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Random Old Game – Drakkhen

posted on March 14th, 2008 by chris

There are few games that can inspire a sense of true exploration – a feeling of awe at how large or detailed they are. Fewer still are the games that can bring out that feeling even after you’ve beaten them. For some reason, despite being only a so-so game in nearly every other respect, Drakkhen (of a few systems, though most notably the SNES) still holds uncounted mysteries in my mind.

Seems fair.

The most likely source of this awe is simply that the game is so abominably random. I never owned the instruction book, and the introduction only gives vagaries as to the plot (blah blah, 4 elements, 2 poles of power). Fact is, you create a party and start in the middle of the Earth area with little direction. You’re told that you have to collect 8 Tears of Power, and that you should check at the nearby castle first. Oh, the introductory information tells you a decent amount about the game’s system. What it *doesn’t* tell you, though, is what’s ironically most important.

This mysterious black dog head will attack you if you bump into a grave. Any grave. It will also pretty much kill your entire party if you blunder into it before you’re level 15 or so – better have the best equipment just in case.

Combat in general is quite random. You move your selected character around, and if you walk into enemies he or she will occasionally attack. It’s vaguely like the Gauntlets, but more painful. To be fair, if you know what you’re doing the game’s none too rough – you can get all your equipment from the various castles, and it regenerates if you move two areas away, so you can max out on the Power Armor as soon as you find it (in one of the Water castles, I think).

Dungeon crawling.

Bows are crucial for the late-game as yet another random encounter starts popping up – at night, if you look at the stars funny, they come down and start attacking you. Yes, the constellations will beat the crap out of your party – often, if you don’t have bows. If that weren’t enough, you have all sorts of bizarre and occasionally unfair random encounters, like giants climbing out of the ground or slimes that will crush any early-game party.

As if the game weren’t random enough, I distinctly remember the early-game: after you go into Hordkhen’s castle and talk to him, he sends you to the other side of the Earth area. There is a huge verboten line across the whole Earth continent for some hellish reason, and if you try to cross it you’ll get stopped by a guard. This guard manages to simultaneously be everywhere along the line at once. The solution?

Yes, the solution is to go around the line. There’s an area just perfect to slip by – not far enough into the other region that you’re in danger, but enough outside the line the soldier can’t stop you. I have played few games where the correct solutions to challenges feel so jury-rigged.

How obvious!

Even the merchants in the game are random encounters – old men who teleport in and have goods based on the area. Sometimes they just want to chat, though. I’ve never had a random encounter in any other game where some batty old wizard pops in, says one line of dialogue, then warps out.

All in all, though, despite how raw the game feels, it’s quite natural. You can save wherever you want, so it’s not especially unfair either. It’s not that the game was made to be unforgiving – it’s that the world you live in hates humans in general. Even though I’ve beaten it twice, every so often this game still calls out to me, as if there are still areas I haven’t explored, constellations I haven’t conquered, and loot hiding in the dungeon of a castle I haven’t plundered yet. Every so often I hear the soft, calming music while wandering the world map, avoiding sharks on drawbridges (oh yeah, watch out for that second castle)… ahh, great memories.

I would never recommend this game to someone who was looking for anything easy or logical, but it’s entertaining enough and has pretty good music, too. It’d score about average on a fair rating scale, but it’s enjoyable enough and not very long if you FAQ a bit instead of blindly groping about.


  1. GJ said on March 14, 2008:

    I think more video games should employ random acts of rebellion. Think of how much harder Civ would be if corn is periodically in fact evil corn (spawning— you guessed it, Children of The Corn) and automatically destroying a nearby city. Rock Band needs to have “cursed notes” where if you play them, a dinosaur eats your band and you have to start over. And wouldn’t Final Fantasy be more interesting if the plot randomly made sense?

  2. TrueTallus said on April 1, 2008:

    This game actually sounds like a riot, Chris. I’d love to try it, but I’d rather not add a SNES to my already teetering console pile. Any idea if it’s out/coming out on virtual console?

  3. chris said on April 2, 2008:

    I haven’t heard anything official, and I doubt it’s secretly at the top of the VC list.

    You could try and hunt down a copy of the DOS version. You might miss out on the cool music, but you can always find that in an SPC archive.

  4. jay said on April 2, 2008:

    Get the Amiga version already.

  5. TrueTallus said on April 2, 2008:

    Thanks for the info. I think I’ll hold off on the PC route for now (my pc knowledge is so rusty even DosBox is intimidating) and hope by some strange stroke of luck Nintendo decides to bring it out. Similarly odd release choices have already made their way to the VC, so it’s not completely without precedent.

  6. jay said on April 3, 2008:

    I fear DosBox as well. It took a lot of time and effort to get just a game or two to work. As someone who didn’t own a computer until Windows 98 was out, I just do not have what it takes to handle DOS.

    The question of emulation pops up here. If you could buy the VC game tomorrow it would clearly be a shady move to emulate today, but Nintendo doesn’t announce things before hand. There is a way to emulate it without stealing from Nintendo even being a remote possibility, though. Hint – find an Amiga emulator :)

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