Octurbo: The Tower of Druaga

We're going old-school Namco today with the PC Engine remake of The Tower of Druaga, the godfather of all Japanese action RPGs. For those unaware: The Tower of Druaga, or "Druaga no Tou" since this version was never officially localized, is a maze action game with an RPG flair in which you simply need to find a key and exit the level. However, choosing to take the direct route makes things very difficult later on, and the real path to success is to solve a series of obtuse puzzles which involve some oddly OCD requisites like killing all of a single enemy type or walking around the stage in a clockwise pattern. The treasures you earn from meeting these special conditions make the rest of the game substantially easier to cope with, as more and more difficult obstacles and enemies start to appear.

Perhaps understandably, western audiences weren't too eager to try doing random shit for hours in order to find a new shield or something, so the Tower of Druaga never really caught on over here. In Japan though, it was crazy successful and ended up becoming extremely influential. We probably wouldn't have the Legend of Zelda if it wasn't for this game (or if we did, it would probably look a lot different and didn't hide all its secrets behind random walls and rocks). This PCE port is a graphically enhanced remake that actually gives you hints before each level on how to find the treasure, but only on the first three difficulty settings.

GIRUGAMESH!

Welcome to the Tower of Druaga! I'm just going to play through the first ten floors, of a total of sixty. It's a hard to define a cut-off, because so many of the early floors are easy tutorial levels that aren't too interesting.
These intro screens are a new addition, in which the Goddess Ishtar helpfully provides a hint to the stage's secret treasure chest. Well, this one isn't so much a hint as an outright imperative, but we're just starting out here.
Gilgamesh, the hero, has an odd way of fighting enemies: The player needs to draw his weapon and then hold it there, poking enemies in front of him. Enemies get hurt if they walk into the sword's point and the hero gets hurt if he stands in the same place as the enemy. Kind of rudimentary, but then you're better off avoiding enemies if you can help it anyway.
Killing a single slime makes a chest appear and with it the first useful tool of the game. The copper pickaxe can knock down walls, but only has two uses before it breaks. Useful in a bind, but not very.
As you can see, we're simply told about black slimes and left to interpret this hint as "hey, maybe kill a black slime?". They get a little more brainteaser-y later on, I swear.
Fortunately, the black slimes are easy enough to spot. You can also see the key here, necessary for completing the stage, and a floating blue gem which is used in this game's newly integrated level-up system.
The Jet Boots are a downright necessity because they double your speed. You wouldn't believe how slow Gil was before grabbing these.
After each stage you can spend your blue power-up gems however you wish. The most useful stat right now is health. Wouldn't hurt to put a few points in your sword, though. The red gems define a fixed stat boost that comes from your equipment, rather than XP gain. Because there's equipment for every stat, it's also worth spreading the blue gems around a bit so you don't go over the max later and end up wasting them.
You are prohibited from attacking the outside walls, naturally enough, and trying to do so automatically breaks your pickaxe. However...
...you need to try it anyway to make the chest appear. It's sort of like a tutorial where you earn rewards for following instructions.
The Silver Chime is an item that tells you where the key for the stage is. Unnecessary right now, but at some point the keys will turn invisible for no other reason than to make the game extra obfuscating.
The shield works in the same way Link's does: It'll deflect projectiles, but only if you're facing the direction of the projectile and haven't drawn your sword (your shield actually switches to protecting your left flank if your sword's out).
And this stage introduces the annoying disappearing/reappearing Wizzrobe enemies that would later become such a menace in the Legend of Zelda (and eventually Super Mario World).
I keep forgetting the TG-16 has a Select button. Hitting it at any time takes you to your inventory screen, where you can change your equipped items. Items like the Chime need to be selected before you can use them.
The Map Book is another item like the Chime that only works if you have it equipped. It shows you the whole floor, but not where the key or the monsters are.
It took me a moment to figure out what she meant by this.
The magic circles are those little round things on the floor. They don't have a purpose, or at least didn't until now. There's only one white circle on this floor, and that's the one you have to walk over.
The White Sword is our first piece of equipment. It replaces our crappy old sword and is just a straight boost to our stats.
As you can see, it automatically boosts our sword power by three red diamond thingies. In harder difficulty modes, where the blue XP gems don't appear, finding new equipment is the only way to get more powerful.
This stage introduces bats and black knights. There had been blue knights earlier on as well. The knights mean business, and will chase you around if they see you. As will the bats, but they don't hurt you as much if they catch you. The bats are indestructible, however, so they might be the greater danger overall.
The condition for level 6 was to simply draw my new sword. And I get a new shield out of it. All these easy giveaways are meant to lure you into a false sense of security, I assure you.
I try not to rely on my shield too much, since I have to be standing in the right place for it to have any effect, but I guess having a shiny new one can't hurt.
This is when the hints start getting a little more obtuse. I'll let you guys figure this one out, though keep in mind what we've picked up so far (yeah, yeah, these puzzles are hardly Mensa level right now).
Floor 7 does introduce that old fan-favorite: Gelatinous Cubes. Trying to walk through one is a very slow and agonizing death if you don't have the HP to survive it, so it's, uh, best to not do that.
Even more armor. It goes without saying that grabbing this equipment is useful for survival if not totally essential. There are items that are absolutely required to complete the game though, so getting used to this game's puzzle logic early on is handy.
Easy for you to say. Man, they really do spell it all out for you this early on.
I have no idea what these guys are, but fortunately I only have to kill the blue knight on this level for the treasure. I can leave these walking menhirs be.
I haven't even used the Chime yet and I've got the upgraded version. Instead of telling you where the key is, the Gold Chime lets you know when you've solved the floor's puzzle and caused the chest to appear. Until now, I've had to walk back and check if it's shown up yet.
She's actually referring to the hero this time, rather than the enemy knights. Like this game needed to be more ambiguous.
Some of the magic circles have started shimmering, so it's simply a case of finding them all. Also the Wizzrobes now shoot fireballs that stick around for a few seconds and kill you instantly. I really hate those guys.
A new gauntlet. These things boost your Agility stat, which governs how quickly you can draw/sheathe your sword. Before finding this gauntlet, Gil took his sweet time with that thing.
Now this seems like a really arbitrary condition.
But actually an enemy crossed over the requisite magic circle almost instantly. I didn't have to do squat for this one. Why can't they all be this easy?
And I'm awarded the Silver Pick, which lets me knock down even more walls. A lot of these early upgrades aren't necessary for right now, but every resource helps when you're on floor 50 and getting nuked by all the tough enemies up there.

Anyway, I think you get the idea. Druaga's a weird combination of a really primitive RPG (hey, the game was originally made in 1984, what do you expect?) and a puzzle game, but while its aged quite a bit it's still worth playing for its historical value. This PCE remake removes a lot of the arbitrary guessing BS and makes the game nicer to look at, but it's still the same experience at its core. It's kind of nuts that this game's approaching its 30th anniversary; maybe we'll see something from Namco Bandai soon to celebrate the occasion. "Druaga Championship Edition DX"?

While earlier home versions never left Japan, the Arcade game can be found in a large number of Namco Arcade compilations, many of which were released worldwide, as well as on Virtual Console. This particular remake seems to be unique to the PC Engine, but there's a translation patch out there on RomHacking.net (which is where I got the translation patches for Blue Blink and Lady Sword too). Oddest of all, if you play the first Tales of Destiny, there's an entire optional dungeon based on Tower of Druaga that has all kinds of useful items for the main game - they're just hidden in the same obtuse manner. Lastly, the Steam RPG Chantelise is kind of a modern interpretation of Tower of Druaga, splitting its focus between tough action RPG combat and meeting "how the hell was I supposed to know to do that?" conditions to make chests appear.

I'll go back to covering weird obscure shit soon, I promise.

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2 Comments
2 Comments
Posted by ZombiePie

I've seen the anime, but I have not played the game. The anime is.....not worth your time.

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Posted by IrrelevantJohn

I've seen the anime, but I have not played the game. The anime is.....not worth your time.

Jesus, that anime sure was something...