This was certainly an odd one to port to a home platform. I realize when new consoles are launched its more or less anything goes in terms of what games are available but in 1991 a very “PC” RPG in terms of interface was not what everyone expected. Drakkhen was one of the first RPG’s available for the SNES and despite its unintuitive interface was unlike anything else available at launch. How it stands up to today is an interesting topic to explore.
What little plot is explained in a few sentences at the start. The gods divided the world in two between man and dragons for everyone’s safety. Unfortunately the Dragons have found a way to cross the divide, putting humanity at risk. 4 adventurers are tasked with finding a way to stop this from happening. From its character creation to its general point and click interface Drakkhen is a western RPG through and through and the fact that it was designed with a mouse and keyboard in mind hampers its accessibility. However if you can adapt to its control quirks there is a suitably long quest to partake in that is entertaining when it is isn’t pissing you off.
The character creation at the start is a bit of a misnomer. Truthfully there isn’t much to it; you are forced to create one of each of the 4 classes with the only aspects in your control being gender and stats. Each class will start with a different set of abilities and learn more but their powers are their only distinguishing traits. Everyone can equip the majority of the weapons and armor you find (yes even mages). For the most part they only serve as warm bodies to interact with the environment.
Gameplay itself is a hodge-podge of styles. All exploration on the world map is done in first person. The polygonal map was impressive at the time of release and scrolls smoothly. Although the world is flat shaded there are landmarks such as monuments, bodies of water and such. The buildings you enter will present you with static illustrations of their inhabitants who will usually give you clues about the area or sell items. At any time you can bring your heroes on screen to interact with objects but it isn’t really necessary. You’ll only do this when random battles occur.
The battle system is…..weird and the game’s weakest point. When enemies appear your party will rush out to meet them and auto attack. You can take direct control over any character or issue commands however you are more or less an innocent bystander in the proceedings. Think of it like Final Fantasy XII minus the gambit system. Lest you think you can sit back and just watch you have to monitor your party very carefully since armor can break at any time, leaving them exposed and susceptible to being killed in one shot. Random battles are infrequent thank god however it is frustrating to have massively overpowered enemies appear and kill you in seconds. There is no rhyme or reason to when this happens either; at any time the constellations in the sky will come to life and more than likely kill you. And one word of advice, never touch any gravestone.
The real meat of the game takes place in the castles you explore. Here your party is visible at all times and the game transforms into a PC graphic adventure, complete with numerous icons used to interact with the surroundings. Here you’ll encounter people to talk to, monsters to fight, and treasure to steal. You can actually cheese your way through the game exploiting this, since all items reappear if you enter and exit. These parts are also the most frustrating. Drakkhen as a whole is very vague as to what you need to do at all times; for the most part your map will highlight where you need to be but what you need to find once there? You have to figure it out. The castles are the most time consuming because you have so many commands and will comb every inch of the backdrops. You can split your party up in these parts but pray to god you aren’t ambushed. However in spite of all this it’s compelling. There aren’t many games like this out there even today and even though there are many control quirks you can adjust pretty quickly. The game is dripping with atmosphere and since you fight infrequently you’re left to soak it all in for long stretches. In addition the soundtrack is phenomenal, able to switch from cheerful to menacing at a moment’s notice to match the action.
It’s strange as hell and will fight you at every step but I would still recommend Drakkhen. Usually the first RPGs for most consoles are terrible however Drakkhen manages to buck this trend somewhat.