Drakkhen (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) has the honor of being the first RPG released for the SNES – a machine that would be well known for having a deep and varied RPG library. Originally developed for the Atari ST and later ported to various platforms it is a game that is very obtuse and takes quite a bit of trial and error. The story here is very generic and not very compelling – I don’t think anyone should play this for the narrative.
Gameplay has you controlling a party of 4 adventurers. You are given 2 different modes – a first person mode that allows you to explore the world map in 3D an a third person view for dungeon exploration and combat. All you can really do in first person is travel the map, so I’ll be focusing on the third person mode. In third person mode, you can directly control one character and move them about the screen and you can switch characters on the fly. You can interact with the environment by taking items, interacting with objects, or just looking around which will highlight points of interest. Combat also takes place in third person view, but you have no control over it. Your characters will automatically attack enemies on the screen until they are all dead or your party is wiped out. This makes combat very boring and you might as well go get a snack when it’s happening. In the first person mode, you can explore the map and are beset by random encounters which will throw you automatically into third person view with the auto combat I mentioned above.
Starting the game, it suggests where you should go to start, but I was very surprised to see that it was essentially open world – you can ignore the suggestion and move around the map as you see fit. I imagine this was a very new thing back on release day and would have seemed revolutionary. The game itself is very cryptic, and doesn’t hold the players hand at all when it comes to figuring out what to do. This was developed in Europe and you can see, for lack of a better term, the strangeness of European RPGs in full effect here. Here is a great example: while wandering the world map, I came across a tombstone sticking out of the ground. I ran into it and when I did a giant black panther head came out of the ground and started attacking my party by shooting lasers out of it’s eyes. I wiped out and got a game over – and I have no idea what the significance of that creature was. In a second play through I ran into the exact scenario in a different part of the map, so these laser wielding panthers exist in multiple places. I’ve included a picture below to show the weirdness of it all.
Visuals were a bit of a sore spot – the pseudo 3D over world was impressive, but sprites in general were low quality and didn’t animate well at all. There also weren’t many effects that took advantage of the SNES hardware such as scaling and rotation. Graphics were serviceable but that’s the nicest thing I can say about them.
Sound was a mixed bag. The music was quite good, eerie, moody, and fit the game well. Sound effects were just terrible though – the samples sounded like they were recorded in someones garage on cassette tape and copied about 50 times before being digitized.
Overall, Drakkhen is a relic, a call back to when RPGs (especially European RPGs) were inscrutable and decidedly not beginner friendly. With the boring combat and unrelenting difficulty, I doubt I play this one again for more than a few minutes.
Verdict: Back on the shelf.
Images courtesy of Giant Bomb