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Twisted Fairy Tale Adventure: Dragon Fin Soup Review
Preparing a Delicacy
Crowdfunding’s rise in popularity in the mid 2000’s connected eager creators and audience members across the world over a multitude of different projects. It’s no surprise then that, in this new world of net crowdfunding, game development projects would be among the crop. As is the case with crowdfunded projects, some have been troubled or fallen through (e.g. Mighty No 9, Beast’s Fury). Others have been able to craft awesome products (e.g. Skullgirls, Undertale). Dragon Fin Soup is one such project.
Dragon Fin soup is an action RPG developed by Grimm Bros, released November 3, 2015. It’s presently available on PC, Playstation 4, Playstation 3 and PS Vita, though it is also slated for Xbox One, iOS, Android, Mac and Linux.
Grimm Bros is an interesting bunch. They’re an indie dev company with veteran dev members located in Philadelphia, Bangkok, Chicago, San Francisco and London. The COO, Randis Albion, is an award winning concept artist and world class art director. The CEO, Ash Monif, has worked at EA, Atari, Bioware, Subatomic Studios and Human Head Studios.
The kickstarter was launched on March 12, 2014. Steam greenlit the game about a week later and the project surpassed its goal by April 11, earning a cool $119,720. With this, the campaign met a whopping nine stretch goals including oriental weapon and armor sets, various ingame pets, alt characters, a second game mode and ports for Sony Systems. After much work and demoing at both Gamescom and PAX 2014, Dragon Fin Soup was served up around November 2015.
Dragon Fin Soup takes place in Asura realm, a world existing on the back of a great Dragon Turtle God of the same name, which was once ravaged by a centuries old war between humans and wesens. A thousand years after the war’s resolution, a burning planet crossed Asura’s path, raining crystals from the sky and marking a new era of magic.
The story opens to our heroine Red Robin, a mercenary living in a remote village. Cheerful and a tad bit crass, Robin has a strong penchant for alcohol. Furthermore, she can’t remember anything about herself or her life beyond a year ago when she was apparently attacked in the nearby woods. The story follows Robin as she struggles to regain her memories and discover who she is - with all of its messy implications.
Dragon Fin Soup is a turn based RPG with tile based movement. Its levels are procedurally generated (weather included). Being a rogue-like, permadeath is a prominent feature in each of its modes - except for story mode where one has a choice between “Hardcore” (with permadeath) and “Classic” difficulty that allows one to restart from your previous save upon death. Unlike other titles, such as certain Final Fantasy titles or Xenosaga, which employ turn based combat and a free roaming mode outside of it, Dragon Fin Soup employs turns constantly. The player takes their turn after which everything else in the world takes its turn to update all at once. Turns themselves are flexible. Actions such as attacking, moving or casting a spell will end your turn, while actions such as consuming items or crafting are, more or less, free actions. Turns aren’t timed so the player can be as gung-ho or methodical as they see fit.
In story more, there are two characters that the player can play through the campaign as: Red Robin and Morgiana. Red Robin, though a dead ringer for Little Red Riding Hood, has a bit more in common with BB Hood, starting with a special shotgun, one knife and bombs. Morgiana, of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” fame, is a blade master that starts with two knives, bombs and a backstabbing ability. Beyond these differences, there are a wide array of weapons (ranged and melee), skills and items to aid your character. For the sake of variety, weapons have different spread patterns. Furthermore, the type of ammunition that you load your projectile weapon with will affect range and effectiveness. Skills range from area of effect elemental attacks to health regeneration and defensive buffs.
A grand majority of items one encounters will be different articles of armor and clothing to be worn for their stat buffs, consumables that temporarily do the same or the raw materials to craft one of the two. One of the more interesting offerings among the items are what functions as a health pot. Rather than a salve or potion, Dragon Fin Soup offers a brew of a different kind - booze. Coming in different qualities (and flavors to boot), it’s a welcome subversion to the old story and gameplay segregation trope. As previously mentioned, there isn’t a discrete limit on how many items may be consumed in a turn. The alcohol you consume heals you (and, depending upon the quality, depletes your magic points), but also adds to your rage meter. Said meter acts as a de-facto limit on the amount you can consume in a short period of time. While our heroine may be cheerful when she’s sober, she makes for an angry drunk. Swig too much booze, thus filling your rage meter, and your character will go into an uncontrollable drunken rage where they will run around and attack indiscriminately for roughly 20 turns.
Players will find themselves in locales that range from dense forests and run down villages to haunted mansions and bonafide dungeons. With these come a full roster of enemies, including ghosts, goblins, vampires, thieves, zombies and a whole host of magical aberrations and mutations. One of my favorites is the escarghoul, a giant mutant smail, purely for the pun value.
Art - The art is amazing. The fairytale, with subtle oriental, influences in the promo art make for some breathtaking pieces. In game, the character sprites and portraits are crisp, colorful and mesh well with the vibrant environments. Randis Albion knocked it out of the park with Dragon Fin Soup and I look forward to more of their work.
Humor and subversions- Dragon Fin Soup is clearly not a game for children. Despite that, the humor and fun the game has with the player isn’t schlocky either. Every now and again, you’ll find flavor text that pokes fun at whatever item it’s attached to such as the micro bikini bottoms that are supposedly so skimpy that wrapping a shoelace around your hips would be just as effective or the fact that fingerless driving gloves let your fingers breathe but make your palms all sweaty. In the same vein, the game is content to let you make what are moderately bad decisions and then chuckle at your misfortune. I smashed up some stuff in town and found myself being constantly fined ( you can even put yourself in debt doing this). I consumed multiple articles of clothing and jewelry, much to the consternation and shame of my poor character. I even ate a shovel and equipped a “certain” ring that no one in their right mind ever should. I’m a monster, I know. But the game gave me the power to do that and I love it for doing so.
Manual - I know that it’s weird to praise a game for something like a manual, but a digital game that not only tucks the manual into the main menu where I can easily reach it, but also includes an abridged version is good in my book.
What Doesn't Work
Bugs - The game is a few months old and is supported on multiple platforms. In the beginning, some hiccups are expected. I’m aware of roughly one or two that are serious. Fortunately, the dev team is aware of them and they should be addressed in an upcoming patch.
Save System- Let me preface this by saying that the save system, conceptually, is fine. One starts a new game with a phrase that’s used as the seed for procedural generation. When one wants to save, progress is saved back to that file, and that file only. It’s pretty straightforward and meshes well with the permadeath mechanic. Only, on the PS4, I’m restricted to one saved game per mode. This is likely another bug as the manual implies that multiple game saves are possible per mode and conceptually, it doesn’t hinder the permadeath mechanic either.
I'm pretty impressed with Dragon Fin Soup. Grimm Bros aims to make AAA quality games that mix fairy tales with dark humor and I'm all for that. But the purveyor of that kind of game was previously American McGee, so I needed to wait on Spicy Horse for my dark, twisted fairy tale fix. If Dragon Fin Soup is any indication, we'll have another developer that can offer fresh spins on fairy tale concepts. This a strong break into the market and I hope to see more from Grimm Bros.
I give Dragon Fin Soup a 8.7 out of 10
Definitely worth grabbing. Go show Grimm Bros some love!