"Sony snuck up on everyone and released this part action, part adventure, part RPG hybrid. Few people were expecting it, and few really cared when it actually came out. After all, who wants a game that looks like Tomb Raider but plays more like a cross N64's Zelda games and Blizzard's Diablo? Luckily, Sony "
Sony snuck up on everyone and released this part action, part adventure, part RPG hybrid. Few people were expecting it, and few really cared when it actually came out. After all, who wants a game that looks like Tomb Raider but plays more like a cross N64's Zelda games and Blizzard's Diablo? Luckily, Sony managed to deliver in all the ways that would be expected from a ''good'' game. Just a few short months after its release, Drakan: The Ancients' Gates had its price dropped down to $30--something that usually only happens to games that don't sell because they're bad. This was not the case with Drakan. It didn't sell because of poor advertising, lack of hype and a number of other reasons, but it is indeed a good game, and has a great number of enjoyable aspects.
As I said earlier, Drakan is like an Action/RPG combined with Tomb Raider. Right off the bat, you could swear that you're playing a medieval Tomb Raider, until five minutes into the game when you're introduced to different items, weapons, moves and even experience points. Once you reach the first dungeon, it'll be no secret that this is more like an RPG than an adventure game. However, it does share a few similarities with Tomb Raider, the first being the view. It's almost identical to Tomb Raider--the lead character is even a sexy, british heroine who is bound to remind you of Lara Croft. Other than that, this game is pure RPG, baby.
Like in any good RPG, gameplay is based upon dungeons, exploration and character interaction. The game flow goes something like visit town, stock up on items, watch cutscene, head for dungeon, repeeat. This isn't too monotonous, and never fails to keep clear the true focal point of the game: the dungeons. They're all very well constructed, and are amazingly vast. You'll find multiple paths through most dungeons, and even little optional sidequests within. They're very long, and will take up more than half of your game time--the first one alone will take you around 2 hours. Of course, if the game was all dungeons, it would be no fun. In towns, you can visit the blacksmith's to repair your weapons or buy new ones, say hello to the alchemist and buy some healing potions, or just wander around town, talking to the townsfolk. Which brings up another topic...
While you're wandering around town, chatting with people, you're bound to run into a few pleasant folk who need your help. A good example is the man in Sudana (the game's main palace) who has an infestation problem in his basement with giant spiders. Go down to his cellar, take care of those spiders for him, and you'll get some EXP., a reward from the guy, and a warm feeling in your heart for helping others in need. The game is filled with fun little optional quests like these, and in case you forget about them, they'll even be recorded in your journal as ''optional quests'' right below ''primary quests.''
In Drakan, you can engage in battle in two different manners. The most common is land, and the ''secondary'' is air. On the land, you will be controlling Rynn, the game's main character. She'll be able to run, jump, roll, use magic, block and wield a variety of cool weapons. Most of the game's battles take place on the ground, in the form of dungeons, where you'll come toe-to-toe with some nasty monsters. Battle isn't terribly strategic, as it basically involves hitting the attack button time after time, but you'll still be having fun as you watch large chunks of blood fly off of your victims. Sometimes, simple puzzles are incorporatead into dungeons, but not often. Usually just finding your way out is hard enough.
In the air, you'll be waging war on your enemies atop Rynn's dragon-friend, Arokh. Arokh is a friendly fellow, except when it comes to enemy dragons and other powerful foes. Battle with Arokh isn't quite so fun as with Rynn, but it's a good idea that just wasn't taken far enough. Arokh has the power to ascend, descend, turn, lock onto enemies, breath fire and shoot fireballs. Of course, on your journey, he will get stronger just like Rynn, acquiring nifty new abilities. I only wish it had been made a bit easier to control Arokh, because you can die a lot quicker in air than you can on land, usually.
The aspect which really makes Drakan more like an RPG than anything else is the leveling up system. While it may seem shallow and a bit lame compared to some truer, more in-depth RPG's, it serves its purpose well. After killing enough enemies to fill your experience meter up all the way, you'll gain a level. Afterward, you can head to your skill screen, where you will have earned yourself a skill point. You can use this skill point to power-up one of three different attack styles; melee, archery or magic. You have a little freedom to mix 'n match as you please--you can go with a really strong melee fighter, or craft a long-range magic-user/archer. It's really up to you. Unfortunately, Rynn can only be leveled up to 12 throughout the entire game, which is perfectly enough for the game--you won't be level 12 before nearly the end, but I would've liked at least 20. Anyway, other than earning a skill point, your character level enables you to use more powerful weapons and armor.
There are a lot of different moves and abilities to perform during battle in Drakan. In the beginning, I was confused and a bit baffled by the controls, but with time I really grew to like them. While wandering around with Rynn, the controls are simple--turning the analog stick to either side rotates Rynn, and pressing back or forward moves her. Once you lock onto a target, you'll enter a different mode where you will always be facing the enemy you locked onto, so moving the analog stick to either side will sidestep, and back and front move you the same as before. This is very similar to Zelda's Z-targetting and Soul Reaver's Auto-face system, and it works quite well. To equip or use items/weapons, you first need to highlight them in your inventory, which will bring them to a ''quick'' inventory, called Hotslot. The R1 button brings up the Hotslot inventory, and L1/R1 cycle through it. Once you reach the item or weapon you desire, just hit X and then you'll equip or use it. This works well, but the only reason it's there is because when you bring up your inventory, it doesn't pause the game. I really wish they had made it so this does, because hotspot isn't quite easy enough while you're also trying to dodge the attacks of 4 angry skeletons. All in all, Rynn works out well.
Arokh, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. Triangle will cause him to rise, X to descend, forward to move forward, and then left or right will make him turn. He flies kind of like a plane...and frankly, the controls are a bit too sensitive for me. When you're just cruising around the world map it's ok, but when you're fighting enemies, especially a boss, it's a bit too clumsy for my liking. They did include the same lock-on targetting system as with Rynn, which works out well, but if it weren't for that, actually hitting your target would be near-impossible.
Drakan certainly doesn't hold back with the graphics. The environments are absolutely huge, the character animations are smooth, and the lighting is good. Everything looks better than I thought it would, but it still isn't perfect. For one, the textures are a bit dull, and the environments lack detail. The character design is great, though, especially of Rynn and Arokh--they both look very lifelike. And while there are no actual cutscenes, the game is filled with little in-game cinematic sequences which, thanks to the game's on-par graphics, look surprisingly good and get the job done well. Particle and light effects all look very crisp, without flaw. Simply put, Drakan's graphics are slightly beyond everything you'd expect from a PS2 game.
The voice acting here is top-notch. Rynn herself has a sexy english voice, while Arokh has a deep ''dragon-like'' voice, and all the villains sound especially evil. Of course, if sitting through long dialogues isn't your thing, you can just read the captions and push X to skip the talking. As for the music, it's not exactly what you'd expect from an RPG, in the sense that it isn't nearly as melodic, nor as memorable. However, it is good-quality, and works very well while you're playing the game, but just doesn't leave much of an impact. For example, I can't remember any of the melodies off the top of my head, because the music just doesn't really move you like in most RPG's.
Honestly, I thought the storyline was going to be stupid after the first hour. It sounded completely corny and not up to snuff with the RPG-standard, but about half way through the game, I thought to myself ''Hey, I'm actually enjoying this.'' There aren't a lot of twists in the plot, or any amazingly well-developed characters, but there is a solid underlying story with some fun sidequests and wicked villains. Certainly not a let-down, but not a great accomplishment, either.
This is one of the not-so-good areas of Drakan. It will take somewhere in the 12-20 hour range to complete the game, probably close to 15. This is a decent length for an action/adventure game, but for an RPG, which is more what this game is, I was certainly expecting more. 20+ hours would have been nice, but the game doesn't feel short or incomplete, unless you compare it to epic RPG's like the Final Fantasy Series. All this short game length really does is makes the game feel like a kind of dumbed-down RPG, and more of an action/adventure game. As for replay value, I'm not sure I see why anyone would have any reason to play this again, other than to enjoy it a second time through. There are no benefits or secrets to uncover if the game is taken on one more time, which is somewhat of a disappointment. As a whole, the game is short and more brief than I would have liked.
Drakan isn't by any means flawless, but it is fun. There are lots of juicy dungeons, entertaining sidequests, quirky characters, and interesting locations. There is also a solid battle system, with lots of different weapons and armor, plus some cool magic. The game feels almost like an independent RPG, while at the same time being an action/adventure. It's like a miniature RPG and a huge action/adventure game combined. The feeling is hard to explain, but if you really want to know, just rent it, or, better yet, pick it up for the bargain price of $30. Good deal.
Staff review by James Gordon (July 27, 2002)
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