Kemco has developed a reputation for pushing out JRPGs onto mobiles as a schedule to intense that the quality of their games can suffer for it, with many feeling like drab re-treads that use the same system and assets with minimal new elements or gameplay hooks. It’s interesting to see how many of these faults can be forgiven when the game is wrapped in a ‘retro’ presentation.
First and foremost, whilst this game can technically be played free using the ad-supported version on the game (which shows adverts whenever you save) there’s a point an hour into the game where this edition will ramp the ads into high-gear in an effort to get you to buy the full edition, adding pop-ups more frequently and a banner to the screen. It’s aggressive and makes continuing the game without the unlock impossible. If however you approach this as a demo before purchasing the full game, there is a great deal of fun to be had with Dragon Sinker.
Graphically the game is attempting to evoke a retro aesthetic whilst also being built on the EXE-Create engine they use with all their games. Whilst this works well for the most-part, there are some glaring problems that break a few of the more obvious rules of good pixel art, the most obvious of these being a colour palette and building scale that varies from town to town depending on which artist created the assets, and some horrible cases where pixels are enlarged to up to several times their original size to make for larger variations of existing monsters. This can at times make the title feel like an amateur production. These quibbles aside, many of the characters are very well designed and the big, chunky sprites show a good level of detail. The 6 leading characters are a highlight of this, and fill in all of the traditional fantasy tropes.
The music in Dragon Sinker is extremely reminiscent of a release on the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis), with shades of ‘Golden Axe’ in particular. It’s aiming to be intense and pacey instead of epic and grand, and for the most part this is achieved. Sound effect are largely grabbed from the usual communal asset pool and aren’t anything to write home about, but their implementation is borderline bad. There’s a lack of effects for many actions (such as levelling up on the battle report screen, which plays a big role) and combat actions have a delay that sees the sound play after the effect has played out. This does lead to a soundscape that can be a little grating over longer play sessions.
The story present in this title is something of a tribute to the original ‘Dragon Quest’ title, but with enough elements to not make it feel like a do-over. You play as the prince of a Human kingdom in a traditional fantasy world split into Human, Dwarf and Elf ruled regions. At the games outset you make a fool-hardy run at killing an ancient dragon that plagues the land, resulting in an embarrassing defeat and subsequently launching you on a quest to gather three ancient weapons that legend foretells can harm him. As the game progresses you’ll encounter others on similar quests, and recruit a broad spectrum of playable characters from which to build your legion in an almost ‘Suikoden’ manner. There’s precious little to surprise the player here, but it’s played in a charming and often lively manner that gives everything the impression of a glorious pantomime.
Gameplay features the usual JRPG overhead exploration and NPC interactions as popularised in flagship titles such as ‘Dragon Quest’, with the main character nipping around the screen at a good turn of speed using the virtual controls. Menus operate through a touch and tap interface, with buttons arranged on the far right hand side of the screen. The games combat is firmly turn based, with the usual attack, defend, flee and auto options. You control a party of four characters at any time, but the game runs an interesting system where you can freely switch between any 3 parties, each led by a specific character. When one group gets wiped out the next in line simply takes over, making for a solid addition for longer battles (though on easier settings this will never be required). All parties share experience and builds containing all of one race or another share traits that can lead to whole parties having regen or ignoring terrain damage as standard. Characters also earn job points which independently level their skills and max out at level 10, allowing the character to select a new class and giving you a converted scroll item that imparts a permanent buff skill to the character it’s used on. Unlike other games, most skills are cast using HP whilst spells use MP, meaning you can’t spam some of the more powerful moves too greatly. Although the game features a 12-man maximum party spread over 3 groupings, there are far more characters that can be recruited through side quests and the game features a premium currency (that can be earned slowly through winning battles purchase free) with its own limited ‘gattcha’ system for pulling rare monsters you’ll have encountered in the main game to make for an even more diverse cast. Sadly many of these may fall by the wayside as it’s unlikely you’ll want to use late game characters at lower levels than your tried and true party choices. Dungeons are large, but lack defining features to make them into interesting set pieces and can at times feel like mazes instead of cerebral challenges. The encounter rate here can also be quite high, which means that you will rarely have to grind but that you may be hitting that ‘auto’ button more regularly than you usually would. The world map expands well with the narrative and is easy to navigate, which works well when coupled with the amount of backtracking some optional quests will ask you to do.
In essence, if you’re looking for a quality retro experience that’s true to its roots and source material you’re in the wrong place with Dragon Sinker. Comical game title aside, if you can look at the game as a fun, semi-aware romp through a high fantasy adventure then there’s a good time to be had here. The game ends with a cliff-hanger and a sizable amount of post-game content that can keep you playing a few more days after the credits roll too, meaning that you do get to put your team through some advanced trials before eventually putting this one to bed. We advise you test the game with its free edition before deciding if you want to move on to the main event or not, but it verges on being one of the better Kemco offerings.