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by Kurt Kalata - January 13, 2009

Hudson's Dungeon Explorer remains one of the hallmarks of the TurboGrafx-16 library. Compared to other action RPGs like The Legend of Zelda, Ys, or Hudson's own Neutopia, Dungeon Explorer is fairly short and straightforward. It actually borrows liberally from Atari's classic arcade game Gauntlet, concentrating more on multiplayer action than exploration or puzzle solving. Multiplayer RPGs were rare in the 16-bit days - there were the SNES Seiken Densetsu (Secret of Mana) games for the Super Famicom, but that was about it - making Dungeon Explorer particularly unique.

In addition to two TurboGrafx-16 entries, there's a Super Famicom pseudo-sequel and a Sega CD title that's completely different from the rest. Hudson also resurrected the IP in 2008 for the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, although they're pretty far removed from their 16-bit brethren.


Dungeon Explorer (ダンジョンエクスプローラー) - TurboGrafx-16, Wii Virtual Console, PSN (1989)

American TurboGrafx-16 Cover

Japanese PC Engine Cover

Before you begin your quest to save the kingdom of Oddesia, you need to choose your player. There are several character classes - Fighter, Thief, Warlock, Witch, Bard, Bishop, Elf and Knome - all of whom have projectile attacks. You can bring up to five players at once into combat, although if you're playing on a real TurboGrafx-16, you need a Turbotap, since the base system only has one controller port. This is obviously much less of a problem on the Wii Virtual Console version. The dungeons are also filled with monster generators, with create new enemies every few seconds and must be destroyed as quickly as possible. The items can also be destroyed if you shoot at them.

That's about where the Gauntlet comparisons end, because from there, it feels more like a typical Japanese action-RPG. Instead of simply crawling through one huge dungeon, there are several smaller dungeons throughout the game, usually taking the form of caves, castles or underground tunnels. You'll usually need to visit towns or explore the fields on the surface before finding the entrance to the next dungeon. Each of them also has a boss fight at the end. In addition to your standard projectile attacks, there are two kinds of magic spells, each governed by white and dark potions. The types of attacks are determined by your character class. The dungeons are usually fairly straightforward, only slightly taxing the brain with some simple rock pushing "puzzles". However, there are plenty of areas where invisible winds will push the player in a certain direction, making movement difficult.

Your character has statistics in four attributes, depending on your character class - Agility, Attack, Intelligence, and Potion. The only way to gain levels is by killing bosses, so there's no need to grind experience points, although defeated enemies usually yield worthwhile items. Whenever you defeat one of these bosses, your maximum HP will increase. They'll also leave behind a jewel, which cycles through one of four colors. Each color corresponds to one of your stats, allowing you to pick which one you want to increase. This way, you can compensate for the shortcomings of your given class. By the end of the game, you'll face off against Natas, a not-so-subtle renaming of Satan.

Each player is given several lives. If you run out of lives, you're given a password that keeps track of your progress. You'll need to input it in order to continue your game, which is pretty aggravating, but at least you don't need to restart the game. You'll also come across a couple additional characters throughout your journey, who will give you special passwords that let you play as them.

The graphics are dark, murky, and not terribly attractive, while the animation is a bit on the awkward side. The chiptune music is scratchy, like most HuCard titles, but there are still some catchy songs, particularly the foreboding (if short) main dungeon theme. So while it may not look like much, and it's a bit dry in single player mode, the multiplayer still makes the original Dungeon Explorer one of the must have HuCards for the system.

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Dungeon Explorer (TurboGrafx-16)

Dungeon Explorer (TurboGrafx-16)

Dungeon Explorer (TurboGrafx-16)


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Dungeon Explorer II (ダンジョンエクスプローラーII) - TurboGrafx-16 Super CD, Wii Virtual Console, PSN (1993)

American TurboGrafx-16 Super CD Cover

At first glance, Dungeon Explorer II looks nearly identical to its predecessor, using most of the same graphics and practically identical mechanics. Indeed, on the surface there's not much different, but what is there has been improved quite a bit. There are eight character classes at the beginning, just like the first game: Fighter, Thief, Wizard, Cleric, Bard, Hunter, Dwarf, and Elf. Each has a set name this time, although you can rename them if you want. Partway through the game, you can also upgrade them to an more powerful variation (Fighter becomes a Knight, Thief becomes a Rogue, etc.) It also expands on the hidden characters from the first game, by offering an additional seven characters to find and play as, bringing the total roster to sixteen. These include a Witch, Monk, Princess, Robot (!!), Engineer, and Beast. It's also a subtle improvement, but the character movement animation is also a bit smoother.

Dungeon Explorer II

The game is a bit less linear than its predecessor, offering several subquests for additional items and experience, and features a much longer game in general. There are a few new items to be found, including one that repels enemies, and another that causes your weapons to bounce off walls. The towns also include a game where you can play Blackjack with the Grim Reaper, allowing you to gain or lose lives depending on your luck. The fully narrated intro (the North American version's acting was produced by Working Designs, meaning it's much better than your average English dubbing) tells the story of the downfall of Natas, but introduces a new enemy to destroy. The cinema graphics aren't that impressive, but the anime portraits when finding a new character are welcome. The cover artwork is also provided by fantasy artist Takuhito Kusanagi. The CD soundtrack is beyond fantastic, an impressive collection of synth rock that fit perfectly aside any of Falcom's Ys games. Which makes sense, considering it's composed by Yoshio Tsuru, who provided arrangements for many Falcom albums.

Dungeon Explorer II is definitely a much better game than the original, even if, outside of the awesome music, it doesn't take huge advantage of the CD format, other than offering a slightly more involved quest. The Japanese version is easy to find, but the North American release is extremely uncommon, and is one of the more expensive releases on the system (along with Bonk III, although not quite as pricey as Dynastic Hero). It can also be found on the Wii Virtual Console.

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Dungeon Explorer II (TG-16 SCD)

Dungeon Explorer II (TG-16 SCD)

Dungeon Explorer II (TG-16 SCD)

Dungeon Explorer II (TG-16 SCD)


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Crystal Beans From Dungeon Explorer (クリスタルビーンズ From ダンジョンエクスプローラー) - Super Famicom (1995)

Japanese SFC Cover

Crystal Beans From Dungeon Explorer, is kind of a port of Dungeon Explorer II for the Super Famicom, but heavily reworked. The intro has completely changed, for starters, which consists mostly of a text scroll. Some of the character classes have changed - they include Witch, Fighter, Warrior, Bow Master, Wizard, Priest, Monk and Kage (Ninja) - but all of the sprites have been redrawn to look more cartoony. The strange thing is, outside of a slightly brighter color palette, the rest of the graphics are almost exactly the same as the TG-16 version, and it's easy to see how the styles clash. Most of the music consists of faithful renditions of the redbook music but done with the SNES sound chip, which actually sounds pretty decent, all things considering.

Crystal Beans From Dungeon Explorer

Many of the dungeons are the same, although sometimes they're out of order, or removed entirely. They're also a bit easier. The bosses are mostly all new, although there isn't any dialogue before them like Dungeon Explorer II. The continuous overworld is gone as well, replaced with a menu-based world map. You need to walk around various towns and talk to people in order to unlock the next area.

Crystal Beans From Dungeon Explorer

The action is pretty similar, with some tweaks. Many of the magic spells have changed, requiring that you use several potions at once in order to cast a screen clearing spell, a la Golden Axe. There's also a melee attack where your character twirls about. Many of the special items from Dungeon Explorer II have been removed. Multiplayer has been scaled back to three players too. Maybe this was all done as a quickie cash-in due to the popularity Secret of Mana / Seiken Densetsu 2?

Stupid name aside, Crystal Beans is actually still a pretty decent game, since the core of Dungeon Explorer II is still intact. But you also can't help but shake the feeling that you're playing a cut-down, inferior version.

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Crystal Beans From Dungeon Explorer (SFC)

Crystal Beans From Dungeon Explorer (SFC)

Crystal Beans From Dungeon Explorer (SFC)

Crystal Beans From Dungeon Explorer (SFC)

Crystal Beans From Dungeon Explorer (SFC)


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Dungeon Explorer (Sega CD)
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