Dandy Dungeon – Legend of Brave Yamada – Review

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Onion Games has already made a pretty good spot for themselves with making unusual but enjoyable indie games. Last year, Black Bird was on my underdog list, surprising and delighting me with its atmospheric gameplay, killer soundtrack  and shockingly dark storyline. Naturally, when I realized that the team was releasing another game on the Nintendo Switch, I had to take a look, even if it was previously a mobile game. Brave Yamada-Kun is a title that I saw on an iPhone many years ago at Bit Summit back when I lived in Japan, and the quirky, engaging art style paired well with the simple, but addictive gameplay. Now, years later, Yamada has made his way to the West on the Nintendo Switch, in a beefed up, complete package called Dandy Dungeon: Legend of Brave Yamada.

Yamada-Kun is a 36 year old game designer who is a freewheeling bachelor and mostly enjoys his life. To be honest, he’s not thrilled at the way his job is going at Empire Games, and, after one night of heavy drinking, decides to take a day off and design his own game instead. By coincidence, a lovely young girl moves in next door, Yamada-Kun becomes smitten, and he adds her into the game as a princess for him to save. The logic, clearly, is that, should he rescue her enough times in the game to prove his worth, he can muster up real affection and guts in the real world. Sadly, it turns out that arbitrarily taking days off from your job to stay home and make a game that you aren’t sharing with your company is a bad idea. The Chairman Hidemaru Ayanokoji arrives at your home, fires you, and then implants some rogue code into your game so that your former company now owns it. But Yamada-Kun will not give up! Aided by his desires for Maria, the encouragement of his protege Yasu, and the occasional hungry neighbor barging in, Yamada-Kun will find a way to turn things around, create the game he always dreamed of, and hopefully win the heart of the lovely and sweet potato obsessed Maria!

Coming from a mobile game background, there’s a bit about the architecture of Dandy Dungeon that feels strange at first, but will eventually warm up and become more clear. Your main menu is inside Yamada-Kun’s 1K apartment, where he spends a majority of his time sitting around in his underwear. You’ll see an option to “Leave Apartment,” but that just brings you back to the title screen. Don’t be fooled: this apartment is Yamada’s entire life now, and you aren’t going to rest until you get what you need. As you gain experience, Yamada-Kun will be struck by flashes of inspiration on how to improve his game, which adds more and more details and quests for you to perform. Starting out simple, you begin to add traps, stronger enemies, and brand new areas to explore, from the simple dungeons to the wicked forests and even Tokugawa-Era castles. This Nintendo Switch port adds an important Schedule menu that shows you the road map of how things are progressing in terms of your game development so that you know you aren’t just spinning your tires.

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The core gameplay of Dandy Dungeon: Legend of Brave Yamada is a semi-roguelike dungeon crawl that’s done by pathway creation. Since Yamada-Kun is dumping all his energy and limited savings into making this game, he wants to ensure every bit of it is being utilized and appreciated. Therefore, the best way to finish each “stage” is to make sure that you step on every single tile available of the room. This makes for a puzzle aspect wherein you need to find the pathway that gets you from the start to the goal, hit every floor panel, and not double back (because stepped on tiles disappear). You have a limited time to make your path once you start moving (either by dragging a finger on the screen or using directional buttons) and you will actually suffer damage penalties if you decide to lollygag too long. Of course, as you move, you’ll run into enemies that you have to defeat, traps that you either disarm (if you have the right item) or just take the afflictions, and pick up treasure that is needed to get your character even stronger. You start each dungeon at level 1, and can quickly level up depending on how many enemies you defeat. Remember: the real Yamada-Kun and game Yamada-Kun are two different people, so don’t get discouraged when you see you’re at level one.

The gameplay works surprisingly well on the Switch, giving players a mixture of strategic planning and some real-time combat with the added bonus of attempting to beat the clock and get a strong score each and every dungeon. You’ll have active items that you can trigger at any point that can change the tide of the floor, from potions to recharge health to scrolls of magic that can damage all enemies. Items need several turns to recharge after use, and they will break after a few times, so don’t think that you can just power through with the Thunder scroll you get early on. Moreover, planning out the path and waiting for the right opportunity to use your items can be the difference between failure and success. The dungeons may have heal panels and leveling up will recharge all your HP, but when do you need to take matters into your own hands? That’s one of the greater challenges of Yamada-Kun.

Additionally, all the loot you get from the different dungeons adds to the replay value of Dandy Dungeon. You won’t find ALL the potential items that a dungeon will drop the first time through, which adds incentive to keep grinding and going back to get better drops and hopefully get the coveted Gold Trophy for the dungeon overall. Once you’ve assigned a path, you’re able to hold down the X button to fast forward, so if you’re feeling cocky that you’re strong enough for the battle, you don’t even need to sit around long. The minor items that you pick up can be new equipment and upgrade materials, plus plenty of gold to afford the upgrades (and to hire your hungry neighbor to do some treasure hunting of his own). You have a limited number of item slots, so Yamada-Kun needs to make sure he uses what he has before he loses it, inspiring people to not just horde items relentlessly and, instead, sell or upgrade their EQ constantly. Plus, there are a number of “outfit bonuses” that come from collecting and equipping all the pieces in a look, though you won’t know what they are until you find them. Yamada-Kun looks especially dashing in his schoolboy uniform, and the added HP might insulate his heart from sadness should Maria reject him.

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I genuinely loved the storytelling aspect of Dandy Dungeon, and found a lot of humor interjected between the dungeons. Yamada-Kun meets a huge cavalcade of unique characters who just seem to show up at his door, and Yamada-Kun greets them with grace and warmth, if not pants. Far too many people want to “grace” Yamada-Kun with violence and beatings, which I don’t think makes you healthy nor a man, but hey, different strokes. The story mixes in well with the graphical design, which I would dub “modern pixel prestige.” We finally understand that you can do pixel art and nod to the old generation without needing to hamstring ourselves and make games look purposely chunky or clunky. Though the influence from Dragon Quest is strong with Yamada-Kun, everything from the flaming sword to the Golden Slime (if you’re lucky enough to find one) really pops on screen and gives a fun and relaxed feel to it.

Lastly, the audio. You need to play this game with headphones or speakers on. Yes, everything is chip tuned, and I love chip tune, but that’s not the point. The songs really capture so much of what the 8bit RPG era had to offer in terms of dynamic and dramatic framework, but that’s also not the point. The old school voice over work touched up with a digital filter is to die for in the best way. When you have certain sound effects or songs, you can hear Yamada-Kun hum/sing over the tune, giving this amazing lift to the game that reminds you someone is making it at their home. It’s so quaint but wholesome, making it feel more like you’re playing HIS game, not just any game. The voices of Yasu and Maria are minor blips and bleeps in comparison, but still distinct enough to enjoy. The tiny voice that yells “Amazing!” when you get 100% on a level makes me life. And the Demon Ad. Shortly after Chairman comes and screws up your game, there’s a Demon Ad portion added to the menu where it advertises and taunts you to come and fight the Chairman. It’s a fake song, sung in tune to “London Bridges,” and I’ve listened to it about eight times. It’s so genuinely funny, I love it to death, and you need to see it for yourself.

There’s probably something I’m forgetting. Your mother sends you dungeon maps from home. You need onigiri to revive if you die in a dungeon and they’re the rarest things to find in the game. You can eventually trade Happy Clovers for a Godzilla outfit. Dandy Dungeon: Legend of Brave Yamada has a ton of material packed into it, and it comes from years of honing it and perfecting it from a mobile game onto a console. While there might not be as much “RPG” as some would want, it’s a darling and endearing game that kept me coming back again and again to grind out some more levels and, since the game is new, to see myself on the high score global rankings. Fans of the mobile version will want to pick up this console version, whereas anyone who identifies with being a 36 year old video game designer who’s tired of people telling him or her what to do might also find some joy as well.  And, for fans of love, you’ll want to cheer Yamada-Kun on to the very end, because, hey, 36 year old game developers need love too.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Dandy Dungeon - Legend of Brave Yamada - Review
  • Gameplay - 8/10
  • Graphics - 8/10
  • Sound - 8/10
  • Replay Value - 8/10
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Onion Games continues to delight with their offbeat, grindy but enjoyable RPG, which helps everyone support their inner 36 year old Japanese game dev.