Fine and dandy like grinding your teeth on candy.
Game development tools and software have allowed people to make their own RPGs for years. Now comes along Dandy Dungeon from Onion Games, which puts you in the role of testing out the ever-more-complex RPG of a middle-aged salaryman. The game bounces between a home setting where protagonist Yamada busily programs away and rogue-lite dungeons where you guide a hero from floor to floor, picking up treasure and slaying foes along the way. While the gameplay loop can become stale quickly, humour and heart persists throughout this unique experience.
Yamada is unsatisfied with his office job and wants to be a video game designer, specifically an RPG maker. As he completes new dungeons and adds new elements to his game, you are tasked with clearing these new areas and earning loot to improve your hero’s stats; of course, Yamada levels up outside the game based on your success, and this makes him a better designer. As he levels up, he designs new dungeons and features that allow you to find better equipment and items and therein lies the gameplay loop. Sometimes a muddy distinction develops between Yamada’s progress and the hero’s as the latter doesn’t get to keep experience gained in the dungeons, so finding and crafting better equipment are your markers of progress in and around Yamada’s RPG.
The story revolves around Yamada staying home and creating his game, which he is also trying to use as a way of wooing his neighbour Maria. His boss, colleagues, and other random people barge into his house between dungeons as a way to deliver new content for his RPG or simply as brief story interludes. Many of the interactions with other characters outside the dungeon are cute and add whimsy and charm, but the crux ultimately lies in its rogue-lite dungeon crawling.
Before entering each dungeon, you have a chance to equip the armor, weapons, and items you find as loot. You can upgrade and eventually transform weapons and armor, with bonus stats awarded for equipping a matching suit of armor. Dungeons only span a handful of floors, with each floor consisting of a 5x5 grid of tiles, but the way you navigate each one is a little different from other RPGs in this sub-genre. The objective of each floor is simple: draw a line from the entrance to the exit, and this line will determine the path your hero walks. You’ll fight enemies along the path, set off traps, and pick up treasures as you walk towards your goal. You can also earn a bonus for walking on every tile of the floor, like extra gold, but you are punished for every tile you don’t step on by fireballs that rise out of the floor and sap your life meter.
Especially in the lengthier dungeons, it’s vital that you take as many steps on each floor as you can since killing monsters gives you valuable experience points that allow you to level up and improve your stats. Because the hero starts each dungeon at level one, you won’t be able to take down some of the tougher bosses without being thorough on earlier floors, so there are multiple incentives to figuring out a path that allows you to touch each floor tile on the way to the exit. Adding to the challenge is that you can’t backtrack over tiles you’ve already stepped on.
Early dungeons are fairly easy to complete, and based on how thorough and quick you are, you can earn a bronze, silver, or gold trophy, each coupled with some sweet crafting materials or other items. There is a simplified world map that shows your progress through the game as well, but it’s fully possible to experience grind fatigue about halfway through. The problem is you likely need to revisit old dungeons for specific materials to strengthen your equipment so that you can overcome the more challenging dungeons. This is where Dandy Dungeon becomes overly repetitive and a little frustrating.
At the end of the day, your enjoyment of Dandy Dungeon hinges on a few factors: Do you like cute, quirky, and simple RPGs? How do you feel about rogue-lite elements and grinding for items? The unique presentation and charm are definite positives, but the gameplay does become worn out given that you have almost no agency in the dungeons outside of drawing your hero’s path and activating a handful of limited-use items like fireball scrolls, healing potions, and stat buffs. Like Black Bird before it, Dandy Dungeon is certainly an oddity, but it has enough strong points to make it worth a look.