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Review: Dungeon Encounters (Nintendo Switch)By Nayu At 19.07.2022 19:43

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Dungeon Encounters makes an unusual first impression. The stark, plain start screen with no music presents a single paragraph of back story. Not accepting this premise shunts the user back to the title screen, as if to say, "Oh, you weren't ready? Get the hell out!" Pressing on accesses the party selection screen, with every single one of the characters present given the barest of backstory that is hidden behind a separate tab; only about a few sentences that references concepts that are given almost no context. It is around this moment where Dungeon Encounters seems like it might be a joke.

Dungeon Encounters begins and the world is depicted by what can be best described as a crossword puzzle on ancient parchment. This is a majority of the experience, making the 3D character model run around these simple grid maps and filling out every single square or simply seeking out the exit. How are exit panels determined from other panels? It is not explained clearly, but each event on every floor is designated by numbers and letters and every number/letter also comes in two varieties: black and white.

If the digits are white, it usually means something helpful like a shop, resurrection shrine or a healing fountain. Gamers will have to take Dungeon Encounters' word for it all, since there is no graphic to represent anything at all and the only visuals to go by are the character models that are used for the dungeon maps or the few illustrated portraits that are used for the battles.

Getting into fights with no flashy imagery and just a rocking and shredding guitar trying to play up the imagined heat of the skirmish feels like the game's designers are trying to make a commentary on RPGs as a whole. It is as if they are trying to point out that the substance of battles is not the graphics or visuals, but rather the hard math underneath it all.

The active time battle mechanic that has been famously pioneered in the older Final Fantasy games is present in Dungeon Encounters. What is done differently is how HP is handled and the kinds of attacks used. Like everything else in Dungeon Encounters, everything in the battles is minimised to their barest essentials. Enemies and heroes all have three HP meters and two of them function like barriers to the one actual HP stat that keeps units alive. The two barrier hit-points are either magic or physical properties and the only way to get to the main HP is to drain one or both barriers with a respective type of attack.

It is an incredibly simplistic system, but it does become complex the deeper into the dungeon the party descends. Enemies become more varied, new party members become available, and the prospect of returning to upper floors to restore party health from the last fountain becomes a greater risk as previously cleared floors will begin to festoon with new threats.

Getting past the extremely minimalistic presentation is a tall order for most people who might be interested in Dungeon Encounters, especially since Square Enix has made a name for themselves for producing some of the most lavish and elaborate looking games of all time. Extremely decadent and gaudy graphics is their modus operandi and along comes Dungeon Encounters to completely subvert this. This is also surprisingly steep for something that could be mistaken for a mobile game or something that could run on a first-generation iPad and could potentially turn-off a lot of RPG fans from ever giving this a fair shot.

Anyone who can get past the spartan presentation of Dungeon Encounters will find that it is a weirdly addictive experience. This is a grind, no doubt about it, but it is a grind in its purest and most honest form that does not waste any time. Moving through floors and filling out all spaces taps into a primitive part in the brain, akin to cleaning up your room. Dungeon Encounters doesn't even feel like an RPG; it is a lot closer to feeling like a puzzle game but with D&D-style stats to manage.

Thanks to its fierce dedication to simplicity and minimalism, there is not much for Dungeon Encounters to fail at. The few tracks of music it has are shockingly great and the victory fanfare is pure electric. There are hardly any graphics to criticize and the story is intentionally nonexistent. The game almost transcends itself with its minimalism and becomes almost perfect like Tetris.

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Final Score
[i]Dungeon Encounters[/i] is a very difficult game to fault for its premise. It has very specific goals and it achieves them, much to the chagrin of the player and it achieves its goals thoroughly. This is definitely not something for the average Square Enix fan and caters more towards gamers who enjoy the likes of [i]The Dark Spire[/i] or very old dungeon crawlers. Expect to have to rely on imagining the adventure and the battles, because of how nothing is ever realised in text or visuals. This is a hard title to recommend to general audiences, but for those who are truly hardcore RPG maniacs, [i]Dungeon Encounters[/i] might be worth exploring.



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