"While playing the first level of Aicom side-scrolling shooter Saint Dragon on the ol’ PC Engine, I nearly fell in love. Piloting a skeletal dragon definitely earned this game points in my book, but there was a lot more to it than just that. The entire first level played out as a wonderful way to set a mood in a shooter. "
While playing the first level of Aicom side-scrolling shooter Saint Dragon on the ol’ PC Engine, I nearly fell in love. Piloting a skeletal dragon definitely earned this game points in my book, but there was a lot more to it than just that. The entire first level played out as a wonderful way to set a mood in a shooter.
You’ll fly over a rocky landscape, with only a few scattered trees to provide tiny glimpses of life. To add to the stark desolation of the scene in front of you, an eerie, melancholy theme reverberates through your speakers. While most of the fodder for your dragon’s attack those generic enemy ships that pop up in most games of this type, there are a number of gigantic robotic panthers (or other large cat/dog creature) prowl at the bottom of the screen, only to leap in an attempt to knock you out of the air.
After a few moments of that, the music changes somewhat and you encounter your first boss — a humongous bull. While not the most effective offensive juggernaut you’ve ever fought, this baddie can take a lickin’ before he stops tickin’. But after a few moments, that monstrosity falls and the first stage is cleared. Surely you’ve found gold. While the gameplay isn’t the most challenging, this game should be worth at least a “7” or “8” on sheer atmosphere combined with competent play, shouldn’t it?
Only if you turn the game off the moment Mr. Bull has perished. In one of the biggest letdowns I’ve ever personally experienced as a player, after the first stage, Saint Dragon immediately turns from an atmospheric and elegant (if simplistic and non-threatening) shooter to an ugly, generic piece of garbage that pleases on no level.
After leaving the first stage, you’ll get such shooter staples as a couple of enemy bases and an assault on a giant battleship (with the ugliest “outer space” backdrop I’ve ever seen — would it have killed someone to put more than a handful of yellow dots in the background?). You’ll also have two stages that are so poorly drawn, I can only offer vague guesses as to where you are venturing. Just as the graphics plummet from effective to lousy after the first stage, so does the music. Through the middle stages of Saint Dragon, you’ll be reaching for either earplugs or the mute button to protect yourself from the sounds this game emits. While the game kind of redeems itself musically in the sixth and final stage, it never reaches the quality delivered at the beginning.
And the gameplay never improves, either. Every level is essentially the same, with few (if any) obstacles to dodge with the exception of the top and bottom of the screen in most of the stages — no cleverly designed stages here. As far as your foes go, you have tons of weak, easily-dispatched drones mixed with a good number of larger, hard-to-kill baddies. Sadly, virtually all these enemies really get generic after a while. The robotic panthers of the first level were cool. The mechs of the third and fourth level, on the other hand, are pretty generic and just feel out of place considering your ship is in the form of a dragon.
To be honest, that is the one real redeeming aspect of Saint Dragon. While your draconic vessel is quite long, only its head is vulnerable. Deft manipulation of the controller can allow you to use your serpentine body as a shield from bullets, which is a really nice feature. And two of your special attacks is definitely designed with the species of your character in mind, as both allow you to shoot gouts of flame in different ways (straight ahead or in whichever direction you last went ).
Here is a little tip from me to you — don’t get either of these weapons. Honestly, the only special weapon in this game worth your time in Saint Dragon is the one that allows you to shoot orbs at 45-degree angles from your head. Unlike the projectiles from your other special weapons, these will bounce off obstacles until either leaving the screen or hitting something. It may not cause the most damage-per-hit of all your weapons, but it will flood the screen with multiple bouncing projectiles that can slaughter many foes before they even realize they’re under attack. Besides, the nature of this attack ensures that you’ll be able to attack many bosses while keeping your dragon out of harm’s way.
Sadly, these “superior” entities of the enemy forces seem to be clueless in dealing with heroic dragons who actually can attack from angles. While many of the bosses were able to take a decent amount of damage before falling, I don’t recall any of them actually posing much of a threat to my safety. Most of the bosses also are poorly-drawn and generic. The second level’s main foe starts out looking like a Gradius reject. The main man of the third level may have been swiped from M.U.S.H.A. The boss of level four was just plain horrible, while level five is nothing more than a battleship that only serves to give me an even greater sense of appreciation for R-Type’s level of this nature (to be honest, it evens gives me some semblance of a sense of appreciation for the final battleship-like boss of Atomic Robo Kid).
And then, we have the final battle, which is a complete and total insult to my intelligence and dignity. As I approached the ultimate conflict of Saint Dragon, a yellow, serpentine body appears on the floor. Eventually, I realized that this body belonged to an imposing dragon that likely wouldn’t even consider my reptile to be more than a snack. Anticipation rose (as did the hair on the back of my neck) as I prepared for what I knew would be a fight so fierce that it would redeem this game’s many failings! And then I realized.....the gorgeous behemoth in front of me was nothing more than decoration. The actual final boss was so poorly designed and anti-climactic that I could barely stand to fight it — although when I did start battle, the so-called enemy “leader” perished so quickly, I thought it was a hoax....until the credits started to roll.
In a game full of letdowns and unfulfilled potential, this was truly the icing on the cake. A beautiful first stage set the stage for an uninspired game and a wonderful intro to the final boss set the stage for what is arguably the most pathetic game-ending battle I’ve ever endured in any genre on any system.
And it shouldn’t have been this way. You’re controlling a dragon — why turn the game into just another generic shooter? Why couldn’t Aicom have attempted to build on the first stage and created a desolate world featuring enemies created from a combination of robotic and medieval themes? That would have made sense and would have at least been interesting to play through. Instead, what we’re left with is a game that starts out strong, but then immediately becomes so weak that we’re left to wonder exactly what went wrong. I can recommend Saint Dragon’s first stage, but the rest of the game should be avoided at all costs. It really is that bad.
Community review by overdrive (September 11, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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