Life is hard. That’s basically the entire premise of Dandy Dungeon: Legend of Brave Yamada. You play as the titular Yamada-kun as he tries to make it through a job he hates for an evil corporation. As a 36-year-old, you’d think he had everything figured out by now, but he just isn’t there yet. He lives alone in a small apartment just wanting to make his own game and fall in love.
Alas, the world is cruel and unforgiving, and while you do get to help him make his game, it comes at the cost of a lot of happiness on his end. This would be intensely depressing were it not for the incredible sense of humour this game beats you over the head with. Nearly every step of the story will have you chuckling at Brave Yamada and his turmoil. This is supported by the cast of characters, each of whom is entertaining in their own way.
Poor Yamada-kun’s assistant is a short and timid man who seems to want nothing more than to make the titular character happy. Then you have the evil bosses you have to face, who turn from being absurd in the real world into being even more outrageous in the digital one. The first boss you face is the daughter of the CEO of the company you work for, and she enters along with a pig slave. She literally whips you when she meets you, and that’s represented in Yamada-kun’s game by an evil dominatrix style character who flings countless pigs at you.
Of course, humour can only take you so far, so what’s the gameplay like? Well, there is a mix of item management, puzzle-solving, and dungeon-crawling in Dandy Dungeon. You have to guide Brave Yamada through dungeons one floor at a time, defeating enemies as you go. You do this by drawing a line from the start of the level to the goal, aiming to have walked over every tile as you do so. If you can manage that, then you’re rewarded with extra bonuses for managing a perfect run. This is made more difficult as the game goes on, with ranged enemies, spells, and traps appearing as you progress. It’s a weird little system, but it’s surprisingly satisfying too.
You collect and upgrade new gear as you go. Of course, this requires a lot of materials, which you can only get by replaying dungeons, or paying a poor person to do a special kind of dungeon for you. It comes across as nicer than that in-game, but it also looks like the first person you can hire is threatening to stab you, so who knows?
It’s a very satisfying loop and one that will have you chasing down the last items in each level, just praying for RNG to be on your side. You see, while each dungeon has a set type of treasure within it, some chests are rarer than others, so it can take a fair few tries to get all of the available treasure and grab the gold trophy. Plus, there are high scores to aim for.
The music is ridiculously good too; Keiichi Sugiyama does a brilliant job of matching the look and feel of the game perfectly, with each song managing to worm its way into your brain for hours after you’ve put the game down. The sound effects are equally brilliant thanks to a mix of weird charm and intentional awkwardness in so many of the actions that occur.
The only real issue with Dandy Dungeon is that you need to do a fair bit of grinding if the gods of luck don’t favour you. That’s less of a problem than in some other games though, thanks to how quickly you can blast through a dungeon and how much fun it is to play. Add in the ability to upgrade your items in multiple ways and plenty of special outfits to find, and suddenly replaying things isn’t a problem at all.