Howdy. This is my entry to the inaugural Review a Great Game Day. If you got here by Googling "Dungeon Explorer II review" or whatever I'd encourage you to check them out for tons of outstanding game reviews.
Released in 1993, Dungeon Explorer II was one of the final games available for the TurboGrafx-16 CD in North America. It's a shame because it's among the best titles on the system and easily earns the "great" label. And that's why I'm here today folks, to tell you why it indeed is a great game. Since it's not totally overdone and cliché I'll do it in a "top 5" format. I bet you've never seen anything like that before.
#5 - It was the pinnacle of the overhead multi-player dungeon shooter genre
Is that officially a genre? If not I'm declaring it one right now. Gauntlet was the innovator of this genre, stealing millions of quarters in the process. The original Dungeon Explorer borrowed from the style but added RPG elements like a basic storyline and upgradeable character statistics. Dungeon Explorer II takes it up another notch by drastically increasing the size of the world and number of characters. Despite having a password system, the original Dungeon Explorer could be finished in a single gaming session. The sequel is far too large and complex to tackle at once. OK, maybe one of those marathon gamers but you get my point. They also upgraded the size of the bosses and the intensity of the battles. It wasn't until Diablo, three years later, that we saw anything close to Dungeon Explorer II.
#4 - Hidden characters
The game starts with the cast of the original game but along the way it doubles by unlocking hidden characters. Some of these new characters must be found to advance the story but others remain hidden and optional. Once you've met them it's a simple return trip to the password screen to use them. Several of these new party members are considerably stronger than the original cast. The beastman Xan, pictured above, for example is your best chance to survive a solo quest. Adding a flavor of sci-fi is the robot BE who sports amazing agility and impressive firepower. Also new to the lineup is a princess, fighting monk, witch, and archaeologist.
#3 - Optional side-quests and upgrades
So you think Chrono Trigger was the first game to have optional character-specific side-quests? Dungeon Explorer II beat Square to the punch on that by a couple of years. In all fairness, I doubt this was the first game to feature that element. Roughly 2/3 of the way through the game all the original cast members can be upgraded to a more powerful class. That's neat and everything but it's the hidden characters who really shine. Each one has an optional side-quest that boosts their attack power. Some are easy but others require a little exploration, either way it's a nice bonus feature.
#2 - Campy early 90s cut scenes
Yeah yeah, everyone else would rank this lower but I'm a sucker for early CD-ROM intermissions. In Dungeon Explorer II they aren't just cut scenes for the sake of having cut scenes. They're actually advancing the storyline in ways that would be difficult through normal game play. Primarily they follow the story of the evil wizard Phades as he wipes out entire cities. These scenes build emotion in the player who, by the time the intro finishes, wants nothing more than to hunt this spiky-haired terrorist down.
#1 - Soundtrack you'll want to listen to 100 times
I've probably finished Dungeon Explorer II twice and listened to the soundtrack more than I care to admit. When I bought my first mp3 player in 2001ish I immediately copied it over, probably filling half the device in the process.
It was composed by Tsukasa Masuko who was also responsible for scoring the Megami Tensei series. He did an outstanding job creating a unique and fitting sound for each area of the game. Just through the music you can picture every location in detail.
I'm not going to pretend to know jack about fair use laws but here's a track called "Running in the Dark":
So that's Dungeon Explorer II folks. Being a late TurboGrafx-16 CD release it's a tough game to (legally) acquire. Maybe Konami, the now steward of the Hudson library, will one day be kind enough to make it available again. If you manage to score a copy of this game you just might need my walkthrough for Dungeon Explorer II. Yeah, shameless plug.
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