The title screen, as usual, is largely the same -- the US version simply omits the line of Japanese text from this display:
The opening animation emphasizes the various character classes that can make up the player's party, introducing each in dramatic fashion as they work together to fight off some attackers, and take time to strike a pose for the camera. There are eight character types available in this CD-based sequel, an upgrade compared to the HuCard original. Each class is represented by an individual with a given name, for example, Liot the Bard:
These names are Americanized in the TurboDuo release, so that Liot becomes Riot, Eflaim the Wizard adopts the new moniker Efrem, Alden the Hunter is now Ardin, and Sepia the Thief is shortened to Sepi. Sorn the Cleric and Alex the Fighter retain their original names, and Dooze the Dwarf is Americanized to Dorz. The oddest renaming is that Feena the Elf becomes Fina in the American version.
After we start the game proper, there's a second opening animation, beginning with a black-and-white flashback to the first game's finale (SPOILERS!):
Clearly, the defeat of the evil NATAS (see what they did there?) was only a temporary thing, as now the land is under demonic attack once again:
There's a new Big Bad on the scene, an elfin sorceror who invades the king's castle to seize power directly:
And a Princess is kidnapped by a minotaur -- I presume the gentleman pictured above has something to do with this turn of events:
And then we select a character class, wait for up to four additional friends who are joining us in co-op multiplayer via the TurboTap to do the same, and we're off.
What's most surprising about Dungeon Explorer II is how very little it varies from the original formula; it looks like Hudson Soft simply dug out the old code and assets, built some new maps and added a little CD production value. It uses the same muted, darkish color palette, and follows the same RPG-lite format -- we wander around town and talk to various people to learn about bosses lurking in nearby dungeons:
Even the town interiors look much the same as they did in the original game, and the early dungeons create a sense of deja vu as well:
Fortunately, there has been considerable design improvement in the dungeon maps -- there are more environmental hazards, like the lava in this early level, requiring players to manuever more carefully, especially in a crowded multiplayer scenario. Diagonal areas requiring the player to attack at an angle create a little more challenge, forcing us to dodge and parry the creatures emerging from the monster generators before we can get a clear shot at the source:
And the bosses are more varied and imaginative -- the first dungeon features this pair of leaping wolflike creatures, along with a nasty little sphere that doesn't attack aggressively but does quite a bit of damage if we aren't keeping track of its whereabouts:
The CD-Audio music sounds very nice quality-wise, but some of the arrangements are surprisingly cheesy. The castle theme in particular sounds like a late-1970s American TV series, with soaring strings and safely inoffensive percussion, and the CD remix of the first game's outdoor exploration theme suggests that Tiffany is going to break in with a vocal part at any moment. But the dungeon theme is pretty good -- the squealing electric guitars still sound dated, but at least it fits the theme of the game and it stays listenable in the face of repetition.
Dungeon Explorer II feels more like a remake of the original than a true sequel -- the gameplay introduces almost nothing new, but the CD format does allow for a lot more variety. If the original had never come out, this would still be a competent little Gauntlet-style game, and fans of the first one will likely enjoy this one. It just feels more like a substantial expansion pack than a new game.
The American version is fairly hard to get hold of, but the Japanese edition turns up fairly regularly. You may be able to find it for import purchase here, though this one is popular enough that it's actually easier to find at Amazon: