Dunquest (ダンクエスト 魔神封印の伝説), released 7/21/1995, developed and published by Technos Japan
This game is classified as an Action RPG in many places, but to me it feels more like it’s somewhere between a Mysterious Dungeon game and a true RPG. The developer Technos Japan is best known for the Kunio-kun series (i.e. River City Ransom, Crash ‘n’ the Boys) and Double Dragon. They also produced the RPG-adjacent Sugoroku Quest (one of those board games that has RPG elements), but I don’t think they ever produced a full RPG.
The story takes place on Laster Island, part of the Malkes kingdom. There’s a legend that a demon god is sealed there but will return some day, and the current king is gathering heroes in preparation — including Kurisu, our hero. But Kurisu is just sent on various missions in four surrounding dungeons, and there’s uncertainty about whether the demon god will actually revive or whether it’s just a legend. I only played about half the game, but according to the Wikipedia article there are actually some interesting story twists near the end and it doesn’t end with just a simple “of course the demon lord revives” at the end.
The game does not have a traditional levelling system. Instead, each major quest you complete gives you the next rank, up to 17 (“Duke”) at the end of the game. When you gain a rank, you get some stat bonuses too. With the exception of the HP, these can be freely switched between Attack, Magic, and Defend.
In addition to this, the weapons and armor get better as you use them (like Xanadu) up to a defined limit. Finally, you have individual XP with each monster in the game, and the more XP you get vs a monster, the more damage you do and the less damage you will take.
Finding the next major quest is not always an easy task, or sometimes you get a vague instruction like “find out why these earthquakes are happening” but no indication of even which of the four dungeons this is in. I don’t know whether this is because I didn’t find the right people to talk to in town for information, or whether it was the designers’ intent that you would simply go through the dungeons seeing what you could find.
There are four dungeons, each with 35 floors. It feels a bit like a Mysterious Dungeon game except that the layouts are not random. One of my biggest issues with the game is that you always have to start from floor 1 of the dungeon, and you don’t do the dungeons in sequence. One quest will be on floor 7 of the Ice Temple and the next will be on floor 11 of the mines, then back to floor 15 of the Ice Temple. It would be helpful to make maps of the dungeons so that you can quickly get through the lower levels.
Each floor has a red chest which can only be opened with keys you buy in town. There are also brown chests which regenerate and give gold, and random items on the floor (like potions or scrolls that cast spells). Monsters appear out of summoning circles on the floor. The combat system is action RPG style where you hit the button to swing the sword. Some enemies have distance attacks, and you can also use spells yourself from scrolls. The number 28 at the top left in that picture shows how many of the current item you have (which can be used with X).
The system is real time rather than the Mysterious Dungeon turn based style. Often you can attack and then move back a space to dodge the enemy’s attack, and repeat. But you can get trapped in narrow corridors and killed easily, and some teleporting enemies are annoying.
One problem I kept running into was not being able to hurt the monsters at all, despite having the best weapon at 100%. The weapon and armor upgrades are pretty limited and don’t increase your attack/defense all that much. You can of course put more points into attack but sometimes even that wasn’t enough. I still managed to progress by simply avoiding the enemies, but this seems like either a design flaw or something I just didn’t understand about the game. You can use magic to defeat some of these enemies but that supply is limited. If you die, you are returned to the town with half your gold.
The dungeons also have a lot of traps, and every floor has warps that send you to different places in the floor.
One thing that is often praised is the number of things you can check in the town for unique messages, but this is just for flavor.
I played up to rank 10, so a little over half the game. The major quests of course involve doing things in the dungeons — some of them are beating a boss, some are finding an item, and others are talking to people on some floor of the dungeon. There are also additional bosses and other things that aren’t part of the main quests. I think some of these are for subquests, some may just be for completion purposes. There is also some kind of post-game scenario.
Looking around at various blogs and reviews of this game, it seems like opinions are fairly divided. Some consider it a bad game, but some really liked it a lot — I guess it probably just depends on whether this style of game appeals to you. I found the need to repeatedly go through the early parts of every dungeon over and over again annoying, but the game wasn’t terrible. It’s just (to me) not quite an RPG.