The Super NES era during the first half of the 1990s was perhaps a golden age for Nintendo, with the system having received many masterpieces of various genres. Even in its early days, the system had its share of decent RPGs, from Final Fantasy IV to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Back in 1991, French developer Infogrames (now part of Atari), decided to port their obscure computer RPG, Drakkhen, to the fledgling system, with Kemco as its publisher in Japan and America; Drakkhen, unfortunately, is hardly in the top tier of Super NES titles.

Drakkhen, for starters, has a battle system that was unique in its time, and is somewhat unique even today. Battles on the overworld are random (and fixed within dungeons), with the encounter rate annoying fluctuating at times (and players can even encounter enemies when not moving on the field), and all battles, surprisingly, contain only one enemy, whereas your party has four characters. Combat is real-time, with the player selecting commands for each character, such as attacking or using offensive or defensive magic, and all characters automatically executing their commands without relent. Furthermore, the player can go into the menus and have characters use items or healing magic, with all action, thankfully, stopping.

One main problem with the battle system is the unbalanced distribution of experience. It seems that characters only gain experience by damaging enemies, and since your characters at times seem to just aimlessly wander around the battlefield in spite of the commands you’ve selected for them, it can be difficult for certain characters, chiefly magicians, to accumulate experience; by the end of the game, my lead character far outleveled the other characters. Another issue is that equipment breaks far too often, and merchants can be difficult to find. Battles, too, can really drag out, with your characters’ aim seeming to be lousy mostly against enemies that constantly bounce around the screen.

If that weren’t enough, the difficulty is horribly unbalanced, as well. I managed to kill the final boss in only a few seconds (and with uneven levels for my characters, no less) despite getting killed repeatedly by enemies on the overworld. Finally, players can revive dead characters with certain items or at a healing point on the overworld, unusually termed an Anak (never heard that term before). Healing spot nomenclature aside, Drakkhen’s battle system, while with strong potential, is one big mess.

The same goes for the interface. While there are some conveniences, such as the ability to save anywhere on the overworld (which is, by the way, 3-D), and a command that allows players to exit dungeons instantly, there are some annoyances, such as the aforementioned difficulty of finding merchants, who sometimes show up randomly while players are traveling the overworld. Players, too, can’t see how new equipment affects their characters’ stats before buying it, or the effects of spells and items, for that matter. Each player, moreover, has limited inventory space, with the process of discarding and rearranging gear proving to be tedious at times. Overall, Drakkhen could’ve certainly been more user-friendly.

On a positive note, there’s no other RPG quite like Drakkhen, but with good reason, especially its automated combat system that’s largely torture to play.

Returning to what ails Drakkhen, there really isn’t much story of which to speak: four warriors must travel across an island and find eight tears to save the human race. The warriors, as well as the characters they occasionally come into contact with, are all utterly unmemorable and interchangeable, with sporadic, mostly short, cutscenes. Given that plot-driven RPGs were on the rise even in the Super NES’s early days, there really isn’t much excuse for the skeletal storyline.

Drakkhen’s aural presentation, moreover, is equally horrendous. Immediately from the company and copyright screen, players will notice the music’s lousy quality, and only one or two okay pieces, frankly, aren’t enough to make up for it. Some of it doesn’t even sound like music at all; one particular piece sounds like a deep-throated Charlie Brown teacher. The sound effects equally drive down the aurals, with just about all sounding out of place and weird, and overall, there really isn’t much to prevent players from hitting the mute button and putting on their favorite music while playing.

Drakkhen’s visual presentation could’ve used some improvement, as well. Some of the art is okay, and monsters, with some exceptions, look decent, although your party’s character portraits and sprites are bland and faceless, and dungeon scenery is dull and pixelated. The 3-D overworld graphics actually look alright, though, even if the entrances of buildings point at you no matter what direction you’re facing them in, yet the game’s graphics hardly shine.

Finally, Drakkhen is a fairly short game, taking only around five to ten hours to complete, maybe a bit more since players could easily get lost on the overworld or have a hard time figuring out where to go next. Ultimately, many poor design decisions easily ruin what would’ve possibly been a passable RPG. Though the game is unique, uniqueness, needless to say, is hardly a redeeming factor, and thus, Drakkhen has rightfully fallen into the void of forgotten Super NES titles.

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