*This article will be published in an upcoming book on the Super Nintendo by author Brett Weiss. If you would like to check out his website, you can do so here: http://www.brettweisswords.com/. You can also purchase his excellent books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Brett-Weiss/e/B001JS0BCO
It was December 25th, 1991. I saw a suspicious looking large box sitting beside the Christmas tree. I waited until all the other presents had been opened before making my move. My Uncle Doug, who always knew exactly what I wanted, sat on the couch behind me, a knowing grin on his face. As I slowly peeled back the wrapping paper, I noticed a mostly black box and the words SUPER NINTENDO emblazoned in red across the bottom front of the package. I was stunned, exhilarated and in disbelief. I now owned a Super Nintendo Entertainment System!
Once I got over my shock, my uncle handed me another, smaller box. “The guy at the game store told me this one is unbelievable!”, he said. I tore into it with glee and discovered a downright frightening looking image consisting of a giant, menacing dragon, a bloody altar with stone pillars around it, and a pile of bones, no doubt the remains of a menagerie of unfortunate souls. The name on the box was “Drakkhen.”
Drakkhen was my introduction to the RPG genre. Although, like most kids at the time, I started with the irresistible pack-in game, Super Mario World. But as I played I kept staring at the unopened Drakkhen box sitting next to my SNES. The allure of this strange and frightening looking game began to pull at me. So, somewhat reluctantly, I popped it into the console and was greeted by the same menacing scene that graced the front of the box, recreated beautifully in detailed pixel art. The scene was accompanied by dark, ominous music that sent a chill up my spine.
I didn’t get far in Drakkhen that first time. In fact, I became so frustrated with the absence of direction, random enemy attacks, pseudo 3D environments, and my complete and utter lack of understanding of the game, I turned it off. I didn’t return to Drakkhen for an entire year. At the age of 12, I just didn’t understand the RPG genre, and it took another, more straight-forward game by the name of Final Fantasy II to make me realize what I was missing. It enabled me to view Drakkhen in an entirely new light, and I ended up loving the game.
Drakkhen has stuck with me all these years later because it’s an incredibly atmospheric experience—every facet of the game seems like a dark mystery. Its ambiance drew me in, despite the fact that the storyline is an incomprehensible mess. But that didn’t matter, because there was a mystery around every polygonal corner. You could be walking through the open plains at night, when low and behold a constellation comes to life and annihilates your entire party. See a graveyard on the horizon? Be careful…bump that grave stone and the giant severed head of a demonic looking hell-hound will appear, howling its unabated fury at your unsuspecting minions. Is that a shark fin in the moat of that castle? Try crossing the bridge when it’s in sight, and you’ll be chomped down to bits before you can even blink. Drakkhen is filled with these sorts of brutal, but mysterious and awesome touches.
Mystery and atmosphere aren’t the only things intriguing about Drakkhen. Frankly, it’s a fairly solid RPG, albeit an extremely dated one. In a post-2000 world where RPGs are as much about action set pieces as they are about collecting loot and improving your character stats, I find it hard to recommend a decades-old, slow-paced grind of a game. What Drakkhen does have going for it, if you have a bit of patience, is that it’s built on a solid foundation. All the usual “fun” RPG tropes are there, but surrounded by a lovely darkness and atmosphere that many other games simply do not possess. When I’m playing Drakkhen, not only am I doing my best to level-up and improve my characters, but I’m also exploring a large open world that is full of strange curiosities. Imagine venturing to the deepest depths of a dank, mossy dungeon, only to find yourself face to face with a giant, wingless dragon. It’s terrifying and wonderful at the same time.
If I’m looking at this without the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, it would be hard to recommend Drakkhen to a younger demographic that didn’t grow up with this sort of plodding and limited gameplay. That being said, the game held up for me personally when I played through it recently. I had a blast exploring its murky dungeons, walking its variable terrains and soaking up the cryptic atmosphere the game projects on the player. If you can be patient, forgiving and a bit open minded, Drakkhen will provide, at the very least, an admirable and unique RPG experience.