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Drakkhen is a 3D computer role-playing game which was initially developed for the Amiga and Atari ST, and subsequently ported to several other platforms, including DOS and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Originally released by Draconian (Data East) in 1989, it was later modified for North American release by Infogrames in 1990. Drakkhen was then ported to the Super Nintendo by the Japanese company Kemco-Seika, who made further revisions to the game. Released in 1991, the Super Nintendo version's graphics, sound, and ease of play are arguably improved over previous releases.
Drakkhen was notable for being among the first role-playing games to feature a three-dimensional playing field. It did not employ a fully 3D game engine, instead implementing a hybrid approach using vectors and bitmapped character-scaling algorithms. Drakkhen features an animated day-night cycle, and the ability to wander freely about the game world, both rarities for a game of its era.
The setting of Drakkhen is a large rectangular continent, divided horizontally into four smaller rectangles. Each region has its own terrain and climate, and is ruled by two members of the Drakkhen caste, with all of them living in their own keep. The continent is bounded on all sides by a vast ocean (only the southern edge in the SNES version); walking into this, or any other body of water, will result in the speedy drowning of all of your party members.
Players create a party of four adventurers, choosing the gender and class of each. (In the SNES version, the available character classes are fighter, scout, magician and priest.)
Much of the game is spent travelling between the eight castles of the Drakkhen royalty, on various political missions at their behest. A player can also wander around without having a particular goal or destination, whether for the sake of curiosity, adventure, and exploration, or to fight wildlife, monsters, and bizarre supernatural entities which may yield loot and experience points.
Storyline and gameplay
The storyline to Drakkhen lacked the complexity and pre-scripted dialogue commonly found in role-playing games of the time, and the plot was somewhat mystical and potentially confusing, a fact sometimes attributed to translation issues.
Drakkhen is known for its unusual sound effects; in lieu of speech, monsters and NPCs make noises that resemble belching, chittering, retching, or inarticulate rumbling. Early releases made only limited use of music during gameplay, but the game's soundtrack was revised and greatly expanded for the SNES version, which credits Hiroyuki Masuno as both composer and LSVD Programmer.
A player may freely travel the length and breadth of Drakkhen's continent soon after beginning a new game, though this can in practice be unwise. Chance encounters with dangerous monsters are regular, and unlike many other RPGs, the player may be attacked while stationary. Players may attempt to flee from attacking monsters.
For the most part, enemy encounters occur randomly, though looking at certain stellar constellations at night can trigger an attack by a powerful, flying monster. Also, urn-like markers can be found at some crossroads; bumping into these immediately summons a large, black, stationary canine head that growls menacingly while shooting red energy bolts from its eyes. These encounters are quickly fatal if the player's party does not run, or is not heavily-armored.
Another notorious enemy is the powerful "Shadow Man", a tall, dark figure that would unexpectedly emerge from the ground, accompanied by an ominous tune. Fighting this monster at almost any point of the game meant certain death, which caused confusion among new players. Its grandiose entrance and distinctive music continue to be a topic of discussion among fans.[ ]
- Arctic Wasteland
- Domain of the Prince and Princess of Air, both of whom live in large glacier-shaped castles.
- Swampland (dark green)
- Domain of the Prince and Princess of Water, the former living in a large castle and the latter in what resembles a pagoda. This area has the greatest number of rivers and lakes.
- Grassland (light green)
- Domain of the Prince and Princess of Earth, who live in identical-looking fortresses. This is where the adventure begins. In the centre is a glowing boundary that is heavily guarded.
- Domain of the Prince and Princess of Fire, the former living in what resembles an Aztec pyramid and the latter in a large Taj Mahal or mosque-like building (incorrectly called a "minaret").
In the original Amiga version, crossing the borders between continental divisions would require a wait while the game loaded. In the SNES version, crossings are instantaneous; however, if the player attempts to cross between areas prematurely, they are sharply rebuked.
Its limitations notwithstanding, Drakkhen attracted a modest cult following thanks to its innovative gameplay, hypnotic music, and otherworldly atmosphere. Some consider it a classic of the RPG genre, alongside the likes of Ultima VII, Betrayal at Krondor, Final Fantasy IV, and Baldur's Gate, though its replay value may be somewhat lower than these due to its comparative lack of depth, detail, and storytelling.
The game was reviewed in 1990 in Dragon #160 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 4½ out of 5 stars.
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