Dragon Fin Soup is an odd little title for an equally odd game. For starters, the world is on the back of Asura, a giant turtle floating through space not unlike the World Turtle which while the concept appears in a few different mythologies it is most commonly associated with Hinduism. Beyond that the source material is more familiar, assuming my ethnocentric guess is correct that the majority of the four people who regularly read my reviews grew up in the Western hemisphere, is Little Red Riding Hood. A few minor creative liberties have been taken with the character. Her red hooded cape is present, and the Big Bad Wolf is part of her story. In this version, her name is Robin, and she has a pet wolf named Big Bad. She also suffers from amnesia that is apparent result of severe head trauma. She also is a hard drinking, sword swinging, shotgun packing bounty hunter. This sounds a lot more exciting than the story of Little Red Riding Hood I remember, but unfortunately this game falls short of living up to its potential. This is not to say it is a without its merits, but when playing I thought that there is a better game living inside of this one that just can’t get out.
What we have here is a roguelike turn based RPG with randomly generated maps and items with an art style that looks like one of the better offerings from the SNES era, and great artwork is used to advance the plot. Nothing happens when you stand still, but if you move one space, all enemies and allies on the map also take one action. If you find yourself surrounded by a few enemies, you can stay still to calculate a strategy and not worry about being attacked, but each action you take means you will be attacked by each thing around you. This is assuming the lackluster controls allow you to turn to face the enemy you want to attack instead of aimlessly swinging at nothing, which happened more than I would have liked. As you would in 99% of RPGs, you begin the adventure in your home town. You talk to the local barkeep and he sends you off on some mission for a tutorial, or so I thought. The bulk of the game is running errands for the Jin the barkeep and other people in town. These feel like they should be side quests or ways to grind for experience or money, but in between each story mission you have to play through many of these filler quests to advance the story.
You do meet a woman at some point who has information about your past, but while the story is somewhat interesting it is hard to stay focused on it when you go through stretches of recycled busy work. Even the dialog set up for multiple quests is verbatim. Some of these quests are interesting, like trying to travel to a haunted mansion to rescue some missing kids or dealing with some werewolf activity in a forest. Other quests are about as mundane as the stuff we have to do in real life that we would rather not think about while playing video games, like helping this particular scientist who suffered an injury and spends his recovery time in a bar sending you out to collect dirt samples from every place in the world. Every time you speak to him after completing a quest, the same conversation happens and you go to a different area on the map to collect soil samples. These missions in particular suffer from the busy visual style of a lot of maps, there is an abundance of trees and pillars in most areas that make it difficult to see items, teleporters, and enemies.
There was a quest from a post office where I had to deliver three pieces of mail to three people. This quest I could not complete because two of the recipients are merchants and when I talked to them the only option was buy or sell. The packages could not be gotten rid of through that menu, nor could I even move them to storage. I don’t know if this is the result of a glitch or if there some other way to engage the intended recipients, but if it is the case of the latter there is no hint anywhere what that might be. The quests I hated the most was the one that consisted of catching fish, which thankfully I was able to complete that quest by purchasing fish from the market because I absolutely abhor the fishing controls. It’s basically waiting, and moving the thumbstick clockwise or counterclockwise at random intervals before the time limit is up. Sounds simple in theory, but the execution is nothing short of irritating.
This game does recognize that alcohol withdrawal can be fatal to an alcoholic, and thus bottles of booze serve as the protagonist’s health potions, but drinking in moderation is advised. There is a separate drunk meter for that, and if you rely too much on these health potions to stay alive Robin will temporarily go into a drunken rampage and just attack things at random, and often dies due to not having a good combat strategy. This would be more entertaining if the text box that says you are on a drunken rampage wasn’t obscuring the screen for the first half of the rampage. As you progress through the story you get more pets in addition to Big Bad, but as you progress these pets become more and more useless. The main problem is your pets are dumb. I love the idea of having them but they enjoy running off on their own and trying to attack six powerful monsters at once so they only really benefit you up until your first enemy encounter. Knocked out pets take up inventory space, and you can revive them by paying the vet, but you have to return to do that and if you leave a quest area without completing it you forfeit. The less obvious way to revive a pet is to offer them to a statue of a god, but there is no real hint in the game that it works that way.
Looking at the game’s achievement list they have one for dying 100 times, which I am surprised I have not earned. I died a lot in this game. I advise you save frequently. The autosave function only kicks in when entering an area, and having a dungeon floor 98% cleared and having to start over at the check point can be annoying. Story mode does have a hardcore option which means permadeath, and I cannot recommend not playing that mode enough. There is a survival mode, which seems like you just try to run through the game without dying, and there is Endless Labyrinth mode, which a big randomly generated maze where I don’t know if it ever ends. There is an achievement for beating survival mode, for Endless Labyrinth there is just one for uncovering 111,111 tiles, which is a lot more tiles than I ever uncovered. The game developers boast that there are 60 hours of content between the three modes. I can see that statement very likely to be true at the expense of quantity over quality. The story telling, when you get to it, is actually well done with some amazing looking still images in the cutscenes. I wish the main story could be followed separately from the other errand girl missions, and those who wanted to could play them to grind or as side quests. I have not finished story mode, but have played 19 hours roughly and feel like 4 or 5 of those held my interest. There are some good ideas here and a great soundtrack, but the end result is somewhat tedious, which disappoints since what I saw of this game at PAX made me look forward to playing this one. A patch could address some UI and control issues, which I hope is released because there is a lot of potential here. I will say that even though this game falls short of something I would put on a must play list, there is enough interesting content here that I would want to see what else Grimm Bros. does put out in the future. Follow me on Twitter