Just Dandy

  • Developer: Atelier Double
  • Publisher: Pony Canyon
  • Release Date: October 21st, 1988
  • Available On: Famicom Disk System
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Unofficial Translations by: Stardust Crusaders, Super Roboprotector

You know, I’m starting to feel like developer Atelier Double deserves a little more credit than we’ve all been giving them. At least more than I’ve been giving them, anyway. They’re a name I’ve heard of and I have played some of their games before, but after browsing through their GDRI website entry, I’ve come to learn that they’ve had their hands in a lot of tasty pies! They don’t seem to take 100% full control on many of the projects they’re involved in, but they often contribute programming (which is a big deal, obviously!) or other things like general design and sound production, making them no less essential to the completion of these games. They played a big role in the NES ports of The Bard’s Tale games, they developed multiple Soukoban games on the Game Boy and Super Famicom, they contributed to that Inuyasha RPG on PS2 that actually seems pretty neat and I shouldn’t have gotten rid of (stupid younger me!), and they even have programming credits on some of those Boku no Natsuyasumi games everybody seems to go absolutely crazy for whether they’ve played them or not. Honestly, I dunno how much Boku no Natsuyasumi really interests me, but what does interest me is that Atelier Double was responsible for Monkey Puncher, a wacky boxing/raising simulation game that has monkeys punching each other for your benefit! I could keep going, really, but the point is that Atelier Double knows RPGs and they know how to make a cool game, something that you could call today’s game as well. If you’re used to modern RPGs that offer lovely graphics and hours upon hours of exploration and deep battle systems, Dandy here might not do much for you. If you’re the type who likes to go back, though (and really, if you’re here, you probably are, I’d hope), I think you’ll appreciate how Dandy: Zeuon no Fukkatsu is an incredibly compact distillation of RPG fundamentals. Hydlide lovers, start taking notes because this one’s for you!

Before this Dandy, there was actually another Dandy made for Atari 8-bit computers in 1983 (later ported to other computers). It was a dungeon crawling game that could be played alone or with others and the goal was to delve deeper, find keys, and defeat monsters. If you’re thinking that this sounds like Gauntlet, well, supposedly Dandy would end up being an “influence” for that game’s design, so much so that there was a lawsuit between Dandy creator John Palevich and Gauntlet game designer Ed Logg! This is a pretty interesting bit on its own, but that 1983 release year is particularly of note. When video game history is discussed, I feel like we tend to make the mistake of assuming every region is isolated, their games evolve in a linear fashion between other titles of the same region, and that their designers never take inspiration from anyone else unless explicitly stated, and yet, the foundations of many Japanese RPGs were laid upon games like Wizardry, Ultima, and The Black Onyx. Atelier Double was involved with the Game Boy Color version of The Black Onyx too, just saying! Based on that, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to bet that Dandy was influential to some Japanese designers in some capacity since it was such an early example of an overhead dungeon crawler. I’ve got no proof and I’m not a historian, but it’s wild how many notable games in the action RPG genre Dandy beat to market. Whether it’s the big names like Hydlide, Dragon Slayer, and Tower of Druaga or the oft-forgotten pioneers like Courageous Perseus, the original Dandy predates them by at least a little bit! This potentially understated influence also connects to today’s game – a new take on the Dandy name that was released exclusively on the Famicom Disk System and exclusively in Japan. You’d think they would have found a way to put this on a typical NES cart and released it elsewhere considering the origins of the original game and how it influenced a game that was hugely successful in every major market, but this has forever remained a singular release. With a specifically narrow target market like that, you have to imagine there was a fanbase for the original in Japan, right?

This is what an endgame inventory looks like. Pretty minimal, eh?

One look at this new and shiny Dandy and you might think, “oh, they’re going for the Zelda thing, aren’t they?”, and while that’s not necessarily wrong or anything, especially since our hero in this game attacks with the A and B buttons instead of running into his foes, the more overt influence here is Hydlide. The setup is very much the same – explore the world, brave dungeons, and become strong enough to defeat an evil being – and it’s an equally brief experience to boot. Heck, both games even have the exact same map size of 5×5! But being that this game came out in 1988, it builds upon the original Hydlide formula with things like towns and NPCs (something Hydlide II did as well) and introduces different ideas like a day/night cycle that affects the availability of certain things (not unlike Super Hydlide adding a time system). Despite coming out after Nintendo’s legendary game, it’s significantly simpler in both its complexity and difficulty. You might be surprised to hear this, but this game doesn’t really have any puzzles, any items that don’t just make you stronger, requires minimal to no grinding, and is pretty easy in general! This was probably disappointing to hardcore RPG players at the time who were expecting something crunchier or longer lasting, but nowadays? I’d say it gives Dandy a niche within the Famicom ecosystem! A lot of people have a hard time going back to RPGs of this particular vintage; they’re challenging, open-ended, very heavy on the combat, and usually minimal in plot. Dandy has very little story as well, so that alone will probably deter a lot of people if I’m being honest, but if you’re a combat-loving, Hydlide-enjoying Chad of a game player like myself, you can probably appreciate how this game stands out. It’s easy, quite linear in practice despite how it may look at first glance, has simple combat that allows the player to engage on their terms, and can be finished in less than 2 hours. If you’re one of those people out there complaining about RPGs being too long, look no further!

The dungeons can be somewhat lengthy and winding, but the game itself isn’t nearly as big as it may seem at first glance

Like the original Hydlide, you can’t just walk straight to the final boss and do your job of stopping the resurrected Zeuon (hence the “Fukkatsu no Zeuon” part of the title”). There are things to collect first before you can do that, namely four orbs that allow you to access the final dungeon. These orbs are hidden in the game’s dungeons, which feature tougher enemies than the ones on the overworld, so the gameplay loop comes down to a cycle of exploring the world, preparing in towns, and conquering dungeons. Instead of Hydlide’s bump combat, you can either swing your sword (well, it’s more like a stab) or shoot arrows, which need to be stocked up first. The game’s incredibly generous with them to the point that you can play this like King’s Knight or something – I got 255 arrows in a handful of minutes without even noticing! If that’s not enough for you, you can eventually get an upgrade that replaces your arrows with a magic projectile that’s stronger and costs nothing to use. It’s funny, when I lay out the basics like this, it sounds like this game should be utterly unremarkable; combat is as simple as it gets, every enemy acts the same way, all gear you find or buy is a guaranteed upgrade over what you had before, you only level up to 9 at max, and the showdown with Zeuon is a complete joke that can be ended with a few stabs to the head, and yet, Dandy finds a way to remain engaging throughout. Why is that? Maybe I’m just easily entertained, but the aggressiveness of your foes and the encounter design within dungeons challenge you to fight in ways that require your full attention.

They all do the same thing, but there are quite a few different enemy types, which is nice!

Enemies are always walking at you, so they’re generally easy enough to deal with. You enter a new screen, give ’em a quick stabbing and/or shooting, clear out the screen, and move on. The cost for error is potentially high each time, though, because enemies will try to stick to you and eke out as much damage as possible. Foolishly stay in one place and try to shake ’em off like ants on your pants and you’re gonna die fast because your attacks aren’t going to connect. Instead, the smart move is to move away and reposition to minimize how much damage you take. Combat, therefore, is all about knowing when to stand your ground and when to retreat, which makes for gameplay that never lets you rest until the screen is clear. It’s a clever way of making what would otherwise be thoroughly unremarkable require your constant attention and because running away is viable, it also allows you to quickly traverse the world if you’re just trying to get somewhere. Considering that death takes you back to where you start the game like Zelda II or Fester’s Quest, making travel painless was a really important move on Atelier Double’s part.

You need to find the right balance between moving and fighting to make it through dungeons alive. If you get the item at the end, you’ll keep it even if you die, a kind gesture on Atelier Double’s part

Dungeons, then, are the game’s combat taken to their ideological extreme. Everything is done the same way as on the overworld except for one single change that makes for an entirely different dynamic – enemies don’t stop respawning! Hydlide had enemies respawn all the time no matter where you were, so you’re probably wondering what the big deal is here. Dandy sounds like Baby Mode compared to that, you might be thinking. And you’re not technically wrong because Dandy is in fact easier! But it’s precisely that fact that Dandy knows how to hold back, how to change its tempo, that allows it to elicit emotion from the player. In an environment where you can never clear the screen and you’re always outnumbered, your priorities begin to change quickly. Because you can’t kill everything, you begin to focus on trying to run and get to your objective, which is finding whatever treasure is hidden in the dungeon. You don’t have a map and the dungeons are all littered with several fake chests, so this is easier said than done. They even start throwing in environmental hazards like lava that have to be traversed around via specific paths! All of these factors combine to create such a hectic, anxiety-riddled environment that comes together to make dungeon crawls so much more memorable than they would be otherwise. Darting towards the nearest entrances, scrambling to every chest hoping it’s the right one, deciding which monsters to kill and which to avoid, it kinda feels like a horror game or something! Like its predecessor, Dandy feels right at home with the dungeon crawl and these sections are the mechanical peak of the experience.

Of course I would, everybody loves big swords!

Though the dialogue is simple and the amount of shopping minimal, towns find a way to sneak in quite a few neat tricks that help add to the RPG-ness of the whole thing as well. Every town has multiple NPCs to talk to, some of which give useful hints and others that are just for flavor befitting of the game’s world that teeters on the edge of darkness. Obviously, the ones that sell you stuff or provide hints are more “valuable”, but that doesn’t stop Dandy from doing some neat optional storytelling. One of the game’s towns has been cursed to the point that entering it will instantly kill you unless you come packing all four orbs. Naturally, this being the only town to have such a requirement makes you think there’s gotta be something special in there, right? Well, it turns out that the town is mostly just in ruins and not much else, featuring a few NPCs that fear the end times. There’s no reward at all for doing this, but it’s interesting to witness nonetheless; of course the town most ravaged by the destructive forces of Zeuon would have little to offer beyond a few gloomy souls! The general severity of the situation bleeds into the game’s world in other stark ways. Some people see the return of Zeuon as a sign that humanity has collectively sinned and others see it as a sign that it’s time to give up on life. Whenever you try to save your game, it’s framed as “saving your soul” (at least in the English translation I used), which makes it sound like they’re giving you a chance to escape this ruined world with your life and sanity intact. Of course, any self respecting hero would never abandon their people, but those of you unfamiliar with RPGs of this vintage just might be tempted! One town even calls itself “the city of regrets”, which probably wasn’t the title it had prior to this whole mess! Though there really isn’t much to chew on nor is there a supporting cast or anything like that, I was impressed by the dour tone Dandy sets for itself and fully commits to using what feels like very limited resources.

The catch, then, within towns is that their NPCs and services aren’t all available at once; depending on whether it’s day or night, different people will roam the streets, merchants will either open or close their business, and certain buildings will be available, determining which part of the town can be explored. Nighttime also significantly changes the feel of the game; things get really dark and the game uses more greens and other dour colors that make it look like the world itself is sick. There really isn’t anything to time management here – there’s no reason to make it nighttime unless you need it to enter a dungeon or whatever – but I find the mechanism used for it and the general atmosphere it makes really interesting. You see, every time you save your game (sorry, “save your soul”), you’ll be booted out of the game and back to the file select. Re-enter your file and you’ll find that the time of day has changed. While you could look at this as nothing more than a minor waste of time, having to effectively reset the game every time you want to switch, I choose to think of it as an interesting proposition. Now, I didn’t do this because I had a blog post to write, but what you could do is take a day off every time you have to change the time of day. By doing this, you’ll have something new to investigate every time you boot the game up and it’ll immerse you more within the game’s world. Maybe that sounds silly to you, and I suppose it’s a bit excessive since I’m guessing nobody reading this bought the game at full price at launch, but dang if it ain’t proper roleplaying! Think of it like resting every time you make it to a new town and preparing for the next stretch of the journey; RPGs are oftentimes long experiences that have players chipping away and making a bit of progress after every session. There’s an undeniable satisfaction to doing so that has made the genre my favorite, to say nothing of all of the other reasons why it’s my favorite, but Dandy is too short to allow for this feeling to swell up from within. I beat this game in a single sitting, so it felt more like an action game than a RPG, but if I had taken my time with it and did this, I feel like it would have added a stronger sense of adventure to the experience. The game itself is even giving you an easy out every time you save, so why not take advantage while you’re there, right?

The point I hope I’ve been getting across all this time is that Dandy is very much what you make of it, and ultimately, it requires the right mindset to fully appreciate despite its relative approachability. It’s a simple game, which should make it playable by anyone with an interest, but it’s so simple that modern standards have realistically long since eclipsed it. Just because it’s not like modern RPGs doesn’t mean it’s bad, though. On the contrary, its conciseness and “purity” give it an undeniable appeal to me even today. I could be playing all sorts of games instead of Dandy, I have hundreds of quality RPGs at my fingertips, but Dandy kept me hooked the whole way through. Maybe I’m just easily susceptible to progression systems and numbers going up, but Dandy knows how to get you in a flow state that juggles combat and exploration really well. You can never slack off because of the nature of its foes, but there’s never anything else getting in your way, either, no gimmicks or cutscenes or minigames or anything. This focus on gameplay is something I’ve always appreciated about RPGs of this vintage and it makes them uniquely alluring to me as something to pull out as a break from other RPGs that ask for and provide more. If you get the appeal of Hydlide, love bumping into dudes in Ys to make your level go up, and like old school dungeon crawlers, you’ll find this game plenty agreeable. Also, if you’re that kind of person, I bet we could be friends if we ever met because I appreciate you appreciating these kinds of RPGs! Seriously, it can be so hard to get people born and raised on Final Fantasy and the like to understand that different approaches to the genre that place their focus elsewhere are equally valid. Such is the challenge of a Hydlide enjoyer, a Hydliker, if you will…

…Sorry, I thought of “Hydliker” on a whim and there was no way I was letting that one go!

More Screenshots


Follow mE ON:

Cohost: https://cohost.org/EphemeralEnigmas

5 thoughts on “Dandy: Zeuon no Fukkatsu

  1. I don’t think *Dandy* was the result of Japanese developers taking inspiration from contemporary American video games, although that did happen (usually with much more well known games). I looked at the box art and noticed Activision’s name on the box: https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/famicomds/579338-dandy-zeuon-no-fukkatsu/boxes/18997

    While I can’t find any sources for it, I know Activision maintained contact with Japanese publishers in the 80s both so they could publish Japanese games outside Japan and publish non-Japanese games within the country. Combine that bit of knowledge with Pony Canyon being listed as the publisher, and it’s clear that Activision made a deal with Pony Canyon (likely alongside projects similar to this one) to port/remake the Atari 8-bit *Dandy* for the Famicom Disk System.


  2. I couldn’t find anything definite or substantial about Activision’s involvement either (their name is on the title screen too, which made for an interesting first impression), but the idea that they worked out a deal with Pony Canyon to bring Dandy to Japanese markets makes a lot of sense so I appreciate you bringing that up. Looking at Mobygames briefly, it does look like Pony Canyon had some publishing involvement with things like Ultima ports and ports of H.E.R.O., which are certainly notable games and at least somewhat similar in their appeal as Dandy. They definitely veered more towards remake with this one in a way that’s interesting to me though because beyond the general concept of fighting in dungeons, this version has a different story, different environments, no multiplayer, and differently paced progression as a whole, so they really went and made it their own.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s