Alisia Dragoon (Genesis) review
"But she does have need of two things that set her apart: a quintet of highly-destructive pets that faithfully tail her wherever she treads and the rather handy ability to channel flickering forks of lightning into the faces of evil hostiles ranging from hives of undead monkey-bats to teleporting guardsmen swinging mammoth claymores."
Alisia is a girl. Perhaps I’m stating the obvious; she’s certainly in possession of a feminine enough name, and her ornate breastplate has clear remodelling her male counterparts have scant need of, but few games highlight their protagonist’s femininity the way Alisia Dragoon does. Tyris Flare, the notorious Amazon warrior of Golden Axe, may sport an armoured halter top that accents her curves, but she doesn’t have a ponytail that bobbles up and down as she charges onwards. Lara Croft’s best pair of assets may not be the twin pistols she employs, but, while her sex is made obvious -- exploited, some may claim -- she doesn’t let out girlish yelps of pain whenever she’s hurt. Alisia's not an adolescent male’s wet-dream of a girl -- she simply is a girl.
A normal girl can't prevail against a group of murderous gods that would happily label themselves descendants of Greek mythology if they didn’t secretly worry about copyright infringement. But she does have need of two things that set her apart: a quintet of highly-destructive pets that faithfully tail her wherever she treads and the rather handy ability to channel flickering forks of lightning into the faces of evil hostiles. This allows her to mow down foes ranging from hives of undead monkey-bats to teleporting guardsmen swinging mammoth claymores.
There is, of course, a reason why she wants to flash-fry all manner of evil wildlife; one about retrieving a shooting star that helps avenge the death of her father who fell foul of aforementioned heavenly fakes. But it’s safe to admit early that none of that really matters. Sure, white-robed angels show up in the middle of ancient ruins to float over techno-tinted, moss-covered menhirs and gloat at her lack of progress from time to time, but these brief intrusions are simple intermissions between electro-fuelled slaughtering. Perhaps it’s a little redundant to say so of a game made back in 1992, but Alisia stars in an old-school caper more oriented towards mowing down waves of cannon-fodder than delving into her reasons why.
Which makes things fortunate. Her quest could be summarised simply as walk to the right, kill anything that strays onto the screen, and navigate the odd platform, but doing so would be akin to describing Sonic as strolling around collecting shiny rings. Dragoon‘s never-ending army of zombie legionaries appear from the skies in emerald flashes, falling the short distance to the floor already swinging while ceiling-mounted globs of slime burp flame-flavoured death from above. Trying to guide herself through the zigzagging corridors of a rotting ruin is made easier by the almost sentient nature of her lightning attacks that actively seek targets out, roaming around the screen like a whip, eradicating anything it brushes. It’s a potent weapon; one overcharged by waiting for its gauge to completely fill then flinging surging sparks throughout the entire screen, obliterating everything.
This helps when she stalks beneath dilapidated stone walkways atop a crumbling battlement while green-armoured warriors thrust tridents and mages summon glowing fusions of magma and rock out of thin air to drop on her head. Or when twin ninja materialise on either side of the screen, peppering her with shuriken and flying kicks. With such stacked odds, she needs more help than a snaking blast of thunder often provides. Alisia has reinforcements on hand. If she looks to clear the screen, she asks her thunder lizard to spew out a destructive overkill of her favoured element, but it's an attack that leaves her alone and vulnerable while the massive recharge time ticks down. The salamander and the dragon both spit projectiles, be them quick, spiney boomerangs or dribbling balls of crawling flame, while the fire bug skitters around her, burning away anything that tries to draw in close. Each companion leads to a different form of offence; being under siege by a huge aquatic wyrm that leaps from the murky waters underfoot to try and chew on your face is a good excuse to break out the fire bug while the thunder lizard can clear rooms of hovering warlocks before their mana-charged blasts can destroy her from afar.
She needs the help, because, right in the middle of the endless waves of attacks, is just soft, feminine Alisia. Though somewhat sturdy, she can’t shrug off countless blows; her seeking lightning is just as much a shield as it is a weapon, one keeping her safe from the unwanted attentions of sadistic infantry and mutant wildlife. Her pets aren’t a gimmick, but familiars set on keeping the young heroine alive, and it’s a cleverly implemented sense of vulnerability. It's an endearing sense of exposure installed right at the base of Alisia herself, one made all the clearer with every panicky, girlish scream of pain and every time she‘s bent double by the slightest blow, that's Alisia Dragoon‘s most versatile strength. Tyris Flare, even surrounded by hulking, mace-wielding giants and fire-spitting wyverns never showed any signs of softness, nor did Lara Croft hesitate before charging head-first into gunfights versus herds of dinosaurs or especially angry baboons. But that’s because they’re no Alisia. They’re avatars, they’re protagonists.
Alisia is just a girl. A girl whose protection falls squarely on my shoulders. It’s a responsibility I do not intend to shrug off.
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