I loves me some old-school RPGs and Dragon Lapis is now available for console after its 3DS release so I figured I'd finally check it out.
A couple of years back, our very own Tyler reviewed Dragon Sinker and when I first started playing Dragon Lapis, I knew something about it felt familiar. Upon re-reading his review while observing the screenshots and watching his gameplay video, I quickly realised that this is a very similar game that features the same mechanics, collection of monsters, and visual style. Although I've never played Dragon Sinker, it's obvious that this is at the very least a spiritual successor. However, whereas Dragon Sinker focuses on managing multiple parties, Dragon Lapis is a much more streamlined experience as you only tend to a party of 4 characters. Meanwhile, its tale is set in an overwhelmingly lighthearted game world that's filled with humour and quirky characters which is an aspect that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The combat in Dragon Lapis will feel at home for anyone who grew up playing RPGs on NES and SNES like I did. All you do is issue commands to your party members whenever it's their turn and combatants take turns based on the gauge at the top of the battle screen. It's incredibly simple stuff as all you do is attack, spend MP to execute skills, guard, and use items. The most interesting aspect is the skill system as some can damage multiple foes based on where they're positioned so maximizing each attack is the key to success. Outside of battle, you'll equip stronger gear and spend EP on Growth Plates which are like mini versions of Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grids. Doing so grants you stat boosts, additional skills, and job mastery of which there are 8. Namely, each character can be a warrior, priest, mage, thief, soldier, mystic, pharmacist, or peddler as well as character-specific jobs like hero and hi-Dragonite.
The battle system blends well with the character growth mechanics to make Dragon Lapis one rewarding old-school RPG, especially once it all clicks and you manage to take down tough bosses after a bit of grinding. To complement the satisfying gameplay, you're treated to authentic retro visuals that made me feel like I was playing a 16-bit Dragon Quest game at times although it's not quite as varied or charming. Its audio is highly reminiscent of the era as well with delightful chiptunes and familiar sound effects. That being said, some inconsistencies can be a little jarring such as enemy defeat animations as they break up into polygons which looks out-of-place.
Speaking of its less appealing aspects, Dragon Lapis can be basic to a fault and the primary aspect that contributes to this is the simplistic combat. I constantly felt as though it could use more mechanics in order to make combat more strategic and gratifying. For example, an innovative summon system or overdrive-style moves would have added a lot to the equation. Finally, although I loved the mostly silly dialogue scenes and had a few laughs here and there, the story doesn't really have a strong driving force so I imagine that those looking for an epic narrative would feel as if the plot is inconsequential. In other words, if you want a silly retro RPG that doesn't often take itself seriously, you'll enjoy what Dragon Lapis has to offer but those who want more substance may be disappointed.
If you have a soft spot for retro RPGs and want to spend time in a lighthearted world with plenty of humour then you'll definitely enjoy what Dragon Lapis has to offer. It may be too simple at times but there's no denying just how well-crafted of a journey it is.
- + Retro combat blends well with comprehensive party growth systems
- + Lighthearted world with plenty of humour
- + Mostly well-done old-school presentation
- - Combat could use more mechanics
- - Story can feel inconsequential at times
- - Enemy defeat animations are out-of-place