Under-The-Radar: Dungeon Hunter Alliance (Vita)
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita.
So you’ve been stuck to Diablo III for the past week, but it’s finally time to go back to work (you only get so many “sick days”). Since it may be hard to bring your PC around with you (even if it’s a laptop), I offer a simpler solution to feed your dungeon-crawl addiction while on the go: Dungeon Hunter Alliance for the PlayStation Vita. This port of the 2011 PS3 title may have lain hidden behind bigger launch titles, like Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational or Uncharted: Golden Abyss, but it’s definitely worth your attention now.
Dungeon Hunter Alliance follows the tale of the king of Gothicus, and his tragic fate. On the day of his wedding, his lovely betrothed suddenly falls terribly ill and passes away. Unable to live without her, he goes behind the backs of his advisors and dabbles in the terrible dark arts in an attempt to bring her back to life. While he was successful, she doesn’t come back as herself; instead, she is possessed by a dark being. This is realized all too late, when a dagger is sunk deep into the King’s chest.
Our protagonist’s account doesn’t end here though, as he is awakened from his grave 25 years later by a fairy named Celeste who explains to him that his fiancé has been ruling the land with an iron fist, allowing goblins and demons to pass through in this world. Now it’s up to our arisen liege to set his wrongs right, free captured fairies (the source of magic in the world), and otherwise save his lands from destruction.
This story follows a sort of cliché theme: step up to the challenge, slowly take back the lands, free some captives who end up aiding you, slay the enemy, and save the kingdom. All of which, of course, is wrapped around the stereotypical medieval fantasy setting. However, the reasons for this journey give it a new perspective. You’re not some up-and-coming adventurer whom no one’s ever heard of, but a selfish and well-known ruler full of remorse. The plague on your kingdom isn’t due to the lust of demons, but the greed of man. While it may not be an entirely novel story, it has its own personal twists and is certainly worth experiencing.
If story isn’t what drives you, there are hours upon hours of gameplay for you to sink your teeth into. To start, DHA’s character development system is a fairly deep experience with many options to choose from. Players take one of three roles: warrior, rogue, or mage. Each has its own specializations, stats, and skills and relies heavily on one of the four main attributes: strength, dexterity, endurance, or energy. These affect different aspects of your character such as his total health/magic, melee damage, damage reduction, HP/MP regeneration, or gold finding. While each class has one set attribute they rely on, players are free to mix and match as they see fit; which creates a wide array of possible characters from standard bow-oriented rogues to less common heavily armoured battle mages.
A character’s skills also contain a large degree of flexibility. Players are given around 20 abilities that are unlocked at specific levels, and are able to pick and choose amongst them as they level up. If you don’t feel like any of the currently locked skills will be beneficial, you have the option of upgrading ones you currently have and thereby creating a more powerful version. This allows players to only place points into the skills they actually use, letting them play exactly how they want to and not have to deal with mountains of useless abilities.
When you’re done planning out your character, combat will be just a few steps away. DHA’s sports a battle system that is easy to pick up and can be mastered fairly quickly. Simple attacks are handled by a single button, and can be strung together in very small two or three hit combos, with up to three skills mapped to three other buttons. For those looking for change on the fly, there are two sets of skills and tools available; this means that player may equip, say, a ranged and a melee weapon to toggle between, and have a total of six abilities at their disposal. Just like in character development, you’re free to choose and switch to your heart’s desire, which will be a plus for serious players.
If that isn’t enough, there are a few other controls handled by the Vita’s unique aspects. Probably the most underused is the camera, which can be zoomed either in or out by “pinching” or “spreading” two fingers on the front screen, letting the user see how much or little of the area they desire.
Your character is also accompanied by a fairy, which has two uses: to detect buried treasure to be dug up, and for combat purposes. Your small companion can be controlled either with the right thumbstick or the rear touch pad, and will glow or flash when near treasure. Maneuver your tiny winged friend until a small patch of light is present on the ground, and then simply dig it up yourself. For combat, simply move your companion where you wish to attack, and double tap the front screen to unleash that fairy’s ability on that location.
Six-axis controls even play a small part in gameplay. Should you find yourself stunned in any way, shaking your Vita console will help break you from it sooner. All of these features give DHA its own personal flair over other dungeon crawlers, delivering a fun and innovative experience that makes the most of what the Vita has to offer.
The title handles healing and recovery items slightly different than your average game. Mages have access to a recovery spell, but the main way to revitalize is via potions. These elixirs of life cannot be found in shops, but rather from statues littered around dungeons. As you progress throughout the game, your potions will start to cost more so watching your spending (and how much damage you take) will be very important. Dispensers also serve as check points; so if you’re bested in battle, you’ll re-spawn at the last visited one. This system puts a good emphasis on watching your resources and helps to further separate the title from others in the genre. Overall, gameplay is very fun and diverse enough to keep players coming back for more, yet simple enough for players to pick up quickly.
Not everything is rainbows and sunshine in gameplay however, as there are a few design choices that take away from the experience. The first that comes to mind is movement, namely when around objects. DHA has a feature built into it that attempts to assist in navigating tight areas, but quickly becomes frustrating. If a player runs into an object they won’t stop, bump into it, or even run on the spot; instead, the game will attempt to steer around it, automatically moving the character in a different direction than the thumbstick is currently tilting. While it sounds like it would be helpful, it turns out to be damning, especially in combat. Players will have their character accidentally run into enemies, traps, or, in my case, open fires, which leads to very frustrating defeats.
Another design flaw that can be found is in combat. Enemies will only fight within a certain location, and if they move outside of it they will sprint back off-screen as fast as The Flash. Problem is they will also regain their health. While this seems like a fair system to prevent characters from taking on difficult foes through cowardly tactics, it’s not as clear-cut as it sounds. Seemingly at random, your adversaries will flee off only to come back a split second later fully recharged – and oh look, you’re out of potions! This system is additionally frustrating for ranged characters, or any character in super narrow dungeons where the only escape from a mob is to go back. While some players appreciate a difficult game, this comes across as less of a challenge and more of a bug, and will enrage many gamers to no end when they’re forced to face down a wall of enemies with nowhere to go.
Thankfully though, one needn’t face this mob alone. Up to four players may raid a dungeon together either globally via the PlayStation Network or couch-side via Ad-Hoc. Here, DHA truly comes into its own, especially when playing in a varied squad. Mages will be able to hang back and cast their spells from safety while their warrior buddy hacks away, taking the brunt of the force. Multiplayer is easily the highlight of the title, and will be the way it’s best enjoyed. The only potential issue is that there really isn’t a public community that consistently plays in open lobbies, so you’ll probably need to talk your friends into buying a copy as well.
Scooting along to visuals, DHA is somewhat hit and miss. In terms of style, the world is incredibly imaginative and varied, taking players to places like damp underground mausoleums, bright and colourful open roads, and frightening, foggy forests. This also carries over to clothing and weapons, which all give your character a different appearance, be it a robed mage with a ram-skull staff, or a spear toting warrior donning massive armour.
Speaking only of pure graphic power, however, the title falls a little short. For the most part, your picture is very clear and textures are very smooth and pop-free, but polygons leave a lot to be desired. Shapes and models look like they belong in previous generation games, causing DHA to look more like an HD remake of an older title (which can be said of the original PS3 version as well). With the Vita being capable of some powerful graphics for a handheld device, it’s a shame that a bit more care didn’t go into making the game look less like it belonged on the PS2.
A little more consideration into audio would have been appreciated as well, as the title suffers from being very bland to the ear. The delivered soundtrack is fine at first listen, but will become tiresome very quickly. You’ll hear either a slow, ominous tones on low brass instruments, or tense and upbeat battle music played by full orchestra. While it’s very well composed mood music, it won’t exactly get your toe tapping and will probably be replaced with personal playlists after the first hour.
Sound effects are also kind of dull, delivered in a very synthetic way. Melee weapons make that generic “whoosh” sound when swung, and most spells have a metallic clash to them even though they’re composed of elemental forces. The title is missing the strike and crack of lightning, the creeping sizzle of ice flash-freezing, or the squishy squirts of slashing open a bad guy. In general, audio effects lack the realism you’d find in other titles and sounds overly synthesised. While it fits into the arcade-styled nature DHA seems to have, it simply falls flat on gamers’ ears.
While voice acting isn’t bad, it’s how it’s delivered that seems weird. In your average action game or RPG, speech is used in cutscenes or storyline with text to fill in less important scenes. This is reversed in DHA; with the exception of a few scenes, storyline will be developed via text with players progressing or skipping it at the rate they see fit. While wandering towns between dungeons though, players will occasionally overhear townsfolk talking about various things, like the state of the kingdom. Enemies will also shout out a battle cry or two, such as a bandit yelling “take all his gold!” While this may seem odd or backwards to experienced gamers, it does help to bring towns alive and add a bit of character to foes.
When the kingdom is safe from danger and the fighting is done, Dungeon Hunter Alliance proves to be a great addition to your Vita library. While it has some obvious flaws, mainly in concept and visuals, it sports some pretty deep character development and hours of simple yet fun gameplay that will surely keep gamers coming back again and again. After all, unlike Diablo III, you can easily hide your Vita when you boss walks past your desk! So grab your sword (or whichever weapon you prefer), strap on your gear, and get ready to explore all those dungeons; there’s loot to be had!
Final Score: 4.0 / 5.0 and a chest filled halfway of gold.
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