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Draglade (DS) artwork

Draglade (DS) review

"As much as Draglade might sound like a cheap energy drink, itís actually a DS action-RPG that feels like a cross between Pokemon and Megaman Battle Network, with an element of music-and-rhythm thrown in for good measure."

As much as Draglade might sound like a cheap energy drink, itís actually a DS action-RPG that feels like a cross between Pokemon and Megaman Battle Network, with an element of music-and-rhythm thrown in for good measure. Itís a crazy combination that works surprisingly well, but relatively shallow mechanics and a lack of captivating storytelling drag it back down to earth.

The world is gripped by a sport known as grapping; combatants are pitted against each other to see not only who is the strongest, but who can create the funkier beats. Grappers fight with Ďgladesí, instruments that deal damage and naturally create music. Many youths aspire to become the best-of-the-best by reaching major grapper status, but the road to the top isnít easy. You choose one of four would-be major grappers on a quest to become the best in the world, but despite slightly differing story arcs, this choice doesnít make a great deal of difference in the long run.

The already-clichť story is triple-coated with anime goodness (or badness if anime styling isnít to your liking), but the real disappointment is the lack of any interesting goings-on. Non-player characters offer no interesting conversation and zero interaction, so thereís not a lot of incentive to keep up with the story. Compounding this is a relatively boring and lifeless game world: although the cityscape environments are colourful and well-crafted, there isnít much going on inside them. In addition to the static NPCs, the same repetitive tunes are croaked out of the DS speakers in almost every city. All in all, Draglade fails as an RPG in that it doesnít grip you with characters you can relate to or a story you can get lost in. But itís quite clear the main attraction is the creative cocktail of elements that comprise the battle system.

Dragladeís combat plays out in two-dimensional side-scrolling fashion, but there is a lot under the surface that isnít immediately apparent. The basics of combat include dishing out light and heavy attacks, blocking to reduce damage, and jumping to reach higher platforms. In addition to this, you collect bullets that allow you to use special moves in combat. Bullets come in varieties that inflict damage, heal your avatar, or supplement your attacks in some way. You can have three equipped at any one time in addition to three back-up bullets that you can switch between by using the touch screen. The diversity of effects you can get from certain combinations is great, but youíll find some are significantly more useful than others. The meter that determines how often you can use bullets regenerates automatically over time, and by scoring good combos with regular attacks, the regeneration gets quicker. As a result, the diverse range of bullets is somewhat wasted by a selection that are more powerful than the rest that you can use with almost the same frequency.

By far the most interesting part of combat is creating beat combos, which is where the rhythm game influence comes in. Hitting the L-trigger causes a horizontal meter to appear in the lower right corner; after initiating an attack, small nodes travel across the meter which you have to line up in time. If you pull it off right, youíll deal some good damage and make some music! Donít expect an extension of Guitar Hero here: itís strictly one-button and the timing is extremely generous. In fact, you can button mash for the majority and still complete the combo (but keep in mind that good timing is rewarded with a greater damage boost). The real fun is using the sequencer to create your own beat combos. After getting to grips with the intimidating combo builder, itís actually quite easy to create some good tunes. As well as forming the actual beat, you can change the tone and pitch of each hit to your heartís content. There are a lot of possibilities, and if youíre patient, you might be able to recreate the tunes of some your favourite songs.

After realising how bland the story side of Draglade is, getting stuck into the various aspects of combat is very refreshing. Customising your bullet setup and beat combos is by far the best part, and the collection aspect (which is what makes it similar to Pokemon and Megaman Battle Network) ties in well for the perfectionists who want to micro-manage every little detail. The main problem is the difficulty curve; you can get through most fights by hammering on the attack button and throwing in the occasional bullet and beat combo. Unless you make an effort to fight stylish (which isnít difficult due to the range of bullets and beats at your disposal), it can turn into a dissatisfying button-masher. Those of you who crave challenge can grap against the world on Wi-Fi, but at present, you wonít find a huge online community to challenge.

Itís great to see developers create something a little bit different, and Draglade is just that. Itís certainly an unrefined formula with a lot of rough edges, but the experimental combat system works well and is fun to play. If youíre looking for an involving adventure that will sweep you away, Draglade isnít for you. But if you want something thatís a tad innovative, and that doesnít require unflinching dedication to keep up with, it might very well be an investment worth making.

PAJ89's avatar
Freelance review by Paul Josua (April 28, 2008)

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