GameSpite Journal 10 | Drakkhen

Drakkhen | Dev.: Kemco-Seika | Pub: Infogrames | Genre: RPG | Release: Sept. 1991

The first RPG for the Super Nintendo was not actually Final Fantasy II?. That was the one you bought the very second you could, but Drakkhen came first. But Final Fantasy was rather more comfortable, wasn’t it? Even by the dawn of the SNES days, console players expected certain things from RPGs. In those days there were no distinctions between Japanese and Western RPGS, there was just Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, and Ultima III for the brave souls who’d try to play that on NES.

Early console RPGs set certain expectations. You explored in a top-down map. You were given clear direction of where to go. You could interact with chests, pots, and NPCs. Grinding at certain spots could save you from total party kill (save for the nine-mindflayer chest in the Marsh Cave). Most of all, freedom was sort of an illusion. Final Fantasy had a less restrictive world than many of its successors, but all the same certain things needed to be done in a defined order. You couldn’t explore the sea until you defeated the pirates. In Final Fantasy II, you couldn’t explore the underworld until the plot had advanced far enough. Though these games spanned an entire globe, they were designed to stop you at certain choke points. Compare this to Fallout 3 or Oblivion. Huge elements of the world are unlocked from the outset; you can explore any direction you like. Not a corridor of monster battles -- a world!

For console players in the 16-bit era, there wasn’t anything approaching this. Except Drakkhen. Drakken was an early attempt at an open world RPG. You had, save for dungeons, total freedom to explore the overworld. You explored it in a first-person perspective, which was pretty impressive despite being flat and featureless. The combat is sort of an extremely limited version of what would later be seen in Final Fantasy XII and Dragon Age: AI-controlled with certain player-defined qualifiers. The dungeons, in third-person perspective, have interactive elements. You can inspect anything with a command, armour and weapons on the wall could be taken by the player, no longer just relegated to local color! You could surmise that “buckler” means “shield”!

Of course, being 20 years old and on the SNES means that these revolutionary features were still in zygote stage of development and were extremely limited. Most players remember Drakkhen, rented from the local gas station, as an unplayable mess. When you are used to acutely obvious directions, it can be frustrating when you get lost and end up in a total party kill, or worse yet, with all your equipment broken. What purpose is the open world if there are limited locations, no side quests, and absolutely no chance of finding some awesome loot? You may find a giant panther head, and that is weird, but the whole thing may just leave you saying “What the hell?”

The game is better than most give it credit for, especially when you see how many of it’s features have come to define RPGs in the years since. But second chances are hard. You took your poor rental Drakkhen back to Turbo Gas and re-rented Final Fantasy II, hoping against hope that your file wasn’t saved over by that jerk down the road. Nah, you put it in the last slot. It should be OK.

By Rene Decoste? | Nov. 1, 2011 | Previous: Final Fight | Next: Final Fantasy II?