Old-school dungeon crawlers are rare these days, as the ancient genre has been pushed aside in favor of turn-based role-playing games or real-time hack-and-slash action fests. It's somewhat surprising, then, to see Namco's maze-exploring title The Nightmare of Druaga creep forth into the contemporary gaming scene. Unfortunately, this game has done nothing to improve upon the well-worn dungeon hack formula, choosing instead to follow a path of mindless gameplay made more tedious by frustrating design.
The game's story picks up where the 80s arcade title The Tower of Druaga left off. The evil wizard Druaga was defeated and there was peace in the land of Babylim. Gilgamesh (or Gil), the hero who was the land's savior, is now planning to become king and to marry the lovely priestess named Ki. Everything gets derailed when there's a sudden attack and the lady Ki is whisked off into almost certain peril by a mysterious sorceress. Gil cannot let this stand, of course, and sets off to the sealed tower's basement to get his girlfriend back and smite evil as it comes.
Here's where the dungeon-crawling comes in; each floor of the mazelike underground caverns you'll explore can only be cleared by finding a key and the door to the next level. Monsters roam the halls seeking to end your adventure prematurely, and all features of the level except your immediate surroundings are shrouded in darkness. That's because Gil carries the blessing of the goddess Ishtar, which causes his burnished armor to glow with a holy light and allow him to find his way. The amount of glow will wane as you move around and explore, though you can sacrifice one of the many items you'll come across as an offering to bump your blessing back up to its maximum reach. As you move through the dungeon, a map will gradually draw itself in a corner of your screen, allowing you to navigate a bit easier, showing any nearby items, enemies, or your ultimate objectives, the key and the door.
Movement in the game is actually turn-based and not real time, so for every action you take in a dungeon, all the monsters on that floor will take a turn as well. Walking across a single patch of floor, using an item, changing your weapons, or other actions like hitting a switch, all count as a turn-- though you probably won't be concerned about these things unless an enemy is in your line of view. The enemies are color coded at their feet, which you can see as they approach; a blue glow means that Gil moves faster than the monster, while a red glow means that the enemy is faster. So, if you're right up against a blue monster, you'll always get the first attack, and the opposite is true for a red monster. The only real strategy you'll employ in battles, then, is making sure that you maneuver so that you always get the first hit. Once that's done, you just stand in one place, trade hits with your foe, slap on a healing item if you need, and you're done. Certain weapons and items you'll find can give you a bit of a longer reach, and there are special abilities imbued in your weapons that you'll be able to execute with ability points, but battle is otherwise a complete no-brainer.
The only exception is certain classes of enemies that are obscenely strong. They're always of a higher level than every other foe on the floor, they do insane damage, and once they find you, they're relentless. They won't leave you alone until you manage to leave the floor, you somehow lose them around a corner, or you're dead. The presence of these guys makes certain stages a crapshoot--you can be easily strong enough to take on the common monsters, find your stuff, and go on to the next stage so long as you simply don't encounter one of the strong creatures. If you do, and you've got heavy armor that puts you at a speed disadvantage in battle, and especially if you try to flee and find yourself hemmed in by walls and/or other enemies, you'll often just have to use an escape item and scrap that particular run. Dying in a dungeon otherwise costs you all your items (even your equipped armor and weapons) and half your money. You receive a feather each time you enter the dungeons, and the feather allows you to leave and go back to town at any time, but that means you'll have to tackle the same dungeon again from the beginning.