Namco's dungeon crawler, The Tower of Druaga, had you guide the brave warrior Gilgamesh through large, mazelike rooms so you could battle monsters, grab the key to the next level, and eventually kill the evil wizard and save the damsel in distress. That was nearly two decades ago, and now Gilgamesh and his priestess heartthrob Ki are back in The Nightmare of Druaga. Ki has fallen into the clutches of an evil sorceress, and Gil must polish up his armor and set out to get her back before all sorts of dire things start to happen. The game promises to offer a kind of classic dungeon exploration that you don't usually see on the PlayStation 2, and we've delved into the game's labyrinths and found an interesting blend of the old and the new.
Each level that you'll explore in The Nightmare of Druaga consists of a single room with twisty passages, varying elevations, pools of water, and lots of dangerous creatures lingering about. To travel from one room to the next all you'll need to do is go through the door--the catch is that first you have to find the key. This would be a fairly straightforward affair, except for one detail: the dungeons are pitch black, and the only light source is Gil himself. Since he's a fine, upstanding holy warrior, Gil carries the blessing of the goddess Ishtar, and this blessing causes him to emit a glow that he can use to find his way. At times while you're exploring, this protection will fade, and so will the glow from Gil. To avoid being stranded in the dark, you'll have to make an offering to the goddess to restore your blessing, and that means giving up one or more of your hard-earned items that you'll find in chests along the way.
The game is actually turn-based, so every time you take a step, use an item, or otherwise perform an action, you're taking up a turn. From what we've seen, you can use as many turns as you like during a given level, but there are disadvantages to spending a lot of turns wandering aimlessly. Your light will continue to fade as you progress, for example, so you'll have to sacrifice items to see where you're going. On the other hand, exploration will often net you treasure as well as experience and vital leveling from killing all the enemies you'll come across.
Enemies come in all shapes and sizes, from the diminutive, ubiquitous slimes, to sea-urchin creatures, knights, skeletons, spirits, and other nasties. Some enemies will glow red or blue. Those with a blue glow are slower than Gil; therefore, if you use a turn to attack them, you will always have the advantage. Similarly, creatures that glow red are faster than Gil; if you attack them, they're always going to hit first. It's important to keep this in mind, especially if you're running low on health. If you become incapacitated, you'll be sent back to town, but all of your money and items will be lost.
There's an inscription system that you can use to bind a limited number of goodies to yourself (and you can turn your money into ingots and store those in town), but otherwise your inventory is cleared out upon your defeat, so you'll need to stay on your toes. However, there are many ways to keep Gil strong. For example, just walking around will gradually restore hit points. You can even stay in one spot and hold down the L2 button to use upturns and to heal, but using upturns means that enemies will be wandering around and can attack you. Every time you enter the labyrinth, you get an item called a feather that you can use to warp yourself out quickly should things turn sour. And there are items, like health potions, which you can quaff to regain your health and let all the monster stabbing continue unabated.
You'll control your movement with the directional pad, using your left analog stick for an item shortcut menu and the right analog stick for an ability shortcut menu. Abilities are special attacks that do great damage for a certain cost in ability points, and abilities are conferred by the weapon you have equipped. For example, a sword lets you perform various fighting abilities, while a spear has different abilities and possesses a greater range. It can also damage monsters on different elevations than Gil. The game seems to drop a good number of goodies as you explore, so it looks like you'll be able to upgrade your equipment fairly often. In addition, sometimes you'll come across mysterious items, weapons, and armor. You can use a special potion to find out what these items really are, or you can bring them to an appraiser back in town who will identify your treasures for a fee.
The game makes good use of its lighting effect; dark areas outside your vision have a misty look, and the periphery of your glow blends with the shadows to give the objects on the edge of your vision a purple cast. The character and monster designs tend to be very simple, but you get a bit of eye-candy due to the fact that changing Gil's equipment will also change his appearance. We've encountered a good variety of monsters, and we've even spotted the tentacle-sporting green roper, an enemy that Namco fans might remember from some of the company's other titles, such as its Tales series. What music we heard had an airy, dreamlike quality to it that conveyed the sensation of combing through dark and mysterious dungeons to investigate the unknown.
It will be interesting to see just how much meat The Nightmare of Druaga has on its adventuresome bones when the game comes out later this year. Those who fancy delving into dark labyrinths for treasure and plenty of monster smashing as well as those who relish the added rush of the ever-present risk of strong enemies and losing items, might just find this game to be a good match. The Nightmare of Druaga is scheduled to ship later this year.