Dragoneer's Aria (PSP) review
"A JRPG Drag-on(eer)"
Sometimes, the strength of peopleís convictions amaze me. Not so long ago, one such person decided to make a stand against the manufactured pop music that floods our airwaves, and made her way to a public stage armed with only a bucket and a CD belonging to one of the cheesier offenders on her hit list. For the entire albumís duration -- the best part of an hour -- the woman bent over the bucket and expelled the contents of her stomach.
The expected norm here would be to lazily transition into how Dragoneerís Aria is a game so bad that it installs in me the same desires. It doesnít, because Iím sane, but my recent experiences certainly brought about a new wave of sympathy with the deranged girl. Be it the same cut and paste music or the same infinite waterfall of tumbling JRPG clichťs, nothing is more likely to bring about a hearty round of projectile vomiting than being force feed the same crap over and over again.
The focus rests on a young man called Valen, though his manhood is called into question early when committing MIís first mass-produced sin; heís ridiculously androgynous. Here, our protagonist is so overly effeminate that he makes Final Fantasy IXís gender-confused lead villain, Kuja, look like a ripped Adonis constructed from pure beefcake. My only clue to his apparent lack of breasts and addiction to shoe shopping was when his fellow soldiers addressed him as a ďheĒ when Valen steps out into the main courtyard of his academy. Itís here heís to be proclaimed a Dragoon, an elite knight in charge of protecting the dragons, the very power in which his world thrives upon.
Naturally, as the opening scenes in predictable RPGS are wont to do, something goes awry. The balance of the very world is thrown in chaos when a random monstrosity mysteriously appears from nowhere and wounds one of the elemental dragons. Valen, as the newest and most inexperienced of all the warriors gathered, is given the assignment of travelling the country in search of other dragons, and protect them from the unexplained evil threats that seek to slay them.
A noble cause, to be sure, and one initially undertaken with great passion, driven by a musical score that dials up the sense of urgency with brave beats and reverberating baselines. It drives home the fact that you, of all people, are chosen to be the sole representative for everything everyone holds dear -- to protect the very world itself. The most brilliant minds on the planet ask for your protection, ignoring the fact youíve barely swing a sword before, constantly voicing their ultimate faith in you and your abilities. Time to prove them wrong. Travelling through the world, you meet many enemies roaming the countryside in the form of floating eyeballs that you need to nudge to initiate battle. You donít know what youíre up against until you fight it.
Start the fight, and youíll need to look a long way back into the murky past to discover a more unresponsive and clumsy battle system. Fighting launches the typical and expected orders to dole out to your fighting force. These can range from standard attacks, nature-based skills that depend on which element your character is currently equipped with, and the ability to sling a spell or two. Each time you spam an attack choice, youíll slowly upgrade that characterís proficiency with it, favoured tactics evolving and growing with each successfully landed blow. Credit where itís due, Aria does make a play at offering slightly different options from the norm; its static menu-based combat could have been serviceable, if not particularly inspiring.
Whatever option you roll with, the battle will accept. Eventually. Each round lasts the approximate amount of time it would take to complete most titles.
The sad truth is that the your struggling handheld takes a ridiculous amount of time to process each and every action. Itís made all the more damning as itís rare youíll ever finish a fight in a single round, meaning that the laborious procedure crashes over you again and again like a sea of molasses. Itís no exaggeration to say that some random encounters last a quarter of an hour upwards, no matter how hard you grind or how many skill sets you pimp.
Even should you craft the finest weapons available for each available character, even should you max out their power moves or elemental strikes, you still move forward at the speed of a dilapidated and fairly depressed snail.
Neither does the creeping pace hide any form of strategic worth. The only tactic ever available is the mixing and matching of your castís elemental properties to flavour your strikes with nature-themed overkill. Magic is nothing short of useless, save obligatory heal and status cleansing spells, meaning until you drain your mana reservoirs and resort to standard attacks, everything you do takes a bite from you magic stocks.
Even outside of battle, your mana count is constantly chipped away at by individual talents played out in the overworld. Our girly main character, for instance, has the unique ability to walk slightly faster than normal. Ditzy and irritating potential love interest , Euphe, can regenerate the lost health of everyone in the field while trailing Valen around like a faithful puppy. Even if these abilities are exclusive and unavoidably lame, they also factor in the largely unwanted bonus of bleeding your magic slowly dry. Running into the next eyeball and finding an enemy several times more powerful than you, backed with little to no magical reserve, often leads to a heavily sodomized cast perpetrated by something looking suspiciously smug. The unavoidable slide into your own flailing demise is all the more painful when itís performed v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.
As you lethargically limp onwards, other people are drawn to your adventure liked doomed moths flapping towards an ignition light. Their presence is perhaps the titleís biggest highlight, raising the game slightly from its dank pit of poor programming and worse storytelling. Mary is a cocky pirate brat who constantly mocks Valen for looking significantly more girly than she does, while Ruslan is a xenophobic elf who never holds back his opinions on the unwashed human savages.
Unfortunately, thatís not nearly enough. The few moments where the characterís wit shine do nothing to negate to poor story that drips generic. Save dragon > Kill dark beasty > Win. The good music and the pretty graphics seem almost accidental when paired with a backwards approach to making a game. It drowns in clichť, refusing to grow up from a time when such errors could be blamed on technical limitations, proving excuses for counter-productive quirks that no longer have an excuse to exist. Aria refuses to evolve; too happy to wallow in the mud instead of rising up from it.
I apologise for this; itís time to fetch the bucket again.
Community review by darketernal (February 26, 2018)
Occasional reviewer of random stuff.
If you enjoyed this Dragoneer's Aria review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!