|System: PS Vita|
|Release: February 15, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Blood, Violence|
by Sean Engemann
Any gamers who have even a slight interest in the dungeon crawling sub-genre of the RPG world will instantly find themselves in familiar territory when they dive into Dungeon Hunter: Alliance. It's packed with all the expected content, with the robust and seemingly endless variety of loot that is the consistent lure to those fans. However, it is that same expectedness that does nothing to separate Gameloft's "updated" hack-and-slash from other titles we know and love.
Granted, dungeon crawlers have not bloated the gaming world like first-person shooters have, but they almost always follow the tropes associated with the genre: medieval setting, magic, feudal weaponry, hordes of impish and undead enemies, and so on. Thus, it is far harder to distinguish themselves among the rest unless they take risks. Dungeon Hunter: Alliance plays it safe, but still ends up being fun for the loot-hungry masses because of a very tight design in the equipment customization, skill upgrades, and character building. The most unexpected (and unfriendly) surprise is the cost to own this title, but I will save that, the biggest caveat, for later.
Playing as the former king of the land called Gothicus, your tale of woe and heartbreak is an interesting one, but not shocking for any fantasy lovers. As a prince, your beloved fell deathly ill on your wedding day, and succumbed to the eternal sleep. Unwilling to move past your grief, you perform a dark ritual and successfully raise your queen from the dead. However, the unholy sacrament tore the fabric between the world and the land of death and hate, spewing forth the denizens of the dark. Unaware at first, your queen was also corrupted upon her resurrection, and letting your guard down, she plunged a dagger straight into your heart. Now, twenty-five years later, the fairies have concluded that the only way to stop the queen's tyrannical rule is by bringing you back from the dead to confront her.
You begin in the catacombs where you were entombed, and must make your way back to the queen's castle, which is, of course, many miles and dozens of levels away, at the opposite end of the starting point, with many obstacles in between. Your own personal fairy partner named Celeste guides you along, frequently giving you tidbits of backstory, and can also be called upon (as can other fairies when acquired) to perform a powerful area attack. Her wit is full of modern day jargon which breaks the authenticity of the time period portrayed, but manages to remain quirky and flavorful enough that you probably won't mind. Controlling her, however, is where you'll find the frustration. Attempting to incorporate some of the Vita's new control schemes, you can move her around the screen using the rear touchpad or with the right analog stick. The touchpad is extremely awkward, and since your fingers will habitually rest themselves back there, you'll find yourself constantly having to adjust your grip in order to control her properly.
Although the character customization is on par with the best of the dungeon crawlers, the combat certainly is not. The characters trudge along at slow clip, which has you rely more on your equipment's dodge percentage rather than your control skills. This is further apparent with a heavy lack of enemy staggering from your attacks, which basically means the standard method of engagement will be to run up to enemy and mash the X button. A little weapon variety comes with being able to switch loadouts without entering a menu screen. However, my attempts to fire off an arrow or bolt, then switch to my daggers was met with an insanely lengthy wait time, long enough that the enemies were able to whittle down my health significantly before I could take a swing.
Lag becomes a more prominent issue when the screen is swamped with characters, as the frame rate slows to a crawl. In the heat of a battle against a horde of foes, this does not bode well for your survival. The targeting system is also a frustration, and many times over your assured strikes hit nothing but air.
Yet despite all these combat complications, you'll still find that gratification afterwards, when a new piece of loot is dropped that might boost your stats a little higher. The customary color-coding based on rarity keeps the item classification in order, moving from white, green, blue, purple, to gold, from mundane to epic in quality. For even greater equipment in the red color category, you can take your character to the Pit of Trials once level 25 has been reached, which basically tasks you with surviving endless waves of increasingly difficult monsters.
Compared to many other Vita launch titles, the graphics quality will definitely seem inferior. However, should Dungeon Hunter: Alliance be the first game test out on the new portable, you will still be amazed at the quality, which is far crisper than anything I've seen so far on the 3DS. The outlines of the characters and environments may have rough edges, but there's still a fair bit of detailing, and all the different locales you navigate, from towns, castles, and dungeons to forests, caverns, and lava pits, are given plenty of color and variety, making your journey pleasant on the eyes rather than redundant and boring.