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Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire

Score: 78%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: D3
Developer: Land Ho!
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Platformer (3D)/ Fighting

Graphics & Sound:

As the Wii moves from infancy to its toddler stage, we come to expect more. Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire would have been a decent launch title with the caveat that it looked like a Gamecube title drafted for the next-gen console. The updates in this case would have noted as motion control and not much else. A year after the Wii hit the market, we're seeing games like Resident Evil 4 that feature plenty of eye-candy and sophisticated graphics. Sure, CAPCOM fans expect a lot, but even a second-rate comparison (think Escape from Bug Island) shows that Dragon Blade is really lacking in the graphics department. The first tip-off is that the cut-scenes featured in the title sequence are also the cut-scenes that you see when you start the game - it's as if the sum total of the game's movie content was played out before you started actually controlling your character. The cut-scenes are slightly better quality, but not spectacular by any means.

Designers and Developers should make a call at some stage and if "realistic" isn't happening, move toward more of an anime/graphic look. Dragon Blade characters look strange in realistic settings because they appear more like paperdoll cut-outs than actual humans. The bad guys and enemies are supposed to be unrealistic so they work just fine. Locations that you'll visit are interesting enough, but the game progress on rails to such an extent that you never really feel like you're in a "'world" of any kind. Some time was spent creating textures and designing the levels to appear grand and there are objects littering the landscape that allow for interaction. The lack of options for exploration and very limited platforming gameplay results in most levels feeling too clinical. The sounds of battle are about the only interesting audio and again, there are some lackluster segments between gameplay that feature plenty of rousing music but no spoken dialogue. The music is often so grand that it feels totally overwrought compared to the action. Listening to dramatic orchestral scoring only works in the midst of huge battles or huge romances. Fighting off a rogue enemy with a few swings of the sword probably deserves a slightly more relaxed audio backdrop. If it sounds like a flat presentation, you are getting the picture. As a Gamecube title, we would have been reasonably impressed, but nobody ever earned points for being Yester-Gen...


Gameplay:

Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire wants to be a behind-the-back action game set in a fantasy world of dragons, demons, and heroes. The reality is that games like this are hard to get right. Plenty of good games of this type spring to mind along with plenty of flops, regardless of platform. Dragon Blade may not be a flop for some, considering the unique play dynamic of swinging a sword by using the Wii-mote and Nunchuk controller. I'm convinced that part of why the Wii is rocking the entire world stems from its ability to take even the most mundane and stale gameplay into a new dimension by adding motion. The character in Dragon Blade obtains a sword from a dragon (bet you didn't see that one coming, right?) and uses it to avenge his sweetheart and save the world. Not a whole lot happens beyond that except from grinding through levels against bad guys and battling the occasional boss.

The typical level includes some destructible elements, but not nearly enough interaction with the environment. Bad guys come running in waves and have to be dispatched by using combinations of attacks derived from up, down, and side-to-side motions of the Wii-mote. The things in the environment that can be destroyed, including enemies, grant your character some special skills and you can increase the likelihood of item drops by banging out big hit combinations. The actual dragon in the game is looking to get back powers that were stolen from him, so as you defeat bosses in the game, you are actually reconstructing the dragon's power. This manifests in changes to your weapon and new abilities that help take out bigger enemies or bigger groups of enemies more quickly. There are some doors and puzzle elements that require use of these new skills as well. The story of how your character, Dal, avenges his sweetheart and helps the dragon is the long and short of Dragon Blade. No multiplayer or online options are present, so what you see is definitely what you get. The replay factor is quite low, but a dedicated fan of fantasy games or third-person grinders could take Dragon Blade down in a weekend as a rental and be pretty happy.


Difficulty:

The various gestures and progressively stronger weapon upgrades that Dal has during Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire don't change the fact that this is a button-masher's dream. On the Wii, button-mashing translates to swinging your arms about wildly, up and down, all around... A dodge button helps to get your character out of even the tightest spots, so there isn't much of an issue with challenging big groups of enemies or seemingly impossible bosses. The boss battles can be frustrating in that your health drains quickly, but you do have several continues to use to prevent replaying the entire level. Levels are generally pretty short, which helps to alleviate frustration even if you do have to replay the whole darn thing. Since the game is effectively on rails, there is virtually no way to get lost or miss out on special areas or items as long as you are even moderately observant.

Game Mechanics:

The sword, the sword... it's all about the sword. Using the Wii-mote to control swings of Dal's Dragon Blade is an obvious choice. Various forms that perform specific actions with the sword will operate differently once you unlock or open up the dragon's powers later in the game. The default sensitivity to trigger attacks is good, but can be dialed up or down. The implementation of the controls for fighting was done smoothly and stands out head and shoulders above the design choices in other parts of the game. With some tweaking, these controls would make Dragon Blade a good fighting game, a la Tekken or Soul Blade. The Nunchuk comes into play for moving the character and also helps you switch focus between targets. Most of the movement and targeting is done on the Wii-mote. The Nunchuk also controls camera centering which you will need frequently. One small feature that would have made a big difference is a camera lock that worked in conjunction with the attack targeting system. You can target enemies, but you don't get the benefit of the camera staying locked on them. Since controls are sometimes relative to your enemies' location, you will find one trigger finger on the camera centering at all times.

Wild swinging of the arms aside, there are precision controls used in battle that can make fighting a fun part of Dragon Blade. If it weren't for this, we'd have a miserable time since the puzzle and platform components are virtually extinct. Jumping rarely comes into play as part of battles or moving around in a level; if it weren't possible to jump at all you'd rarely miss it. There are power-up items but no other meaningful items that contribute to gameplay. The concept of the game is decent and is implemented well in the sense that you do feel obligated to help the poor dragon become whole again. Since you know Dal's sweetheart for a grand total of 10 seconds, it is hard to feel much emotion around her loss, but obliterating enemies with a fiery sword tends to be its own reward. It's hard to capture the essence of a game that runs on such a narrow track and never realizes its full potential, but... but, it doesn't really suck. Considering how many games do move past the Not Sucking category into the Putrid Refuse Hall of Fame, we suppose that Dragon Blade has to get a nod for its effort. But just a nod...


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Sony PlayStation Portable Spider-Man: Friend or Foe Sony PlayStation 3 NBA Live 08

 
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