Creating content for SwitchRPG over the past year has helped expand the depth of my RPG palate, with the roguelike/lite genre in particular becoming something I gravitate towards more after experiencing having lots of fun with games like Quest of Dungeons, Xenon Valkyrie+, and Moonlighter. As a result, Toydea’s DragonFangZ has been on my radar for quite some time, but I’ve been hesitant to actually push the “buy” button for a solid year now. I think we all have those games that pique our interest but are a little sketchy at the same time, and for me that was DragonFangZ.
But thanks to the recent eShop holiday sales I was able to pick it up at a bargain, and although this game has couple of serious issues, my biggest regret is not purchasing it when it first caught my eye, because it is some of the most fun I’ve had with a roguelike on Switch thus far.
Rose, a human / dragon hybrid and her companion Fairy are attempting to uncover the secrets of the “Tree of Time”, a mysterious place that they happened upon simply by chance. Inside, they soon discover that they must reach the bottom of the ever-changing 30 floor labyrinth within known as the Dragon’s Cradle, or they will never be able to return from whence they came. Fortunately, there are others scattered about the Tree of Time, waiting to be discovered that may provide useful insight into your journey to conquer the Dragon’s Cradle, but that is if you can get past the atrocious translation in the first place.
DragonFangZ has one of the worst translations I have ever seen in an officially released game. I mean, we’re talking Final Fantasy VII’s “this guy are sick” levels of bad but to the nth degree, and this is after the game has received a patches in an attempt to clean up the mess. While you should be able to make enough sense out of the tutorial section to have a decent grasp on most things, the actual story is just hilariously bad. If you’re looking for anything other than a chuckle from the story, and not the kind that genuine comic relief creates, then prepare for utter disappointment.
Another minor frustration brought on by the translation are the various buffs that your character can acquire, because their properties aren’t really explained anywhere and are only understood through trial and error.
DragonFangZ manages to make up for the shoddy translation with its more unique take on the roguelike formula. It is often compared to the Mystery Dungeon series, though as a more recent roguelike enthusiast I cannot personally vouch for that in confidence. Staples such as randomized maps, permadeath, traps, and turn-based combat all are present, but the game makes things more interesting with its Fang, Brave, and Dragontime systems.
Fangs are basically accessories that have a chance to drop off slain enemies, with each offering three bonuses. Most Fangs give you one active and one passive skill upon equipping them, and you can have up to three of them on your person at a time. Additionally, they have a one-time on-use effect that grants various offensive and defensive skills, and some can even grant another passive perk called an “amulet”. Most enemies in the game have their own unique Fang, and pretty much all of them are beneficial in some way.
Each active Fang skill has an associated cooldown and there are only a few ways to reset them, with the most common way being tied directly to the Brave system. DragonFangZ more or less throws the roguelike concept of funneling enemies into corridors to make quick work of them out the window. Weapons, shields, and fangs all can potentially have an additional perk that is only active when you are in Brave mode, and Brave is almost exclusively accumulated through attacking enemies in areas where you are not touching any walls (or rocks) in all eight directions. You will know that you are in Brave mode by the unique aura that envelops you whenever you fulfill the proper conditions. Attacking in Brave mode does a few things: gives you one charge of Brave, reduces the cooldown of your equipped Fang skills by at least one, automatically activates any Brave-specific perks (if you meet the required Brave level), and gives a flat 10% additional chance of performing a critical strike.
These bonuses are nothing to scoff at and are absolutely essential to succeeding in this game. The critical strike bonus alone can sometimes be the difference between life and death, and the majority of Fang skills and Brave passives granted from gear are just too powerful to ignore. But that’s not to say that you won’t be running for the nearest corridor on occasion either, because DragonFangZ, like most roguelikes, can be brutal. But the the added risk/reward offered through the Brave system makes combat more interesting, since you’ll want to try and take advantage of fighting out in the open when you can in order to reap Brave’s rewards. It should be noted that Brave does decay whenever you move or when an attack doesn’t connect with an enemy.
The final system worth mentioning is Dragontime, which acts as a turn counter of sorts. Every move you make expends one second of your time, and that is the case whether you are actively moving or are attacking an enemy while standing still. If the timer reaches zero, Rose will start to take damage until she dies. Of course, there are ways to increase your timer – the most common being through advancing to the next floor, which gives a minimum of 150 Dragontime per floor and can be much larger depending on your current Fang loadout. While I normally loathe timers in games, DragonFangZ’s rendition is fair and gives you multiple ways to replenish it. It ultimately ends up as an added layer of depth that demands your attention while not being a nuisance, and is one I have grown quite fond of.
Gameplay: Everything Else
With those loaded systems out of the way, let’s briefly go over some of the more general gameplay features in DragonFangZ. Movement can be done in all eight directions and you are healed slightly upon every step, unless you are poisoned. Floors will occasionally spawn with a Monster Lair, which is basically a large room filled with loot, traps, and a ton of enemies. These can be devastating if you come across one at the very beginning of a new floor and are not prepared, but can be very rewarding as well. Rose can level up, which increases your health, damage, and defense by a small amount.
Merchants will occasionally appear on floors, providing access to a shop that will buy your unwanted goods while also offering up a pool of randomized items for sale. Many items obtained in the labyrinth will initially be in a Diablo-like unidentified status, with requirements for identifying them ranging from equipping the item, swinging it at an enemy, or using an analysis book on it. It pays to be cautious with unidentified items as their uses aren’t always beneficial to you, and weapons and shields can be “cursed” – permanently binding them to your character until you can cure it through a specific consumable.
While permadeath is real, there does exist a warehouse that can store some items in between runs. In order to use it, you have to come across a warehouse box and put your items in it. They are fairly uncommon and only allow for a few items to be sent to your home base, so be sure to hold on to them whenever possible. The warehouse is an almost mandatory tool in combating the inevitable bad luck with drops, and will make your hopes of actually beating the game closer to reality than before. That is, unless your luck or roguelike skills are godlike status, then you have nothing to worry about anyways.
Graphics and Sound
Cutesy, chibi graphics are not my go-to art direction in games, but I’d by lying if I said the hand-drawn characters in DragonFangZ did not work well. The vibrantly animated characters atop a 3d, top-down playing field might come off as odd from the screenshots alone, but are actually quite nice to witness in motion.
Several of the songs in the soundtrack are also really good – to the point that I tried to find the OST on media sites (to no avail, sadly). Melee attacks and the various abilities all have adequate associated sound effects that deliver believable, meaty audio impacts to match their physical blows. The dungeon tilesets change pretty frequently and the music swaps every 5 levels or so, ensuring that you never grow tired of a single look or background track.
Price + DLC
I think the biggest roadblock that DragonFangZ has in the way of potential new players is its price tag. Now for me, the price is fine because I have fell in love with the game’s mechanics, but the truth is that the Switch offers a lot of good roguelikes for under $20, with some even under $10. DragonFangZ currently sits at $24.99USD, and I feel it might have been better suited for the “under $20USD” range.
The base game of DragonFangZ includes one 30 floor “Dragon’s Cradle” dungeon with another available through a $7.99USD DLC package. While the main dungeon should keep most players occupied for quite some time, the extra content does demand an entry fee to experience . Again, having so many roguelikes on the Switch with arguably the same amount (albeit different) content at a potentially lower price is something to keep in mind.
For me, DragonFangZ is a great example as to why you should not judge a book by its cover alone, because hidden behind the cutesy design is a very enjoyable roguelike – one that, in some ways, challenges a few of the age-old conventions of the genre. The depth and flexibility of the Fang mechanic helps keep things fresh (and your available toolkit vast), and the added incentive to fight out in the open because of the Brave system sets in motion a nice change of pace (and is less claustrophobic than corridor farming). If you can look past the price and the abysmal translation, DragonFangZ has a lot to offer to those that prefer more RPG in their roguelikes.