Dragon Fin Soup falls into the category of games that have enormous potential but fall mightily short. An action role-playing game from independent studio Grimm Bros., the downloadable title was a big hit earlier this year at PAX Prime. With so many small studios trying to capitalize on the popularity of rogue-like games such as The Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy, and Spelunky, this one actually appeared to be making a concerted effort to appease the fanbase of the aforementioned games.
There are two main game modes: Story and Survival. The story itself is relatively bland despite having an interesting—and comical premise. Influenced by fairy tales such as Robin Hood and Little Red Riding Hood, the tale follows Red Robin. She is a cheery alcoholic who just so happens to be a mercenary. Red Robin drinks to forget her past in Asura. By the way, Asura is located on the back of a giant dragon-turtle—I kid you not, I can’t make this stuff up.
It’s a generic tale of redemption planted inside dry dialogue which attempts to be humorous, but only garners a few laughs throughout. The writing is solid but the delivery is flawed. I can’t really fault a rogue-like game for having a mediocre story since gameplay is the emphasis here.
The perceptive is top down like Super Nintendo RPGs. Red Robin, like all of the characters in the game, is a two dimensional sprite. The environments themselves feature nice textures and pleasant aesthetics, if not lacking a bit of variety.
The gameplay is a mix of scripted events and procedurally generated environments. The idea here is to give players a different experience each time they replay through the story or even fall in combat. The best way to describe the combat itself is to compare it to Diablo. But more aptly, a Diablo being played on a malfunctioning keyboard. The controls are easy enough to grasp, but character movement is delayed and sometimes stagnant. Sometimes it feels as if you are not even in control as the player. This mechanic is brought in by locked combat from engaging with no way to back out. While I understand how this asks for preemptive thought and strategy, it’s seriously hampered due to fumbling controls that often lead you into combat when you, as the player, didn’t engage in your opinion. That being said, the difficulty level is tough like many in the genre. It’s supposed to test your patience and it succeeds. Unfortunately, difficulty is skewed due to the mess of controls, making the experience endlessly more challenging because of it. The bright side here is that the music is better than average so when repeated failures are at least accompanied by pleasant tunes.
Games of this sort emphasize loot and items. In Dragon Fin Soup, players need as much help as they can get in terms of more powerful weapons and armor as well as consumables. The inventory system starts off clean but with progression, it becomes a cluttered pile of ambiguity. Too often do you use the wrong item at the most inopportune time, or fail to get to a potion soon enough before dying. Once again, this is an extension of the controls but also a design flaw that hurts its overall appeal. Without a balanced and accessible inventory system, rogue like games are effectively ruined in large parts.
The main story is long for a budget title, anywhere from twenty to thirty hours depending on pace of play and number of deaths. After completion, the Survival mode removes the story and throws Red Robin into environments with the goal of staying alive as long as possible (quite obvious by the name). For those who manage to complete the main quest, your skills will be strong enough to wade through mechanical flaws and take on Survival. The difficulty here is without a doubt higher, and if only the game succeeded on the parts that make this sort of game mode great (good controls and inventory system), this would be a nice bonus and an addicting way to pass time since the randomly generated environments provide a mostly different experience for each run. These modes are supposed to reward skill, and because of its detriments, failures present themselves as unfair.
Dragon Fin Soup could’ve been a great game. All of the pieces are here, but it ends up as an aggravating and ultimately disappointing title. For what it’s worth, it’s interesting enough to try out. I enjoyed bits and pieces of my time with Dragon Fin Soup, but the overarching problems kept me from truly liking the game for more than an extended moment.