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Friday, February 5, 2016

The Friday Ten: Ten essential dungeon crawlers for current platforms


At DDNet, we do love a good Wizardry-style dungeon crawler. There is something classic and timeless about delving deep into a hive of monsters and traps, overcoming them bit by bit while developing an intricate map of the sprawl of corridors and rooms along the way.

Wizardry paved the way for the genre decades ago; it was, indeed, one of the very earliest genres that people were digging in to. And while the genre’s fortunes have waxed and waned in the years since, it’s never quite gone away.

And now it’s making a comeback in a big way on both consoles and PC. The magic of digital distribution, as well as the relative ease in developing these games, has meant that indies right through to medium sized developers are now creating these again en masse. Most popular on PC and portable formats, we’ve cobbled together a list of ten of our favourite crawlers that you can play on one modern system or another.

Are you a fan of one that hasn’t made its way on to the list? Let us know in the comments!

Etrian Odyssey IV

You can’t talk about modern ‘crawlers without mentioning the Etrian Odyssey games. This series of big, beautiful, intricate dungeon crawlers feature a couple of common traits that genre fans just love; high difficulty, complex levels that require players to map as they play along, and plenty of traps to watch out for. Throw in breathtaking art and sound design and you’ve got something that is both modern and traditional, smashed together in the most beautiful way imaginable.



Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

Using the same engine as the Etrian Odyssey games, Persona Q is an even better game, because it does something very valuable indeed; it adds real, genuine narrative. Bringing the beloved characters from both Persona 3 and 4 together to team up to explore through deadly, beautiful dungeons, Persona Q really does bring together the best of both Persona and Etrian Odyssey, and stands proof as one of the best examples of a crossover/ licensed game that we’ve seen to date.



The Dark Spire

Released on the DS (so you can still play it on the 3DS) The Dark Spire is Wizardry, and that is why it is so, so cool. The game even comes with an option to flip the graphics from their gloriously dark gothic aesthetic over to an 8-bit wireframe environment, which is effectively the exact same thing we played back in the day on our 80’s PCs with the original Wizardry. The game has a spectacular soundtrack too. It might be hard to track down now, but ‘crawler fans owe it to themselves to at least try.



Demon Gaze

Over on the PlayStation Vita, Demon Gaze is the most attractive dungeon crawler. Beautiful, detailed characters and enemy models combine with rich, intricate environments to explore. Throw in some lovely anime characters and a dash of fan service sexiness, and you’ve got a game that is immediately engaging and energised. Then you’ll explore some of the game’s interesting combat systems, deal with the difficult boss monsters, and get to know those characters, and you’ll be hooked in a big way.



Dungeon Travelers 2

The PlayStation Vita does dungeon crawlers well, and Dungeon Travelers 2 runs second only to Demon Gaze in terms of raw quality. This one has a quite obvious gimmick thrown in, though – lots and lots of girls in their underwear. Yep. This is ecchi 101 stuff, but it works for a couple of key reasons; the level design is simple but elegant, the narrative is good fun and light hearted, and the game is seriously difficult, which helps extend it beyond the remarkably pretty girls at the centre of it.



Moe Chronicle

Ok, so where Dungeon Travelers 2 had a lot under its surface to recommend beyond being a purely titillation experience, Moe Chronicle doesn’t. This game exists for one purpose and one purpose alone; pretty anime girls in lingerie. The level design is basic to the point of being primitive, it’s not an overly difficult game by the standards of the genre, and outside of the girls it’s not much of a looker. So why is it on our list? Well, because it knows how silly it is, and it really runs with it. And it does do a really good job with the girls.



Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy

This one comes from a much more old school place, so some of the systems within it – item and character management, especially – are irritating to deal with. But for intricate level design, the Vita doesn’t have better. Trying to make your way through these labyrinths is a major achievement in its own right, even when you don’t count the monsters, but throw them in for good measure and you’re got a nicely hardcore ‘crawler that will have you both pulling your hair out with frustration while celebrating each small achievement along the way.



Legend of Grimrock

There’s a sequel on the PC, which is vastly expanded and more intricate, but for our mind the original Legend of Grimrock, focused as it is, is a near-perfect example of a classical dungeon crawler. Trapped in a dank, claustrophobic tower with nothing but the clothes on your back, it’s a survival story filled with secrets, danger, and, ultimately, loot. A masterful, atmospheric, adventure.



The Quest

This one’s probably not a dungeon crawler in the true sense of the word, because you’ll spend a lot of time in towns and exploring the overworld, but when you do duck into a dungeon, its classical turn-and-grid-based stuff. Based loosely on the old Dungeons & Dragons games The Quest works a bit like a turn-based Elder Scrolls game, and that’s nothing to sneeze at whatsoever.



Might & Magic X: Legacy

The last game on our list is also not a typical dungeon crawler, but it belongs to the Wizardry series’ historical chief rival, and, as with The Quest above, when it actually takes the action into a dungeon, it’s classic ‘crawler stuff. Might & Magic X is notable for a number of reasons, but perhaps most important among them is that this game is proof that a well-funded and decent size development team can do some pretty spectacular work with the genre. It does not need to be a genre exclusively for small teams working on handheld games or indies.



- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld

The Friday Ten: Ten essential dungeon crawlers for current platforms
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