Kairosoft makes games to a formula, but I never cease to be amazed at how much versatility they get out of it. Their unique spin on casual management sims has put us in charge of game developers, soccer teams, restaurants, cities, racing teams, hot springs inns, and much much more. And somehow, it works.
Dungeon Village stays true to the trend, pitting you as the almighty overlord of an RPG town. That’s right — the people who visit your town are in a role-playing game. You need to provide quests, shops and accommodation to help them out and encourage them to stay. It’s addictive, fun and boring, all at the same time.
If You Build It, They Will Come
Adventurers come and go, stopping by your town on the way to fight monsters or explore dungeons. By building more and better services for them, you raise their satisfaction. The idea is that if they’re highly satisfied, they’ll decide to settle in your town.
You want this to happen, because adventurers pay you more money when they live in the town than when they’re just passing through. You need money to buy more shops, houses, trees, and equipment. And all of these are essential to attract more adventurers. It’s a simple and extremely addictive feedback loop, which makes it difficult to put the game down.
The building mechanics are similar to any casual city-building sim. Select Build from the menu, pick a building, rotate and position it, then tap to place. Adventurers will start to use it once the brief building animation completes. You can also build roads, remove what you’ve already built, and plant trees. Moving a building later on comes at a cost, and there’s no refund for bulldozing, so make sure you’re happy with the placement.
You can buy items and equipment from certain shops — weapon, armor, accessories — but most just sit there making money. When a shop has been visited enough times by adventurers, it levels up, earning you more money. Trees, roads, and other shops can all increase the value of a service, enabling the shop to charge more money. The economics are pretty basic and intuitive, and the on-screen feedback is such that you can succeed without paying any attention whatsoever.
You can gift items and equipment to adventurers, improving their attributes — Health, Strength, Dexterity, and so on — as well as their Satisfaction and Work. These gifts also help them fight stronger monsters, which results in them getting more experience and better loot. They give any loot they find to you, although it’s not clear why (surely any sensible RPG adventurer would sell it or equip it, rather than let some big-wig town owner reap the profits).
Quest for More Stuff
There’s always at least one new Quest available. It’s up to you to recruit adventurers for a quest, offering them a set amount of money relative to its difficulty. If you’re worried that not enough occupants take up the call to adventure, you can always hire others to join in. Once accepted, the questing warriors head out into the area outside your town — where there’s either a monster waiting or a landmark dungeon to enter. You can admire their progress at the bottom of the screen, where a bar or timeline shows up.
Quests are almost completely hands-off, leaving you to focus on town affairs. Although you get to at least feel involved when someone is knocked unconscious and a quick double-tap allows you to give them a healing item. When they’re done, they gain experience and come back triumphant. You feel like you’ve achieved something, but they did the work. It’s a strange buzz, but I found that little shot of adrenaline kicked in pretty consistently at the end of a quest.
Adventurers also head out to fight outside of quests, and you can watch these battles play out. Both quests and what would generally be called grinding (but here is not a grind at all — for you, at least) also earn Town Points, which you need to unlock new buildings and run events. Events include a Cake Contest, Weight Lifting, Circus Party, and many other quirky things that boost either the town’s popularity or your adventurers’ attributes.
The ultimate goal — if indeed one exists — is to turn your tiny village into a huge mecca city for the most ambitious adventurers. You want to earn lots of money, attract the best merchants, warriors, mages and all the other adventurer classes, and boost your rating to five stars. Every choice and action goes toward increasing the rating, which hinges on Popularity, Income, Events held, and one other condition that is different for each level.
As with every other Kairosoft game (that I know of — I haven’t played them all), you eventually reach a point where it’s hard to justify going any further. Why have you been playing? Why are you still playing? What the hell is the purpose here? The minutiae of managing the village and its revolving door of RPG-ers keeps you busy; it convinces you that you’re having fun. And you probably are, but Dungeon Village is pure compulsive gaming.
Always Wanting More
You play just a little longer over and over, then — bam! — you stop. You’re done; onto the next one — perhaps it’ll be about space or farming or being a drug lord. The brilliance of Kairosoft’s games rests in the fact that they seem brilliant right up until the moment that they don’t. There’s seldom any gradual decline in interest, but rather a sudden and unexpected stop.
Dungeon Village is fantastic. It’s addictive, compulsive, compelling, fun, cute, deep, entertaining, and funny. And yet it’s also shallow, boring, stupid, manipulative, and cynical. I’m mystified as to how Kairosoft so consistently stays on the right side of that line to make games people love. Perhaps it’s the whimsical presentation, or clever choice of subject matter, or maybe they just stumbled onto the perfect chemical formula for quick-fix mobile gaming.