Azure Dreams: A Monster Taming Roguelike
Azure Dreams for Game Boy, supporting a full color palette on Game Boy Color, is the game that introduced me to the roguelike genre and with all the time I’ve spent enjoying it as a player I wanted to step back and review it from a game designer’s perspective. Developed by KCE Nagoya and released by Konami to the US handheld market in 2000, the title served as an adaptation of a PlayStation title of the same name. Some features from its predecessor, such as building a relationship with one of the town’s girls, were removed and other content, like more tameable monsters, was added.
The plot revolves around the quest of the player character, Kou, to find out what happened to his father who never returned from the nearby Monster Tower one night. Set in the town of Monsbaiya the player will raise monster familiars to help him climb the tower himself. The story conveys the player’s objective adequately and does not interrupt the gameplay very often. It is relatively simple so players looking for a more in-depth narrative may not be satisfied.
Treasure hunters come from afar seeking the tower's riches.
The sprites in-game all look very well crafted especially the in-battle and status sprites for each monster. When you talk to NPCs some will have close up character portraits that are animated and very detailed. On the other hand, some floors of the Monster Tower have sprite colors that can blend with monster sprites on occasion, which can be a little inconvenient, but Kou’s sprite is always recognizable even in a very visually busy screen.
An example of the more detailed battle sprites.
The quality of the music and sound effects in the game is fantastic and there is a surprising variety with unique tracks for each shop, every set of 10 floors in the Monster Tower, and the town itself. However, most of the time you will be listening to a loop of the same track for whatever set of 10 floors you’re in at the Monster Tower. It doesn’t detract from the gameplay but can feel too repetitive if you do not enjoy that particular track.
The majority of the game is spent in the Monster Tower, which plays as a graphical roguelike. For every action you take every monster on the floor also performs an action, usually movement or attacking. You can issue specific commands to the monsters in your possession via menus or leave them to their own devices after selecting one of 5 preset AI tendencies. Navigating the menus themselves can feel a bit convoluted at first as it is not particularly intuitive. Fortunately, combat rarely requires the use of them.
Each floor is randomly generated and the monsters, items, and traps you encounter will be different on every attempt at climbing the tower (with the exception of boss floors). If Kou dies you lose every item you were carrying, with the exception of familiars, so leaving the tower to store items is something to consider with the risk increasing the higher you climb.
Beginning to explore the tower.
Your monsters will end up doing the bulk of the fighting as your Kou’s level resets every time you enter the tower. You can collect and upgrade equipment for Kou but your monsters will outscale him quickly. A simple rock-paper-scissors element system is present for the monsters’ combat and functions as follows:
There is also a dark element which is not weak to any of the other elements. The tower has seasons for each of the three main elements which influence how likely you are to encounter enemies of a certain element. These seasons can only be changed by the use of an item. A monster’s sprite, barring a few exceptions, will be colored in correlation with its elemental attribute making it easy to recognize its strengths and weaknesses. Certain items can give Kou an elemental attribute on his attack.
The arguably rarest item in the game, the Ova Seed, turns any monster you throw it at into an egg you can hatch.
Acquiring new monsters is largely dependent on luck as you need to find monster eggs in the tower to hatch into loyal familiars. Finding eggs is no problem as they usually spawn in abundance but finding one for the specific monster you want may take a while. Having an excess of monsters is no problem however, as you can always sell any extra eggs or familiars to the monster shop in town. The shop also sells a preset selection of eggs that improves as you progress. The arguably rarest item in the game, the Ova Seed, turns any monster you throw it at (excluding bosses) into an egg you can hatch. At a later point in the game you gain the ability to fuse monsters with each other to transfer skills and abilities, change from one element to another, and in some cases even create a new species of monster. Leveling monsters will cause them to learn new active skills and passive abilities. Certain species will evolve to a stronger form in a vein similar to Pokemon.
Climbing the Monster Tower’s 30 floors from the beginning every attempt may become a bit repetitive for players not fond of roguelikes, but it is short enough that someone looking for a monster raising RPG is unlikely to be overwhelmed by monotony. Combat is fast paced and floors can be cleared very quickly after a few excursions. Completing the main tower unlocks a 100 floor basement featuring much stronger monsters. Conveniently these floors allow the player to warp to any basement level that has been reached previously. One thing to note is that while the floors are randomly generated, the same map layouts will be seen often. Despite this somewhat repetitive staple of roguelikes Azure Dreams delivers a sizable amount of content for a cartridge compatible with the original Game Boy hardware.
Multiplayer is a simple affair that allows you to trade monsters with another copy of the game via link cable.
Randomly generated floors add some replay value but most comes from collecting all of the different monsters to fill your bestiary. There are also some sidequests that have to do with beautifying the town. All in all a relatively large number of things to do after completing the main story for a Game Boy title.
Spend all your hard earned cash to pretend you don't live in a desert.
I believe Azure Dreams is a very impressive Game Boy title, although without the veil of nostalgia I can see it has many flaws telling of its age. Nevertheless it will always be the title I think of first when it comes to roguelikes and I would suggest Azure Dreams to anyone who is a fan of the genre. Fans of monster raising RPGs may also enjoy the monster-centric mechanics present.
Don't worry, he's talking about the magic collar for familiars.