When I first got The Nightmare of Druaga, I was unable to load it up because at the time my wife had a death grip on the controller as she was playing her new game, Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal. But that did give me a chance to check out the manual, which was a good thing considering I was expecting to play either an RPG or Tactics type of game, and Druaga is neither of those. Plus, the manual was nicely done. It's in full color, with pages that look like they're from an ancient book, you know, the tan-and-crumpled look.
Anyway, The Nightmare of Druaga is a dungeon crawler, pure and simple. The story starts with some evil force kidnapping your fiancée, and you have to take off into dungeons to rescue her. Along this trek you'll be accompanied by...well, nobody. And you won't have to search for any of these dungeons either, because there is a portal conveniently located in the town which will automatically transport you to them.
Before you thrust yourself into harms way, it's usually a good idea to make a quick shopping trip, peruse the local goods, and perhaps pick up a few healing items... oh, wait, there are no shops in this game. Almost anything you want will have to be found in a dungeon. There are some other ways to get items, such as a reward from one of the sub-quests, or by combining some of your existing items, but for the most part you'll be doing your shopping with a weapon in hand.
Once inside the dungeons, everything is turn-based. Every time you take a turn, all of the enemies also take a turn. The dungeons are laid out in grid format, with one step equaling one turn. Almost any action, whether it be moving, attacking, using an item, or equipping counts as a turn. There are a few exceptions, such as turning your character to face a certain direction or looking at the contents of a treasure chest before actually picking them up.
In towns, you can run by holding the circle button while you move. Doing this in the dungeon doesn't make your character run, but it will seemingly transport him several spaces ahead. I say seemingly because, although it looks like teleportation, this actually still takes up the same number of turns as just walking. It's really just a shortcut method to get down long hallways and such, so you don't have to watch Mr. Slowpoke trudge along at a turtle's pace.
Dungeons are dark, so it's fortunate that your character emanates light. As you progress, the darkness fades and more of the area becomes marked on your map. But if you stick around too long, your illumination will start to fade, until finally you won't even be able to see one square in front of you. That can be countered by sacrificing items (they call it "offering"). The rarer the item, the longer the light will last. Normally in games, dark parts of a map are just black, but this game covers them with a dark fog, which I thought was a nice touch.
In each dungeon, your main purpose is to find the key and reach the door to the next floor. When you first enter a dungeon, you are given a Feather which you can use to instantly warp yourself back to the safety of the town. And it seems that the developers really do expect you to make use of this, as there is practically no way to make it through these dungeon on the first try. As if trekking through endless dungeons wasn't repetitive enough, now they're purposely making us trudge through them many, many times until we're strong enough to make it all the way through. This just says to me "I'm tired of making new dungeons, lets just make the ones we have really hard." Oh yeah, and if you die, you lose EVERYTHING!
Well, you lose almost everything. You lose half your gold and all of your items that weren't "inscribed"... and you can only "inscribe" a few items... and doing so is expensive. You do get to keep all your experience, but still, loosing all your items seems extremely harsh, especially since you can't buy anything in towns. So why not just reload from the last save when you die? Well, that brings me to the unique yet ultra-crappy save system.
This game uses an auto-save feature, but if you turn off or restart the PlayStation 2 while you're in a dungeon, the next time you load your game you will be subjected to punishment in the form of a barrage of questions. Now, this may not sound too bad at first, but realize I'm not talking about just 5 or 10 questions here, I'm talking about a LOT of questions... ones that you actually have to read and select an answer. You can't just button-mash your way through these, or you'll hit a wrong answer and have to start all over.
Obviously they implemented this punishment to discourage you from reloading after death, but this is really just bad design, especially since they didn't implement a Save & Quit option here. They do have such an option in the town and upon the completion of a dungeon floor, where after you save you must either turn off or reset your PlayStation 2. So why not in the dungeon?
Think about it... it's time to go somewhere and you have to turn the game off, but you don't have time to finish the current floor and get to a save point. If you could Save & Quit then you could pick up exactly where you were, and you wouldn't have to be subjected to the pop quiz punishment. If this was possible, then a punishment for turning off the game console while in a dungeon would be fully justifiable. Heck, you could even double the number of questions since at this point there would be no other legitimate excuse other than a power failure.
Anyway, let's get back to game play, where I would like to tell you about another part of the game... the extremely frustrating and annoying sub-quests. Before you are allowed to undertake a sub-quest, you must ditch all of your items and equipment. You can do this by storing them, selling them, using them, or whatever else, just so long as you get your item and equipment menus completely blank. But when you currently have 60 items on your person, getting rid of them one-by-one gets to be very annoying, very quickly. Why couldn't they just have an option for the sub-quest secretary lady to hold all your items for you? Once you've spent several minutes emptying out everything you own, you can then accept a sub-quest.
Here you are started back at level one, with your standard gold armor. The lady will then tell you who to go talk to about the quest details, and once you do so you can head to a dungeon to complete the objective. The first quest I had was to find two matching spears, and it wasn't that bad at all. The second quest I undertook was to bring back all the gear from a Blue Knight so that this guy could look at it and get a sense of what battle is like. This took a few tries to get everything, but it was still mildly enjoyable, and much more enjoyable than simply looking for a key and a door every time. And when I brought the gear back to the man, it's revealed that he actually just wanted revenge on a Blue Knight for killing someone close to him.
The third quest I took on was exactly the same as the second quest, except this time it was a Black Knight. And this quest is where I realized just how much I hated this game. So I went and talked to the same man as before, and he gives all his same lines about how he wants to look at the armor to get a sense of battle. Okay, we've been through this, so I knew the guy was lying. Plus, I knew he already had the Blue Armor items because I gave them to him. So I guess they just expect me to say "Yes sir, I will go recklessly put my life in danger so you can have revenge, even though I know you are a lying bastard."
And that's what I did. I entered the dungeon and started killing bad guys... and I kept killing... and kept killing... and kept killing... until before long my inventory was completely full. At this point I had all of the Black Knight's items except for his boots, and so one by one I started the tedious process of ditching items to make more room, which involves opening the menu, selecting the item, selecting Drop (or Offer), confirming it, and then watching it happen. I traveled all over that dungeon several times, occasionally exited an re-entered, and all the while had to constantly ditch items. But still no Black Knight would drop their boots.
I had spent way over an hour on this one stupid sub-quest and was tired of aimless wandering around, dropping items, and battling to get the one last item. And besides that, all of the items and experience you gain on sub-quests are gone when the quest is over. Poof, bye-bye. Now, along with having weapons and armor in my inventory, I also had a ton of unknown potions. Normally you can go into town and have unknown items appraised, but not during a sub-quest. So being bored, tired, frustrated, and needing to empty out my inventory once again, I just started chucking back all these potions... and that's what killed me. And so I lost EVERYTHING. Yep, there's no saving during a sub-quest, so all that time I spent had just been nullified.
And since I'm griping, there was one other thing about this game that annoyed me as well, and that was how you could use the left analog stick to move in towns, but in dungeons it becomes a quick-select for items. I like using the analog stick, and it just seems like it would have made diagonal movement a lot easier. As it is now, you must be very good at hitting the D-Pad diagonally, or you have to hold down R2 and press diagonally on the D-Pad.
There are a few nice touches to the game that I haven't covered yet, like how most of the time you can rotate the camera to get the best view point (although I rarely needed to do this since usually anything blocking your view will become semi-transparent). And if you want to take a look at how you're doing, you can, because the game keeps a rather complete record of your progress history, which you can access at anytime. Additionally, it has just about the entire game manual's information built into the Hints menu option. Also, although the graphics are nothing special, it is cool to see the character's look change depending on what armor and weapons he has equipped. Of course, none of these touches is enough to make this game any fun.
And so that about covers my experience with The Nightmare of Druaga. I'm sorry to say that I hate this game, and can't imagine who would find this fun in the least, even for hardcore gamers. I find the game play tedious and repetitive, the punishment system frustrating and unfair, the save system annoying and unjustified, and the lack of an engaging story makes none of the game play worth suffering through.