Drakkhen is a very original game, starting from its story. A glory-seeking paladin slayed the Great Dragon – but turns out that he was the keeper of magic, so now all the world’s magic is gone, leaving humanity in chaos and unprotected.
You must create a party of four heroes (Warrior, Scout, Wizard and Priest) to explore a mystical island inhabited by eight warring dragon princes, collecting their treasures to resurrect the Great Dragon.
You explore the island through a free-roaming 3D first-person view. This was an amazing feat at the time and the island is huge, even if mostly empty. There are eight castles, a shop, a temple, some inns, houses and teleporters, plus a nice day & night cycle.
Once you enter one of the castles, the game switches to a 2D side-view, where you can control each of your heroes individually, fighting monsters, collecting items and solving very simple puzzles.
Unfortunately, the combat is also very simple. Battles happens in real-time and automatically – once you’ve ordered the party to attack all you can do is change the spells the Wizard and Priest are casting.
The difficulty is rather unfair, as the game is filled with traps that instantly kill a character (or the whole party), and you’ll have to grind a lot to beat the game. There’s only one save slot and you can’t save when inside the castles, so things can get frustrating fast.
Besides the novel 3D world map, the 2D graphics are also impressive and very original, blending detailed pixel art with more exotic styles, such as 3D wireframe soldiers or rotoscoped human silhouettes.
The interface also deserves praise – Drakkhen is one of the first RPGs to allow the player to control each party member individually in real-time, yet it does it in a simple and intuitive way. It’s just a shame that the Adventure game-like actions aren’t used much.
The game was ported to multiple systems, but the SNES version is by far the best. New dialogs, tips, items and a world map were added, while the difficulty was reduced, with many cheap deaths removed.
Overall, Drakkhen is an outstanding feat of both technology and creativity – an experimental title that was way ahead of its time. The result is an original and weird title, but also an opaque and frustrating RPG. Regardless, it’s definitely worth a look. Felipe Pepe