Dungeon Girl’s screenshots might make you assume that the game is yet another ‘match three’ puzzler. But doujin circle Inu to Neko’s recent release has little in common with titles like Bejeweled or Candy Crush. Instead, the title is an astoundingly intricate blend of visual novel, role-playing experience, and resource management game. Despite its modest appearance, Dungeon Girl has a lot of interconnected parts, and figuring out how they all fit together might just hold attention spans for a prolonged length of time.
Set in the same context as Inu to Neko’s previous titles, the game’s introductory conversion reintroduces us to Monica, a Royal Explorer, as well as Shio, a migrant who is enamored with excavation. And while Shio wants to go digging through beneath the Light Blue Tower, her status as an outsider prohibits her from confronting the dangers of newly-discovered dungeons directly. Instead, Monica and her assistants- bento-making little sister Nono, the industrious Phil, and Shio all head down together. The plan involves finding some craftable materials, making a bit of coin, and ultimately assisting the Kingdom with their archaeological ambitions.
Selecting the Search option from the main menu, sends the party exploring levels, which are symbolized by a six-by-six grid of a variety of tiles. Using the mouse, you’ll click away at the different blocks, removing them from the playfield, as well erasing as any adjoining ones that are an identical match. Naturally, each tile has a basic function, as well as an advanced ability, if you’re skillful enough to clear an entire row of corresponding titles.
Click enough Search tiles and you’ll gradually reveal a staircase icon that transports you down a level. Manage to erase an entire horizontal line and you’ll dissuade the randomly-appearing monsters for a few moments. When creatures and bosses do appear, you’ll want to click on the Attack squares, with your offensive output contingent on the number of blocks that are erased. While one might steal a sliver of health away from a foe, five connected ones might instantly kill the creature. Manage to remove a row and you’ll lash out at every attacking foe. This is a big help when multiple creatures are assailing you, as hordes rapidly steal your health away.
To replenish your hit points, merely remove the pink heart blocks from the playfield. And even if your HP is maxed out, Dungeon Girl will convert them to experience points, which is a gratifying dividend. Finally, there are Work titles, which unearth gold ore that pays out money once you leave the dungeon. And if you’re able to remove a horizontal line you can restore your item points.
You can carry six items at once, which do a myriad of things like restore your mental state (letting it dwindle away can, of course, be disastrous). Initiate immediate or continual healing, attack opponents, or even bolster you attack. At the start of the game you’ll be given a basic adventuring set which proves useful, but later you can create up to five custom loadouts with specialized approaches.
While you’re given basic items, the ones that are most helpful as you journey downward will need to be crafted. Here, Dungeon Girl borrows from the simplicity of the Atelier franchise, permitting players to combine materials, potentially producing something with a synergistic quality. Pleasingly, you don’t have to squander your items when mixing things together, with the game forecasting the outcome before two items are fused. The only issue here is that sometimes the game abbreviates words too much, making phrases like “W to A conversion” seem a bit cryptic. (This means that Work panels will be changed into Attack ones, a swap that can come in handy).
While the first few floors of Dungeon Girl are relaxed and tolerate an absence of direction, soon you’ll be discovering how the game’s different mechanics all fit together. Steadily, things advance, with monsters growing more resilient, and requiring a greater number of hits to defeat. In the case of bosses, they hit with exponentially stronger attacks, draining the health pool from careless players. But what makes Dungeon Girl special is there’s a method to deal with almost every obstacle. Discovering what works is part of the fun.
Soon you’ll be gaining new support characters and using acquired Friendship Points to unlock perks and dividends from everyone’s own tech-grid. Some of these include story parts which advances the game’s dialog in an interesting manner, gradually advancing narrative between the explorational sections. But mostly, you’ll be acquiring things that help offset the dungeon’s mounting difficulty as you dig deeper. Depending on your approach, there’s a variable degree of grinding to help bolster your stats, but because Dungeon Girl’s excavation is so fast, variable, and fun, you likely won’t find the responsibility.
Dungeon Girl doesn’t have an extensive selection of music tracks, so you’ll hear repetition as you dig deeper. But on the upside the music is exceedingly melodic and rather restful, making for a gratifying aural accompaniment. Visually, the game is modest, with a minimal amount of animation. But the design decision means that the title will run on ever low-end laptops without issue. While many might want to play the game in fullscreen, I found Dungeon Girl to operate flawlessly in windowed mode. Since the game needed scant CPU or GPU resources you ran let in run in the background, alt-tabbing when you want to jump right back into Monica and friends adventure.
Sure, Dungeon Girl looks derivative, resembling a horde of match-three puzzlers. However, gameplay is quite divergent, tasking players with an engaging amount of resource management. Outstandingly, it’s also quite accessible, and the simplicity of its early hours gradually gives way to mechanics that require a bit of strategy. Those with a sense of curiosity like Shio’s, should considering plunging headfirst into Dungeon Girl.
Dungeon Girl was played on PC with review provided by the publisher.