Dynasty of Dusk

Dynasty of Dusk is a JRPG made by three college students.  It’s an early contender for Worst Game of 2013.  When a game is putridity bad, it usually is because the developer bit off more than he could chew.  That’s not entirely the case here.  Dynasty of Dusk is so stripped down and minimalistic that it’s shocking there’s enough here to be classified as rancid.  But what really startled me is this very much comes across like one of those “getting your feet wet” type of games.  Those usually are bad, but not THIS bad.  I actively looked for something, anything, I could praise, and came up empty-handed.  Now I know how Amanda Bynes’ agent feels.

I’ll start with the story, which apparently revolves around an evil king kidnapping spirit animals to try to gain immortality so that he can rule the world forever.  I’m not sure why you would want to rule a world that has like ten people living in it.  Despite what Tears for Fears would have you believe, I have no interest in this world at all.  The writing could not possibly be any more bland.  It’s so boring that a big screen adaption would star Kristen Stewart and end up making like $300,000,000 at the box office.  Okay, bad analogy.

My point is, the only thing a throwback, turn-based RPG can possibly do to grab attention these days is have an absurd story hook and/or snappy writing.  Without those, you probably shouldn’t bother.  Yea, I know games like this used to be this badly written and completely lack characterization, but RPGs aren’t exactly like platformers.  A story is all they have.  Without that, you’re just playing a glorified menu simulator.  Being just like the old school games doesn’t work in RPGs because retro charm doesn’t translate to them.  It wasn’t the retro graphics that made people like Breath of Death, Cthulhu Saves the World, or Doom & Destiny.  It was the writing and the characters.  The retro graphics were just good set dressing to take the piss out of the classics.  That’s why they worked.

I try not to pick on bad graphics too often, but let's face it, Dynasty of Dusk looks awful. But it's the music that's really bad. Even Gitmo won't use it for Enhanced Interrogation.

I try not to pick on bad graphics too often, but let’s face it, Dynasty of Dusk looks awful. But it’s the music that’s really bad. Even Gitmo won’t use it for Enhanced Interrogation.

Ignoring the story (you know, sort of like the developers did), Dynasty of Dusk is a complete mess.  Right off the bat, I want to gripe about how fucking unresponsive the controls are.  Far and away, the least responsive of any game I’ve ever played in my entire life.  It’s the menus.  Not necessarily the ones you use during fights, but sometimes they’re stubborn too.  I’m talking about the between fights menus.  The ones you go through by, you know, just pausing the fucking game.  You have to navigate them using the bumpers and the triggers.  I swear to Christ, at best the game recognized a button press once every five times.  I would be trying to scroll through the various characters to check and upgrade their stats, but the game couldn’t keep up with such simple actions as pressing the bumper once, indicating that I wished to move to the next menu.  It was like having an argument with a hard-of-hearing geriatric.

“Okay, now I wish to see the Warrior’s stats.”

“HUH?”

“I said I wish to see the Warrior’s stats.”

“WHAT?”

“The Warrior’s stats!”

“You need to speak up, child!”

“FUCKING HELL, LET ME SEE THE WARRIOR’S STATS RIGHT NOW YOU GOD DAMN BROKEN DOWN PIECE OF SHIT!”

“The Warrior’s stats?”

“YES!!”

“Why didn’t you just say so?”

And this goes on and on.  It got to the point that I physically got out of my chair to check and see if something was blocking my controller’s signal.  Nope.  I checked my controller’s battery.  Full charge.  I switched packs anyway.  Didn’t help.  I changed what controller I was using.  Still no good.  Hell, maybe some other signal in the house is causing interference.  Not that either.  I got more exercise trying to fix Dynasty of Dusk than I have from three years worth of Kinect ownership.  As it turns out, the game is just an utterly broken piece of shit.

And it gets worse once you’re actually playing the fucking thing, as opposed to arguing with menus like you’re the star of Bravo’s newest reality show, The Spreadsheet Whisperer.  I’ve always enjoyed abusing level-up systems in games.  Indie Games are often prone to this.  Pour all your upgrades into one stat, throw the game completely off-balance, then spend the next couple hours mowing down enemies like they’re dandelions and you’re the world’s most efficiently built weed-whacker.  Crazy as this sounds, I usually have a better time when I can do this.  It gives me a chance to feel all smug, wondering how the developers never saw the potential for someone to do this.  Well actually, I do know why.  It’s because they have a specific logic in mind when they build the game, and operate under the assumption people will play their game exactly the way they would.  They won’t.  It’s like those competitions they have where people have to create the most elaborate Rube-Goldberg machines that only serve to make toast, and I’m the one person who says “fuck it” and shows up to the party with a loaf of bread and a flame thrower.

Yea, it's as boring as it looks.

Yea, it’s as boring as it looks.

Here’s how abusive you can be towards Dynasty of Dusk.  The game starts with you quickly acquiring the four different attack forms, Warrior, Archer, and.. you know what?  Fuck it, you don’t need to hear any more.  The archer has a nifty move called “pierce” and that’s all you will need for the rest of the game.  It does massive damage and goes through every enemy.  Battles consisted of me selecting the archer, selecting pierce, and winning in one shot, two tops.  I poured all my upgrades into letting me level up faster, and then spent the next five minutes grinding, because you can force battles with a simple press (or multiple presses, fucking piece of shit game) of the X button.  In the span of five minutes, I took my archer from level 1 to level 20.  I’m not joking.  Before I was even out of the opening caves of the game, the main dude had leveled several times and my archer was a level 20.  Later, when I found enemies that paid off even better, I did it more and got him up to level 30 within just a two or three minutes.

And you know what?  For once, I didn’t feel that satisfied about it.  I felt downright horrible, like one of those assholes that kicks over sand castles for jollies having a sudden, sharp attack of conscience.  I vowed to play the game on the straight-and-narrow from here on out.  Sadly, not too long after this, the game crashed and kept crashing.  Because saving is the most clunky of all the clunky menus, I didn’t give it too much attention and subsequently lost all my progress.  Not that it matters, because there was no potential that anything was going to come along and save it, but I still felt bad.  Yea, Dynasty of Dusk is among the worst games I’ve ever played in my life, but I did kick over their sand castle and I want to apologize for that.  Sincerely.  Stick with it guys.  Build another sand castle, and I promise I won’t kick it over.  I’ll just let the tide come in and wash it away.

xboxboxartDynasty of Dusk was developed by Tropic Tundra Games.  Hey, wait a second.  You guys are from Wisconsin.  How do you even know what a Tropic is?  The rest of the country has gone to great lengths to keep you cheese-eaters in the dark about them. 

80 Microsoft Points would have been more interested in a game called “Dysentery of Dusk” in the making of this review.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

11 Responses to Dynasty of Dusk

  1. A note: The game knows you’re pressing a button. It heard you the first time. It just, if I’m guessing right, has loading/memory issues. Let the title screen load for proof. You’d think that a game that looks this horrible would load decently since there’s literally nothing there to bog a current gen console down but damn if I didn’t get proved wrong.

    I remember when Chrono Trigger came out on the PSX and everyone criticized it because of the loading times that bogged down otherwise seamless JRPG battles. I can only imagine the scat-storm that would’ve ensued if the bloody MENUS did it as well like in this.

  2. Oh god, the menus. I’d forgotten. I remember trying the game, and I remember I stopped playing, but I’ve been meaning to go back to it. I didn’t remember why I stopped. You’ve reminded me – the goddamn menus. Seriously, changing from one tab to another takes a good thirty seconds because it just…doesn’t work.

  3. Tim Roast says:

    They need to change their marketing campaign:

    Indie Gamer Chick said “Dynasty of Dusk is an early contender for Worst Game of 2013.” See if you can stomach it. Only 80MSP. Buy it NOW!

  4. Brian Paine says:

    Hey, I am one of the developers and I feel I should defend myself a little bit!

    The slow and unresponsive menus is indeed a memory issue that, for whatever reason, did not rear it’s ugly head during playtesting. While that is not much of an excuse, it is about all I can offer. The issue HAS been solved and a patch to address it will hopefully be in peer review later today. If I had known about this, I would have not released the game. It does ruin the experience.

    The story was made to be more of an after thought, unobtrusive to what we felt would be the main “draw”: the combat (though I will explain why this may have been a flaw in our logic in a second). We did not want to tackle humor with the campaign because, like you said, nearly every other RPG on XBLIG follows that pattern (Breath of Death VII, Cthulhu Saves the World, Doom and Destiny, Bonded Realities) and more often than not those games rely on referential humor that I find falls flat on its face and makes me grown more often than it makes me laugh. Though I do understand your point arguing that “story is all RPGs have” I felt it was not the most important thing in a $1 game.

    However, with the lack of story meant I wanted to focus on combat. Again, I wanted to do something different, so you have a single character with focus on their skill development. While the balance of certain skills may be off at particular points in the game (Like you said, the archer’s skills seem particularly powerful) I wanted to make it so “every strategy wins” so you could really have invested in any skills to achieve victory. I think the most obvious point that the archer becomes less useful is against the first “real” boss, where being able to attack all enemies is not nearly as helpful. Other skills become more useful in certain circumstances as the game continues.

    As far as grinding goes, if players wanted to do it, I wanted to make it as easy as possible. While you took that a bit further than I had anticipated, you were only leveling up the Class, where the main character’s level (which increases stats that allow you to do more damage and what not) is more logarithmic and slows your advancement in that way, so you may have not been quite as powerful as you thought. Also, it is not clear how far you got in the game, but the early stages are easy and I feel that the balance becomes more interesting as the game progresses. All that being said, the game is only around an hour and a half long so spending 10 minutes grinding is a significant portion of your play time.

    One thing I had put in the game to make grinding not necessary is that you stop fighting enemies on maps after reaching a specific level that puts the player at an optimum level to fight bosses to emphasize strategy. While players could simply grind if they could not defeat the boss, I wanted to award/balance the game for people who choose not to. Grinding is an easy strategy for nearly any RPG and it is rarely ever fun, I just aimed to make it unobtrusive.

    But, as I said, a new patch is on its way and that will address the control issues, while story and combat balance will remain the same. I hope you do give Dynasty of Dusk another try. Hopefully once the issues have been fixed you will actually find something to enjoy! (And hopefully I did not sound too defensive/offended, I really do understand your points and am not offended by them)

    • I enjoyed the combat system, personally, and I agree 100% on the grinding issue. I played through FF10 without grinding and it became my 2nd favorite of the series. Why? Because it was a challenge. Everyone complained that the final boss was too easy…because they were level 99 and made their way through the sphere grid like 3 times. Meanwhile, I’m getting the bastard down to 30,000 health before dying because I’m at level 39 and having the time of my life trying to optimize what my party can do with what I already have. I love watching speed runners do all this crap under-leveled. Unfortunately, we live in a society where most gamers just want to beat a game and, if it’s too hard, they either dismiss it or do whatever makes it easier.

      In other words, I applaud the effort to make an RPG where normal and underleveled players can have a good time, but just know that most people would rather just hit the win button. It doesn’t dismiss the fact that your game has a ton of coding/aesthetic problems, but hey, baby steps.

  5. Joseph says:

    I liked this game. I didn’t grind but I beat it easily. You can level up and get new spells and stuff. I like exploring and this game has a big world. The Mencius worked for me. Menus

  6. Josh says:

    I downloaded the PC version and I don’t think it’s THAT bad. The controls definitely seem more responsive than the Xbox version by the sounds of it, but the tab navigation is definitely a pain. The game is sorta bland and repetitive, but i wouldn’t say it’s offensively bad… but i have a high tolerance and get a strange enjoyment out of these types of games

  7. Stephanie Chambers says:

    Ouch! Those are pretty harsh words! Worse game of 2013? I wouldn’t go there. Not by a long shot. Then again, I would never use the word “worse” to (1) describe something in such a manner that so clearly is a matter of OPINION, and (2) describe something I (and so should you!) know took someone (or a team of someones) a long time to create. Someone put his/her/their heart and soul into Dynasty of Dusk, and for that reason alone, I NEVER would be so cruel. I liken it, for instance, to believing one movie is THE BEST EVER, and you thinking another is, my OPINION that one song in particular is the best ever vs. what you think. We both might have strong reasons to base our preferences on, but when all is said and done, they are merely opinions. Nothing more.
    That being said, I hope you’ll allow me to voice a counter review to yours.
    I found Dynasty of Dusk to be fun. Pure and simple. I love downloading (to my computer) and playing these (inexpensive) games for the pure enjoyment of seeing what inspires young gamers of today. Right from the start, I could tell that the creators of this game were paying homage to those video games of long ago! How did you miss that? Granted, I’m much older than you (most likely), and I actually played games like Space Invaders, PacMan and other forerunners to today’s much more involved, graphic games. Dynasy of Dusk takes me back to video games’ roots, and I think the artistry of Dynasty of Dusk should be praised — NOT berated — for taking the game in that direction.
    I suppose the only issue that makes sense for you to have found fault with WAS the control issue, but even there you went over the top. Could you not have described your frustration in a more constructive manner, including contacting the game designer(s) so they would know about the problem — and work to FIX it? It is what I would have done. That’s just how I approach such situations. It looks like that issue has been resolved (according to the earlier post by Brian Paine). For the record, I use the keyboard to control game play, and that has worked just fine.
    I found Dynasty of Dusk to be an inviting game to play. I have not been driven to grind through to the higher levels. Instead, I’m enjoying the reminiscent-of-an-earlier-age game play. It has been a fun journey back in time, and I, for one (and obviously there are others!), appreciate the effort these new game designers went to in order to bring Dynasty of Dusk to market. Maybe there were a couple of bumps along the way. You learn for next time. I look forward to their next veture into the world of game design.

    • Well, the game designer contacted me and asked me to review their game, in the manner I typically do. The game development community in general prefers that I pull no punches. They get glad-handers and cheerleaders everywhere else. They don’t want that here. They want my unfiltered opinion.

      “including contacting the game designer(s) so they would know about the problem”

      I typically do this. Many developers have had extended conversations with me where I go over some issues with their games. But it has no effect on my review.

      Also, if the menu issue is fixed, it’s up to the developer to ask me to review the game a second time. Every game here gets a second chance. But the developer has to be proactive in asking for it.

      I’m sure they appreciate you sticking up for them. They’re good dudes. Hard workers, and they strive to improve. Their next games will be better, I’m sure.

      • Stephanie Chambers says:

        Thank you for posting my counter review to yours. I appreciate it very much.
        Just so you know, the point I found over-the-top was your “unfiltered opinion.” It is possible to be both honest AND tactful. That is the point I was trying to make (about your review). One doesn’t have to gush insincerely. That wouldn’t solve anything, or be of any use. I know, too, it isn’t necessarily your place to point out every spot that needs work/adjustment to all those who approach you for your reviews. However, whenever you can offer that (especially privately, BEFORE you post your review), it would be most helpful, I am sure. As for myself, I find it helpful to take a step back to reexamine an issue — from as many points of view as possible — before being so very critical. That’s just my way.
        Again, I appreciate you posting my original text in its entirety. It is not so much I am a “cheerleader,” but I did believe this warranted a different point of view. I have been enjoying the game, and I’m glad others have, too. Thanks.

  8. Diana D says:

    It is June 14 2013 and I downloaded this game from Amazon.com and I am going to right them a comment. It is totally unresponsive to any keyboard arrows, the tab key, the enter key, the delete key, whatever. It is awful.

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