REVIEW: Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey

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Frane 3 | boxart
Title Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey
Developer EXE-Create
Publisher Kemco
Release Date May 7th, 2019
Platform PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One,
PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Android, iOS
Age Rating Teen

Frane is a series of JRPGs developed by EXE-Create beginning in 2000. From 2000 to 2003, the series included three games that took place in the same universe, albeit with new characters and storylines that loosely interconnect. Releasing only in Japan for PC, the first Frane was later released for Japanese mobile platforms. With EXE-Create’s shift to a global market, the third Frane game, Dragons’ Odyssey, was translated into English and received a PC and iOS release in 2011-2012. In April of 2019, this third game received a remastered re-release with all new artwork and updated graphics. Made available on all major platforms, many, myself included, finally have the opportunity to experience Frane almost twenty years after its initial series debut.

The Frane series encompasses a universal story in which two kingdoms, one of angels and another of demons, all play a part in humanity’s existence. Both strive for the betterment of humanity through their influences on the world, however their different methods have been a source of stress between their kingdoms’ relationship. This third entry to the series focuses on a much more personal story relating to this overarching point. Dragons Kunah and Riel are tasked by Zeus to find the angel Escude. Escude has set off to find out for herself which of the ways of the angels and demons are the right ones for humanity’s prosperity. Zeus has Kunah and Riel leave the heavenly kingdom of Vanneth, perhaps as a motive to offer similar experiences as Escude for these two. And just as soon as Kunah and Riel arrive on earth, they are entwined in a far more heartfelt journey, one that will reveal to them the treasures of friendship and the power of personal relationships.

Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey | plot

Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey takes us alongside Kunah and Riel as they begin their search for their missing friend and angel, Escude. This only serves as a plot framework, however, as the game’s story is in actuality a personal journey, focused on the lives of Kunah, Riel, and a select group of individuals who all discover new friendships through their own painful pasts and current struggles. Since the flow of the game depends on this individualistic style, the overall story can feel a bit disjointed at times. Hunting down clues takes Kunah and Riel in all sorts of different directions and so some of the story points can feel like a collection of sub quests the two need to work through in order to reach the end. Fortunately, the story has its moments of brilliance, as these quests more often align with the defining points of the supporting cast. For example, Miriam, a knight once betrothed to Denarius, seeks to exact revenge against her love’s murderer. As the game progresses, we are taken to locations, such as an abandoned town and Denarius’s ruined mansion, that allow us to interact with Miriam and her companion Bartz, as they uncover the mysteries behind her fallen fiancé. There are other examples too, but I do wish they were more abundant in quantity, since the quality is there. When it does happen, the game does an excellent job of connecting these characters and their individual stories together to form an intriguing, easily immersive tale.

As for the characters themselves, Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey provides a colorful cast that are a joy to get to know. Kunah, although a typical good-natured hero, demonstrates unfailing compassion for those around him. Despite always being ready to do the right thing, his personality is an easy fit for the friendship and relationship elements of the game. It also lends itself to quite a bit of humor between him and Riel. Riel is very much your standard tsundere; easily riled, powerful, aggressive, and adorable. Yet despite the tropes, Riel is a fantastic character; well written and memorable. Her straightforward style, saying exactly what’s on her mind, is the perfect contrast to Kunah’s polite, simpler demeanor. And the contrast in styles only helps to highlight the feelings they have for one another, as well as the compassion they both express. The writers made the tropes work and the results are outstanding.

Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey | Riel personality

The other characters also have their strengths, but those strengths mainly lie in their backstories and current situations. I mentioned Miriam and Bartz before and I found their subplot immersive, especially when it later connects to the main story. Their characterizations, however, fall a bit flat, as they don’t see much growth. Their development is satisfactory, but I would have liked to have seen more evolution of their characters. The same can be said for Floryn, who is implied as one of Kunah’s potential love interests. She’s an orphan, overworked and underfed by her abusive uncle and lives a pitiable life. Yet she manages to live life with as much happiness as she can. Kunah immediately becomes a light in her life and through this, we get to see Floryn’s good-nature and charm. Unfortunately, we never really get to see Floryn shed that identity as this poor girl with a heartbreaking past. Floryn would have been a phenomenal character had she received a more complete development arc. We do see moments of growth from her, but again, it falls flat as there’s too little to make the impact it could have had and what we do get only happens late in the game. Having said all of this, while the side characters could have been so much more, they do have their strengths, charms, and an ease of investing in them on an emotional level that is satisfying throughout the game.

Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey | heartfelt

Moving onto gameplay, Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey borrows much of its style from the older Ys games. Combat is very similar, in that hordes of enemies are defeated by running into them and attacking. Players control Kunah, a melee fighter who uses three types of weapons, while Riel is your invincible companion who follows behind and uses ranged magical attacks. Variation in combat comes with the different weapons Kunah uses, which alter power and range, and Riel’s magic, which vary in power, element, and range as well. Also, there is a basic elemental system, in which enemies are either ice, fire, or neutral and attacking with the opposite element is key.

In regards to combat, its pros lie in its fast pace. Mowing down enemies is pretty fun and a nice change from the classic turn-based style both EXE-Create and Kemco often employ. I also like the special attacks the two can launch. As Kunah deals damage, he builds up a meter to launch a rushing attack . As Riel takes damage, her rage meter increases and when full, she automatically knocks Kunah into everything onscreen, dealing massive damage, but at the cost of 25% of your HP. Combat isn’t perfect, however, as this combat style tends to boil down to spamming your two attack buttons. I also didn’t like how I couldn’t change weapons and magic on the fly, instead having to open the equip menu each time. In some dungeons, the elemental affinities of enemies will change from one room to another, so having a quicker way to swap would have been ideal.

Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey | combat

Plenty of enemies and nearly immediate respawns will keep you busy

Outside of combat, there are three game mechanics that add variety to gameplay. These are the relationship system, cooking, and crafting. The relationship system is a means to reveal more about the side characters, often providing additional background and allowing us to see different sides of these characters as relationships are built. In order to build these relationships, gifts must be given, which is how both crafting and cooking come into play. Discovering and making favorite items for each character is a must to make significant progress, as other items may diminish or barely raise the relationship meter of a character. Also, this meter decreases over time, so cooking or crafting gifts and giving often is a necessity. As a reward for all this effort, once a relationship has passed the 75% mark, the character will give a unique crafting item, one that will become available at one of the many shops in the world as well. These crafting items are usually components for the best arms and armor in the game.

Even though the relationship mechanic is a nice touch and the cooking and crafting can be fun as you make new discoveries, there are noticeable downsides and detractors. For one, several of the side characters have lock out points. Miriam and Bartz especially have lock out points that are far too early in the game. So in order to make their unique crafting items available, or if you wish to perfect the relationship (you can only choose one person to have a perfect/ max relationship with), you need to build it up early. That means grinding. A lot of it. You need tons of money to buy the crafting and cooking items, as enemies only drop cash. Plus, everything is purposely expensive. This all means a break in the story and hours spent to form these relationships. Honestly, the EXE-Create developers could have made items cheaper, increased relationship point yields, pushed back lock out points, eliminated lock-out altogether, or have the characters that leave return via story, since we do see all of them again at some point. Simply put, the execution here is poor. Even Riel has a lock out point and she’s with you the entire game. And perhaps the worst of all, having a maxed, perfect relationship with most of the side characters makes zero impact on the game’s ending. Way too much effort for far too little payoff. Again, these mechanics have fun to offer and plenty of innovation, but execution and integration could have been so much stronger.

Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey | Riel

As this version of Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey is a remaster, naturally the most obvious changes are in its aesthetic presentation. Visually, this game looks great, keeping the charms of the original 16-bit stylizations, yet also featuring sharper sprites, a more vivid color palette, and sharper, more detailed standing portraits and CGs. The game looks great and comparing it to the 2011 version, the increase in quality is apparent. That’s not to say the CGs of the previous version were bad, but the increase in vibrancy and detail is a nice touch. I also appreciate the number of CGs available, depicting the cast and bringing more significance to the events unfolding. My only gripe would be that some of the CGs are made from the standing portraits and some are reused a bit too often. I’m always for more original artwork, but what we do get is still quite impressive.

The audio isn’t as robust as the visuals, however, as they generally serve to fill out the aesthetic appeal. They aren’t terrible, but they are hardly memorable. Also, the tracks don’t properly loop, so there’s a noticeable break when the track ends and starts over. The major complaint I have here is that not all the tracks from the original version of the game are included. This is a huge letdown because the tracks with vocals are some that were cut from this version. There’s no reason to leave out your best quality music. There was even an OST released around the time of the 2011 English version’s debut because of how strong the soundtrack was, so to deny us the best of that, it hurts.

Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey | artwork

The artwork is some of the best EXE-Create has produced

Before wrapping up this review, I do wish to discuss other differences between the original PC versions of the game and this remaster. Having researched the 2011 English original, I noticed that much has been altered or cut completely from the remaster. For one, the name Zeus is used in place of God. It’s not a major change, as it doesn’t impact the story or the game’s universe, but I believe this and other potentially religious-sensitive changes to the script was the cause for another major cut; the complete removal of the voice acting. Now, the English voice acting can be described as awful, but leaving out the Japanese voice acting, which was made available in 2011, is a regrettable omission for this remaster. I highly doubt anyone would have complained about the discrepancies between the in-game text versus the Japanese voice tracks if it meant its complete exclusion. I also doubt the script edits would have played a significant role, as the usage of religious terms is so sparse to begin with.

Another issue I have, which for me is the most disappointing, is the decision not to redo and include the animated cutscenes. Those cutscenes actually explain quite a bit and emphasize the events on screen. There was a fantastic intro cutscene that shows Kunah and Riel in their dragon forms, as well as depicting what’s in store for players. Another example is the cutscene that plays between the final boss and the ending scenes and this one getting cut from this version sucks big time. Escude has limited on-screen time and so the moments we do have with her are character defining. Having this cutscene would have made Escude’s actions and her very character far more impactful to the story and the people around her. So the fact that it was removed is flat-out detrimental. This same cutscene also makes clear how deep the feelings go between Kunah and Riel. It’s a major loss not to have it. Generally, taking away story related content is never a good idea, as this story indeed needs help at times. The complete removal of them all is painful, so much so that I would rather they included the 2011 cutscenes, regardless of graphic quality, rather than not having them at all.

Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey | humor

Overall and despite my many complaints with decisions made by the developers, I still enjoyed Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey and did so enough that I hope one day the entire Frane series is made available in the West. Perhaps that’s exactly why I’m so emotional in this review; I liked what I got, but it could have been genuinely epic. I think I’ve only been similarly distraught by EXE-Create when comparing their Revenant Saga to Revenant Dogma. EXE-Create has the potential; it’s there, but the execution for this and several other of their games is really getting to me. The price point of about $13 for the ten to fifteen hours of play, grinding included, is not great, but I can wholeheartedly recommend the purchase during a sale and fortunately those occur fairly often for Kemco products anyway. Though the flaws of Frane: Dragons’ Odyssey are visible and may even turn away more impatient of gamers, its story quality and its fast-paced, destruction filled combat system will surely please any and all JRPG fans.

Review Score

About Drew D.

Drew has been an avid gamer most of his life, favoring single-player campaigns. For him, a worthwhile game is one that immerses you; it envelops you and draws out an array of emotions that produce those memorable moments we live for as gamers.