A lot of potential and a lot of problems
Please note that this review was finalized on December 17th, 2016, and that this game has only recently come out and is already confirmed by the developers to be receiving updates soon. Thus, this review might soon become outdated – I’m reviewing this game as it was originally released.
Super Dungeon Tactics was released earlier this month and is the first game developed by Underbite Games, an indie studio based in Michigan. They’re dedicated not only to creating their own games, but to working with other companies for partnerships or outsourcing. For their first title, I’m glad they decided to stick with a simple idea for a game, rather than trying to go for a huge project that would end up blowing up in their face because of the scope. Super Dungeon Tactics is an RPG strategy game in the same vein of Fire Emblem, but it has some twists on the formula that gives it plenty of potential to be a great experience. Unfortunately, it’s marred down by loads of gameplay problems, a clunky UI, and a current lack of features.
As I said, the game plays similarly to games like Fire Emblem. The game is a tactical RPG, adapted from the board game Super Dungeon Explore released by Soda Pop Miniatures. If you’re unfamiliar with Fire Emblem, the game is a tile-based RPG where your party is each individually controllable on the map. Each mission is broken up into turns, where each unit makes their move in an order determined by the game. It seems a little cumbersome at first, but you’ll eventually get a grasp of it.
There’s a few gameplay elements that sets Super Dungeon Tactics apart from other games. The biggest one is the dice system. Before every turn, you roll a bunch of dice that each have a random buff or debuff on them. You have to apply one on each of your party members before the turn begins. This is a really cool system, as it adds another layer of strategy to the game. You have to think about what buffs you want to give to which character and how each of them could turn the tide of the battle.
The game also handles equipment and leveling differently. Your party members do level up, but it only affects a meaningless number on your character’s card. Instead, you get more powerful by the loot you find while completing quests. All your characters’ stats are determined by the equipment they wear, so it avoids the problem I’ve had with Fire Emblem games where I use one particular set of characters too much and the others get left behind, useless at their lower levels. In Super Dungeon Tactics, you’re able to make all of your characters more powerful as the game continues. And I, for one, welcome this gameplay twist.
In addition, turn order isn’t simply by team, as it is in Fire Emblem. Instead, each individual enemy unit/group of units gets its own slot in the turn order, and you get a slot for each of your party members (though you can choose which unit to move when it’s your turn). I actually like this idea a lot because, in theory, it forces you to always think ahead, and try to figure out how effective your moves will be – like a strategy game should. I said in theory, however – we’ll get to the problems of this game soon enough.
The graphics and music are something I’d like to mention before I go into discussing the game’s flaws. It’s not because they’re amazing or anything or even that they’re bad. They’re just all right. They’re both really simple, too. The character graphics, both the in-game models and the 2D cutscene sprites, have a chibi-style design, which you’ll either think is cute or boring. I’m somewhere in the middle, but I lean more towards liking them than not – the graphics do feel a bit too simple, but they aren’t distractingly bad or anything. The music goes for a semi-retro theme with some basic orchestral sounds and occasional beeps and boops. The best way to describe it is like it’s trying to imitate 16-bit music without actually using a 16-bit soundfont. While it sounds decent enough, the composition of the songs isn’t particularly memorable. It fits the theme of the scene, but none of the songs are something I’d hum when I’m not playing the game.
Right, on to the game’s problems. Overall, the game feels like a mobile game that’s still in its beta phase. The gameplay and UI especially suffer from this. The foundation for the gameplay is fine, but there are several elements of it that desperately need refinement. I’ll list off a couple of them (there are several little things that I could mention, but I’ll keep it to the major ones):
- The camera doesn’t focus on the unit that’s currently moving. This is a problem when the maps become bigger and the enemies start moving offscreen, and you can’t see what they’re doing. It weakens the strategy-making aspect of the game and can make the missions unpredictable. This is especially annoying because you can’t move the camera by moving your mouse to the edge of the screen – you have to hold the middle mouse button to move it. At least on my mouse, this is very uncomfortable.
- The game allows you to move and perform an action with one character when it’s your turn. Though I’m glad that you aren’t forced to move before you attack, I just wish that you didn’t have to open up a menu in order to choose what to do (unless you want to move then attack). This one is kind of hard to explain if you haven’t played the game, but it could be fixed if the menu of available actions opened up when you select a character to use on a turn.
- When a tutorial pops up, the gameplay doesn’t stop. Enemies could potentially perform actions while your view is obscured by a message telling you how to play the game. Again, this muddles the idea of strategy since you can’t see what your opponent is doing.
- In between each mission, you can choose which items you want to bring with you. This is another cool idea that adds more strategical decisions, but you have to choose the items every single time. There should be an option to keep your item layout between missions if you want to.
- There’s no way to pause the game during a mission. That, I think, is inexcusable.
But the biggest problem I have with the game that really brings it down is this: you don’t have any way of knowing which group of enemies is going to move when. The turn order is (I believe) randomly generated, and every time the enemy gets to go, it seems like they’re able to choose whichever group of unit they want to move, just like you do with your heroes. The thing is, this makes the game incredibly difficult at times, especially when you come to a point where you get one turn, and then the enemy gets five turns in a row. It’s too easy for you to get ganged up on in this situation and lose your party members (especially on Normal difficulty and above, but this even happens on Easy).
The gameplay isn’t the only piece that’s flawed, either. The story, for example, is also in need of some fine-tuning. I lost interest in it. The backstory to the game is that the kingdom, Crystalia, was separated into two kingdoms when it was formed – one where the light shines, and one in the shadows. The two dimensions were once completely separated, but a warrior from the shadow dimension manufactured a blade that allowed him to create portals between the two realms. The dimensions are now locked in war with each other, and the game’s story follows your group of heroes as they form a guild to protect the lands from the evils of the shadow land.
It seems like a fairly basic idea for a story; nothing really original, but it could still be entertaining. Mostly, the problems with the story come down to the writing, which is unfortunately pretty bad. The characters essentially have one characteristic or quirk, and that’s it. The ranger is serious, the rogue is a little bit crazy, the barbarian has a weak grasp of English, and so on. The dialogue isn’t very interesting, and often it’s inconsistent with their personalities. The inconsistencies usually happen when you select certain members of your party to go on the quest and the dialogue doesn’t change according to the characters you’ve chosen. I’m sure that they wanted to tell a simple story, but the writing could make it more engaging.
Finally, the game, at the moment, has a severe lack of features. The only game mode available right now is the campaign mode, which, as you’ve probably figured out, isn’t exactly worth the twenty dollar price tag. I’ve complained a lot about this game, but I really do think that it has a lot of potential to be fleshed out. Some more single-player modes outside of the story would definitely help – something like a series of missions not connected to an overall story. And the game could really benefit from some multiplayer options – either a co-op campaign or head-to-head missions. As it stands right now, you’re stuck with the campaign.
(In addition, there aren’t any video/audio/gameplay options right now except for choosing the resolution and graphics quality when you launch the game, but you can’t change these in-game.)
It’s clear that I have a ton of problems with Super Dungeon Tactics. But make no mistake – this game has the potential to be a great tactical RPG. The foundation is solid, and some of its gameplay features are really quite enjoyable. But it’s marred by gameplay issues, an uninteresting story, and a current middling selection of features. As I’ve said, the game feels like a mobile game ported to PC. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you also have to consider that it costs $20 on Steam right now – and in my eyes, it isn’t really worth it. Underbite Games has already said that they’re going to be updating the game soon, so it seems like they want to improve their game and make it the best it can possibly be. I hope that they’ll keep working on this game, adding new features, and tweaking the gameplay so that it becomes more deserving of its price. There’s plenty of good ideas here – they just need to be better realized.