Draglade (DS) review
"You can choose from four characters. Each has a separate plot, but they all go through the same checkpoints. Once you've finished one tale, the only reason to brave the massive amount of recycled material is the character you'll unlock for versus mode. From locations to bosses to key events, almost nothing is utilized only once. This probably isn't a huge surprise and it wouldn't even be so bad except that there are only a few places to visit in the whole game!"
Atlus often takes risks and localizes games we'd otherwise not see in the United States. Sometimes that pays off in a big way, but occasionally the end result only makes a person wish no one had bothered. Draglade, a DS game developed by Dimps and brought stateside just in time for the holidays, is unfortunately closer to the latter than the former. While it's for the most part a solid title with a unique combat system that frequently makes it a joy to play, it just doesn't last long enough to warrant a hearty recommendation.
You'd be surprised how little unique content there really is in the package. When you begin playing, you can either go to the “Story” mode or you can play some versus battles (available through for wi-fi or local wireless). Those versus modes are certainly welcome and have the potential to give the game some legs it otherwise wouldn't have, but online offerings only mean something if the single-player game is exciting enough that other people bother to purchase a copy. Besides that, you have to play through the game alone several times if you want to unlock all of the characters in the versus modes.
So, how does that single-player experience work? Not as well as it should. You can choose from four characters. Each has a separate plot, but they all go through the same checkpoints. Once you've finished one tale, the only reason to brave the massive amount of recycled material is the character you'll unlock for versus mode. From locations to bosses to key events, almost nothing is utilized only once. This probably isn't a huge surprise and it wouldn't even be so bad except that there are only a few places to visit in the whole game! Three hours is more than enough time to get you through to the closing credits, and somehow the urge to turn around and do it all over again when you reach the end for the second or third time just isn't there. Even if you love all four campaigns, their combined length still manages to come up short compared to other games on the DS that have this general sort of feel to them.
At least what's there is good, so far as it goes. The Atlus localization team has worked its usual magic. There are some really funny lines that are complemented nicely by anime-style illustrations. Most of the humor is quite juvenile (potty humor and jokes about flat-chested girls have been overdone in games several times over by now), but that's fine because kids who still appreciate that stuff are probably the main ones that will play much Draglade in the first place. Well, kids and the adults who are drawn to the unique battle system.
A typical fight in Draglade, which is called 'grapping,' follows a fairly standard routine that involves swiping your weapon at the other guy--or mutated animal, or robot, or animated statue that looks a lot like a rock--until you've landed a few blows, then firing a mystical bullet or two, then switching into a combo attack known as a 'Beat.' The latter two options are only available as your meter fills up, which it will do in the natural course of a battle. If you're on the offensive and doing some pretty decent damage, you can speed up the process. Once you launch into that beat, you then have to press the 'attack' button in time with the indicated rhythm at the bottom of the screen, or you can tie multiple beats together for a longer flurry of hits.
Because of that surprising amount of depth, encounters with other grappers are actually more exciting than you might anticipate from a fighting game on the DS. Button mashing, while certainly a viable strategy at times, won't usually win the day unless you supplement it with a bit of strategy. Too many of your rivals are capable of moving aggressively around the arena to fall victim to a simple attack pattern. They can also block your attacks if you rely on one type of offense, which at the very least has the effect of making things drag on longer than they should. Because of that, you'll probably find yourself switching up your tactics to deal as much damage as possible in the shortest amount of time. You'll also spend time in between fights diving through menus.
Besides the grapping events, the other main attraction for Draglade is the collection of bullets and beats. Both are scattered generously throughout the world, mostly in shops or in out of the way treasure chests. Once gathered, bullets can be assigned to spaces on your lower screen so that you can easily select any of six unique skills in battle at the drop of a hat (so long as your meter is full enough). This is a great idea and might keep you playing longer than you otherwise would, except that the game is so easy you can practically fly through it using the abilities you gain by default at the very beginning.
In theory, you're supposed to spend a lot of time building up your levels between the main grapping events by battling monsters in the short side-scrolling stages that connect the various tournaments, but there's no reason to do so. Your levels climb so quickly throughout the natural course of play that you'll be ridiculously overpowered most of the time (especially with some of the characters) and will generally only lose matches if you let yourself get careless. A few side quests are available with ramped up difficulty, but they only make it still easier to coast through the main game. The only real real challenge you'll ever face is a string of boss battles near the end of the game, but if you fail at those you get to go through them again with the points you earned on the previous attempt, so you'll quickly level up to wherever you need to be to win.
When it comes right down to it, Draglade doesn't do much of anything wrong. It's attractive, with nicely detailed backgrounds and expressive character models that flood the project with charm. It has a rather generic central story, but humorous dialog alleviates the issue. On top of all of that, the combat system is surprisingly deep for a handheld system and is sure to provide hours of fun if you head online and seek out competitors (provided they're available, that is). With those features combined, it should have been a fantastic game. Instead, it got hamstrung by an all-too-brief story mode and a difficulty level that's too low. Those factors definitely knock it down a peg or two. There's still an audience for this sort of thing, but it's not necessarily the group Atlus typically courts.
Staff review by Jason Venter (December 04, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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