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Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics
Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Kuju
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1; 1 - 4
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/ RPG/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics is a pretty enough game, despite the small screen format of the PSP. While the number of character images is smaller than I expected, the fact that each character model has eleven heads to choose from allows for the ability to more easily distinguish between characters. This is useful, as you will personally be controlling up to six.

The cut scenes are done in a sort-of cartoon style, with the characters involved being represented by 2D static character images over a 2D background that is primarily animated by panning and zooming. The surprising thing about this is that it seems to work fine. The 2D graphics are well-drawn and the dialogue is actually spoken, so the overall effect is usually not so distracting as to get in the way of the story it's trying to advance. The one exception I would have to point out is when a king was talking to my main character and then the queen came out to say something. I don't know exactly what it was about this particular cut-scene, but that moment felt more like I was watching an old (as in Renaissance) puppet show, which, I suppose, is only fitting.

The music in Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics is, quite simply, excellent. I could leave my PSP on the main screen in Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics, plug my PSP into my New Beetle's sound system and just listen to the main theme as I drive around. It's a relaxing vocal and instrumental piece that has a Renaissance flair to it. In fact, I might have to listen to it on the way to the Texas Renaissance Faire this October...

The only part of the sound effects in Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics that I found to be a little distracting is the grunting sound when a character prepares to use a bow. This grunt sounds more like they're being hurt than anything else and I keep thinking that someone has attacked them, when they're actually about to attack someone else.

In general, however, the overall presentation is pretty much perfect. The graphics are quite suitable for the game, as are the sound effects, and the musical scores have that little something extra.

I have to say I was both excited and wary of Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics when I first heard of it. Having played a little and DM'd a lot when I was younger, the Dungeons & Dragons part of the name caught my attention. However, the Tactics part sounded very much like Final Fantasy: Tactics, which I've never played. So I have to say, I really didn't know exactly what to expect.

So what is Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics all about? Well, it provides a story-based campaign to get you off and adventuring, with adventures to be found in different locations that you travel to. In the beginning, you are relegated to the one location, but with each completed adventure, a couple of locations will open up to you. This makes the game less linear feeling as it progresses.

Most of the familiar hallmarks of Dungeons & Dragons are here, such as races, classes, stores in which to buy items, skills and feats and the standard D&D attributes are all here. Anyone who has played D&D before will be familiar with the actions available to the different characters and the leveling up of characters.

The only thing you might miss would be multi-classed characters (training one character in two classes, such as a Fighter/Wizard), but this makes sense, since, unlike in D&D, where you typically control a single character, Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics puts you in command of a party of up to six characters, with one being your personal character. It's kind of nice to have an entire party at your disposal, but it means that you'll need to select your party members wisely - and keep them alive during fights. It's fun to think of all of the party members as simply being "accessories" or "tools" for your main character, until you end up getting them killed, because once they're dead, they no longer can help your main character. Then things tend to get rough. I find that if I lose more than one character, I'm typically going to lose the entire fight. Since a single fight can last an hour, I find myself being extra careful with all of my characters, especially ancillary characters with fewer hit points.

Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics also features a multiplayer mode that allows you to play with up to 3 other friends, making it much more like playing Dungeons & Dragons. This multiplayer mode only supports Ad-Hoc network play, however. There are two types of multiplayer games: Dungeon Bash, a cooperative, typical Dungeons & Dragons sort of gameplay, and Deathmatch Battle, a mode that pits player against player. Deathmatch Battle actually offers three distinct games: Last Man Standing, Dragon Kill, where landing the killing blow wins you the game, and Gladiator, an arena-style game with monsters that pits one team against another.

I've played Dungeons & Dragons before and I've played Dungeons & Dragons computer games, but I've never played a Dungeons & Dragons game that made me responsible for the actions of an entire party. While this gives you the ability to make everything just how you want it, you have to be more knowledgeable about all of the characters in your party than just knowing what's best for your main character. I found that this management aspect provided a good challenge. It's important to not only know how each character works, but how each of your characters can best compliment the performance of the others.

Playing Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics is easy, especially if you're familiar with Dungeons & Dragons already. Keeping you characters alive, however, can be a daunting task. I found that certain key points help a lot, however:

  • Clear your Calendar - Well, at least for a couple of hours. Adventures can last in excess of an hour, so you will want to put aside some time to play.
  • Watch your Health - Potions of Cure Light Wounds and Cure Moderate Wounds can be bought in temples. Items like these come in handy when a monster gets a couple of lucky shots on you. Don't let your health fall below 0, or that character becomes unconscious... If they reach -10, they die.
  • Know when to Fold 'em - Retreat is not just for cowards. Sometimes you need some extra time to take some healing potions or to ready a different weapon. However, if you are in an enemy's attack range and you move away from them, they get an "attack of opportunity." If you're already low on hit points, this can easily do you in. If you have multiple characters attacking the same enemy, it might be less risky to take your healing potions right there and hope the enemy attacks someone else.
  • Watch your Weight - Well, not you're weight, but the weight of the things you're carrying. If you are encumbered by a moderate or heavy load, your rate of movement will be diminished.
  • Remember to Rest - If you're in a dungeon (or otherwise on an adventure), and the immediate area is free from things that go bump in the night, resting can be just the thing to get you ready for more action without wasting precious healing potions. Successfully resting your party will increase your characters' hit points (but not higher than their max values) and will "reset" your characters spells and psionics, so they're ready to use again.
  • Level Up Manually - You can choose to level your characters manually or automatically. However, it appears that if you let them be leveled automatically, the selection of skills, feats, etc. is completely randomized. That is simply scary. Even if you make a bad choice here and there, you're more likely to do better if you manually level your characters. Besides, you really should be very familiar with your characters' new features, so you can use them better.
  • Save Often (BUT NOT DURING AN ADVENTURE) - This is a tip in a lot of games, and although I'm saying this, I never save inside individual adventures - I just use the hibernate feature to put my PSP to sleep until I want to pick it back up. However, there is a lot of buying, equipping, trading, etc. that can go on when playing, and I find it's best to save my game (and all the prep work) before I go into a mission, so I don't have to redo that. If you're not sure about something, you can save an additional slot with your most recent progress and then select which one to continue later. An additional warning, however, is that I saved a game while inside of adventure once and it wouldn't load. Unfortunately, I saved this "in-game" save over my most recent "map" save, losing hours of progress. So, I would suggest ALWAYS making a new saved game file if you're trying to save your progress during an adventure. You've been warned.
Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics is not too hard to play, it just can be frustrating sometimes. I will say that I think Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics can actually help teach a Dungeons & Dragons player what works and doesn't work with different types of parties. I'm looking forward to doing some pencil & paper Dungeons & Dragons playing and putting some of my new tricks to work.

Game Mechanics:
The cut scenes in Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics are done very much in a "puppet theater" sort of way, but rarely are very distracting. The storyline in the game seems at times to be a wee bit soap opera-esque or fetch-questish, with a lot of drama and "I don't know that, but such-and-such might." However, the adventures seem to truly be the point of the game, so the story isn't all that important.

While the game is called Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics, you ideally need to work beyond just tactics and begin developing strategies that use different tactics to make them successful. I found that I was developing opening strategies, follow-through strategies and endgame strategies at the encounter level. This works, so long as you can manage to rest after the encounter. This is less likely to work in a real game of Dungeons & Dragons, due to player impatience and the general malevolence of your average Dungeon Master, but, dang it, it just might be worth a shot!

The rules are straight out of Dungeons & Dragons, and seem to be followed fairly well. I'm not sure what version, exactly, but my guess would be 3.5, as it's the most recent one that is actually on shelves at this time.

Dungeons & Dragons: Tactics provides a faithful Dungeons & Dragons experience that fits in your pocket and lets you play adventures with up to six characters at your command. If you like tactical and strategy games and you're a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, I would suggest picking this one up. You might actually learn a few new tricks that you can bring back to your Dungeons & Dragons gaming sessions.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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