It’s certainly been a while hasn’t it? It’s been a solid two months since I’ve taken a look at a KEMCO/Exe-Create game, and I figured that they had finally taken a break. That was until I saw the trailer for Frane: Dragon’s Odyssey in my Youtube sub-box before it finally landed in my inbox to review. With me having reviewed a ton of KEMCO/Exe-Create JRPGs in the past, I’m very accustomed to their feel by now, even if their last game genuinely surprised me with some unique elements. So, does Frane: Dragon’s Odyssey do anything new to keep an aging veteran like me entertained?
At risk of sounding like a broken record, Frane: Dragon’s Odyssey has all of the usual visual trappings of the rest of the Exe-Create library. The game has the same stock RPG feel that has plagued most of their games, but it also retains the solid over-world sprites and brilliantly done character portraits during dialogue. There is also some decent variety in the environments too with some unique visual effects, such as your party leaving footsteps in the snow in some of the game’s areas, which is a nice touch.
The story has you play as Kunah, who must venture down to the underworld to find a missing childhood friend from the angel clan, and that’s really about it. It has the same trademark supernatural and magical elements that all Exe-Create games have, in particular with the missing girl being from the angel clan, and Zeus himself being the one to give you your quest. It’s certainly a serviceable story by Exe-Create standards, but considering the last of their games I reviewed, Alvastia Chronicles, the story feels like a step down. While that game had a main character who was mute from the trauma of his parents’ deaths and a solid revenge plot, Frane lacks all of that. It also doesn’t help that the game has some pretty unlikeable characters. Kunah himself is overly romanticised throughout the story, with almost every female companion you meet swooning over him. His childhood friend Riel is also annoying, with her being overly snobbish and a bit entitled, assuming Kunah should do everything for her because he’s a man.
For the most part, Frane: Dragon’s Odyssey plays how you’d expect. You explore a massive open world, completing quests, killing enemies, levelling up, gathering, and crafting loot etc. At face value, it’s your bog-standard JRPG fare, until you get to the combat. While most of Exe-Create’s JRPGs feature turn-based combat and random encounters, Frane: Dragon’s Odyssey tries something new. It instead opts for a combat style more akin to Hydlide, which believe me, is not a good comparison to be making. Basically, when you get to a dungeon or anywhere where there are enemies, combat ends up being done in real time as opposed to instanced. To fight, simply walk up to an enemy and press A to awkwardly bump into the enemy, or press B to have Riel use her magic, until the enemy, or you, die. If you do this often enough you’ll charge your super meter and pressing X unleashes it, devastating the enemies on screen. While I appreciate them finally doing something new to differentiate from the rest of their library, and the system being interesting at first, it just got boring after a while. Gone is the intricate strategy that the turn-based combat of the other games had, and the new system lacks any good feedback and just feels boring and empty.
Like all Exe-Create games, the game lacks in voice acting, but makes up for it in solid music. It’s your generic kind of stuff that you’ve heard before in games like this, but it does the job well, with each song fitting the environments well enough.
Frane: Dragon’s Odyssey is certainly a mixed bag, and far from being Exe-Create’s best work. It has the great sprites and character portraits that all of their games have, so presentation-wise it’s good besides the usual stock RPG feeling. The story is decent besides some unlikeable characters and the majority of the game is your standard JRPG fare. I have to give the game some credit for trying a new combat system out, as it certainly gives the game a different feeling, but that new system ends up feeling lifeless and a bit boring, and considering how much combat you get into, that affects the game massively.