like this, however I’m baffled by both the addition of very little extra content and the price tag. Proceed with caution if you’re interested in picking this one up, as you may find that all you’ll end up purchasing is some buyer’s remorse.