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The I of the Dragon Review
publisher: Strategy First
developer: Primal Software
PIII-600, 128MB RAM, 32MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Nov 02, 04 (released)
|» All About The I of the Dragon on ActionTrip|
It's true that while dragging politics into a discussion about an Action RPG is far from appealing, I will have to touch briefly upon the concept of globalization to kind of get to where I'm going with this opening. Essentially, the principals that the world economy operates on apply to some extent to the gaming industry. Simply said, the rich will try all the tricks in the book to exert their dominance on the market and use every means at their disposal to do it. And if that means throwing wads of money at the competition, then that's what they'll do. At the end of the day, the logic here is simple. If it takes you less money to bury your competition than you would stand to lose by letting them live, then do whatever is best for you, and that often entails using your superior financial resources to either buy off (or put out of business) the weaker competitors.
It is in this world that smaller publishers and developers are left to fight for sloppy seconds while the big boys are looking forward to new horizons. Games from lesser known designers and publishers receive less attention from both the press and gamers alike, and it's not uncommon for people to pass judgment simply on how familiar they are with the publisher or the team that made the game. It also stands true that Eastern European teams have traditionally had another tough barrier between them and the coveted success on the U.S. market that stateside developers don't: the language barrier. Yeah, you can hire cheap native English speakers to voice the characters, but as you all know, this just never works out the way it should (and they never tell you that the title makes little sense in English because they resent you. - Ed).
Sadly, such is the case with Primal Soft's I of the Dragon. The first time I loaded the game, I was instantly put off by the rather bleak and uninspiring attempt to convey the story through opening cinematic, which was about as engaging as a John Deere marketing brochure (This is because you've never seen how many people a runaway tractor can crush at a fourth of July parade. Get out more. - Ed). Granted, maybe I'm just jaded, or spoiled by Ninja Gaiden cut scenes and Blizzard's and Square's work and, but for a fantasy-themed Action RPG; which is what I of the Dragon is; the game sure lacks a cohesive plot, and much more importantly, good story telling.
All I could gather while playing the game was that the players are cast in the role of a mighty dragon, helping the human race fight off a horde of monsters that are spreading across the world like a plague. In itself, the concept is far from unoriginal, but the narrative just isn't conveyed well enough - the cinematics are cheap, short and hurried and there's not much going on in between the missions to tie them all together. Add to that the horrid voice acting that is about as expressive and exciting as hearing the announcer mumble the bingo numbers at a retirement home bingo night (You've never hung out with grandma and smoked weed either. Get out more. - Ed), and you could say you got yourself a classic Russian production done on a rather modest budget.
Ironically, that is about the only thing stopping this game from being regarded as a truly outstanding project. I of the Dragon lacks funding, better writing and more cinematic appeal, but it also does so many things right in the game play department; it ultimately ends up being a fun game to play.
First, the very fact that you play a dragon instead of a classic Action RPG hero adds a bit of flair to the genre. Nevertheless, that wouldn't mean much if it wasn't for the fact that the game play is smooth, polished and nicely balanced, so that it's unbelievably addictive once the action heats up and you take on the more powerful enemies.
At the outset, players will choose between three dragon types. Essentially, one is more of a combat dragon, while the other two rely on magic or the combination of the two. Character development is done in such a way that you can take the fire breathing combat dragon and turn it into a powerful magician, or visa versa. This, in turn, leaves plenty of room for maneuvering in terms of how you want to develop the skills of your dragon.
The game takes a while to heat up, but after about five or so missions you'll truly be able to appreciate how gracefully most of the interface has been constructed and how well balanced and fun some of the battles can be. It's very easy to move around, pan the camera and cast spells, and it won't take you more than an hour to get fully proficient with the controls.
The enemy AI works fine for the most part - weaker enemy mages will use their mobility to avoid the deadly fireballs you're hurling at them, while the warrior units slug it out with you till the bitter end. The worst thing that can happen to a dragon is when a lot of units gang up on it, which is why you'll need to stay mobile at all times.
This brings me to a very interesting point about the game. The action in this Action RPG is far from a simple, mindless click-fest. To overcome the more powerful enemies you'll have to dodge their attacks and use your power of flight (you'll have to realize you have an additional dimension of movement available to you that you wouldn't ordinarily have as a human hero), switch between various fire weapons at your disposal as well as use the spells effectively. In that sense the game feels a lot more like a good tactical RTS than an Action RPG, which is truly a unique and welcomed addition to this RPG sub-genre. Another unique aspect of the game is the town building and leveling, which make I of the Dragon feel even more like a tactical RTS. The important thing that I should reiterate here is that the game play is in many ways the opposite of the game's story presentation. The interface is very polished and the game does a great job of easing you into the game play mechanics before the real fun starts. Not to mention that being a dragon gives you a special sense of freedom - freedom to soar across the skies and swoop down on the puny foot soldiers. This alone is a unique game play sensation that deserves recognition.
8.0 Very Good
Fun game play, some good interface solutions, great mix of RPG and tactical RTS elements, robust 3D engine;
Awful voice acting, poor story presentation, maps feel too restrictive at times, often unclear mission objectives.