Dungeon Encounters Review – A Charming, Yet Challenging Dungeon Crawler

    Title: Dunegon Encounters
    Developer: Square Enix
    Release Date: October 14, 2021
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Square Enix
    Genre: RPG

Dungeon Encounters is a passion project directed by the inventor of the ATB system and game designer of Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy XII, Hiroyuki Ito. With very little marketing to its name, this unexpected title has made its way to PC and consoles. Captivated by the list of staff members that developed this game, I decided to tackle it with a fresh mind.

Dungeon Encounters has a straightforward objective: To “conquer the mysterious labyrinth.” Yeah, that’s pretty much it. While the game does set you up with a bland text box at the beginning, it doesn’t do much aside from that. So, if you are the type that goes into an RPG for its story, I’m afraid that this won’t be your cup of tea. But if you’re into the thrill of random exploration, then you’ll feel right at home.

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The game starts with a list of party members you can choose from, each with varying levels. Still, they begin at Level 1 most of the time. Further, additional party members are hiding as “Wanderers,” and you can get a rough estimate of their coordinates by using the “Wanderer’s Search” ability. To recruit them, you have to step on the exact tile they’re on. And I’m talking REALLY exact. Speaking of coordinates, your X-axis and Y-axis values are displayed at the top left of the screen. I inevitably found myself jotting down important floor coordinates, so I knew where to go if I needed to reach a specific tile.

Inside the dungeons, there are different types of coded tiles. If the player steps on a black one, a battle will begin. The combat system is Final Fantasy-esque, with the classic ATB system making itself known. There are three prevalent stats: your Physical Defense (PD), Health Points (HP), and Magical Defense (MD). Physical defense can be reduced with weapon attacks and magical defense with magic spells. However, there’s no MP, meaning spells can be cast as many times as you like. Though, healing abilities such as Recover and Ressurection can only be used a limited amount of times. If their respective counters reach 0, players must reset their usage limit at an “Adventurer’s Rest” tile.

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Now, let’s talk about the white numbered tiles, which can trigger an Event. These Events vary depending on what the code etched on the tile you’ve stepped on is. So, for example, 03 activates the Ability Station, allowing you to equip Abilities you obtain from your dungeon crawling. 05 and 06 are tiles that trigger fountains that will allow your party’s HP to be healed or resurrect a party member. There are also various shops scattered across floors that will enable you to purchase weapons and armor. But out of all the Events, in my honest opinion, the one that can save your skin is the two-way portal, which you can find at every 10 floors, marked with a number 0, followed by a letter.

Two-way portals allow players to go back to the starting floor 00. That is useful because floor 00 contains all the shops and restoration tiles you need. It is also vital that you visit the Academy tile often. This space will save a log of your party expedition, so if your party is defeated (which, trust me, can happen when you least expect it), you’ll be able to restart from the last “log” without losing your progress. It’s a helpful feature and one I’ve only come across by pure accident. Who would’ve thought it would save me from hours of progress being lost?

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Abilities can also give you different buffs that will help on your adventure outside of battles. To equip them, you need to obtain Ability Points by charting all the tiles on a floor or after reaching a designated total of charted tiles. While there are tons of Abilities to choose from, the ones that stood out to me the most were Eagle Eye and Lesser Descend.

The former will zoom out the camera, allowing you to have a more expansive view while exploring, and the latter will enable you to descend a floor if a tile with the same X and Y coordinates exists directly below you. So, for example, if you attempt to use it on Floor 3 with a coordinate of 10-32, the game will check to see if that same coordinate exists in Floor 4, and if there is, you’ll descend to that floor without the need for the staircase.

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Overall, Dungeon Encounters can be described in two simple words: Charming yet challenging. It’s enjoyable and offers an engaging experience with challenges at every corner. As I got Game Overs, I began to learn more and more tactics to progress more efficiently. Additionally, while the graphics are minimalistic, they are pretty appealing.

Even though the game lacks conveniences that are now ubiquitous in modern RPGs, I don’t think their absences worsen the experience. I certainly enjoyed Dungeon Encounters and would recommend it to anyone looking for an exploration-rich RPG, where all you do is explore an everlasting labyrinth. And hey, maybe you can bet with your friends on which floor you can get to before dying! (No? Just me? Aw.)

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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