A JRPG With A Touchscreen Twist: Square-Enix’s Drakerider
With a developer like Square-Enix, one cannot help but place plenty of expectations on Drakerider. This is not Square or Enix’s first foray into dragon themed games –Drakengard, Bahamut Lagoon, Dragon Quest, and several other titles already feature these giant winged beasts on the spotlight. So what does Drakerider have that sets it apart? Simple: the fact that you are literally tugging at the dragon’s reins while fighting. The game places you in control of a typical JRPG protagonist, with a pretty campy JRPG story to follow around. If you have played during the golden age of gaming on the PS1 or the PS2, then the story and delivery will be nothing new. The combat of fighting monsters while you are riding on the back of a dragon however, is something that may get you to buy this app in its entirety.
Dragon riding is not a new concept in RPGs –most especially in JRPGs. But in Drakerider, the developers have decided to take it further by literally handing you the reins. Thanks to the presence of touch screen controls, you can now struggle in multitouch goodness as you fight to gain control of a dragon that has half a mind to go dangerously berserk whenever you forget to mind the controls for a second or two. And when we said "dangerously", we meant it for you, the rider. Depending on how you tug, pull, and give slack to the chains, the dragon will try to follow your lead and attack accordingly. If that concept was not enough to get you curious about this game, then maybe you should not be looking at dragon themed games in the first place.
Nothing Like Old School
Japanese RPGs have a very distinct flavor and formula, but do not let that fool you into thinking that every other game is much like the other –while the entire “save everyone and everything” is omnipresent, it is the little character to character interactions that makes each game truly unique and special. In this case, protagonist Aran does a pretty good job at being the slightly interesting but mostly blank slate lead character –the perfect hollow role that the player can insert themselves in. His job is a tracker –he seeks out people or objects then retrieves them for his client. You start the game with Aran doing one of his jobs: rescuing a young woman named Quory. It seems that the beautiful lass is about to be used as a sacrifice in some bizarre ritual but strange hooded figures, which makes Aran’s life a whole lot harder.
Anyway, when the two finally meet, it appears that there is more to Quory than the typical maiden in distress (in the land of JRPGs, these maidens often prove to be more than capable of handling themselves, which really is not a surprise anymore). Quory reunites Aran with a long lost friend, a dragon named Eckhardt. Together, the three start rampaging their way out of the strange place and out to the world.
Up to this point, the entirety of the game is pretty much cliché; except for the part where we left out the fact that the battle consists of Aran trying to get Eckhardt to do what is needed to win a fight. It is an interesting concept, and you are more likely to die from the dragon going nuts than the enemy being able to deal enough damage.
Simple Concepts Go Far
The battles are pretty straight forward, Eckhardt attacks on a regular beat –just wait for some moments to pass and the dragon will perform all sorts of things. The same goes for the enemy units, they will attack at set intervals too. The goal is to deal enough damage to the enemy to kill it while surviving the enemy’s attacks on you. Considering the fact that Eck is one tough cookie, that is not such a hard thing to do at the start (most of the starting enemies are really weak). As you progress through the game, the enemies start getting tougher and start performing complicated moves, and that is where advanced dragon controls come in.
To control the dragon in the middle of a match, Aran employs the use of chain-reins to keep Eckhardt in line. Pull the chains to the left and the dragon becomes more timid –using quick weak attacks, blocking and defending against enemy moves, and when damaged, casts healing spells. Give the dragon a bit of slack to the center and you get average moves that do normal damage and a bit of blocking. Tugging the chains further to the right will make the dragon more aggressive, choosing to perform slower but heavier hitting moves at the enemies. While it would be fun to keep pulling to the right, there is also a fourth status on the extreme edge –losing control. When you give too much slack, Eckhardt starts going on a rampage and starts performing moves that will not only damage the enemy, but may also kill Aran as well. Balancing the chain’s position during battles is crucial in order to efficiently defeat your enemies and keep Aran alive as well. Fortunately, there is a gauge on top of the screen during combat that lets you figure out the proper positioning of the chains.
Looks Vaguely Familiar
The character designs, background details, spell effects, and even the user interface are all likely to give long time JRPG fans a curious case of déjà vu. After all, this game has been developed by the minds behind the most iconic RPGs ever released. And it would not be a surprise to us if they ever say that Drakerider is made out of various rejected Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest concepts. That being said, the graphics are familiar but still great to look at. The artwork for the character illustrations that pop out during dialogue sequences are nice to look at –excellent line details, subtle tones, and that ever typical Anime-feel.
The backgrounds are a little too generic for our tastes – but they are not going to be distracting you much. The game puts plenty of detail on the character models for the lead characters –especially on Eckhardt the dragon.
The music is also your typical JRPG fare, it is quirky, and very transparent with the emotions it wants to convey –heavy fast beats for battles, light and bubbly during humorous conversations. The sound effects for the battles, the user interface, and the voice acting also add nicely to the overall atmosphere (the Japanese voice overs are exceptionally good too).
The thing about Drakerider that people should be aware of is that it is a very long game. Expect to plunk down the same amount of hours you would give for an actual console based RPG game –it will be that long. At the very least, Square Enix provides players with the chance to try out the start of the game –the demo is huge but worth getting if you have a hankering for a real RPG title on a tablet device. The game is not cheap, but we highly recommend not buying the individual chapter packs but buying the complete set instead (you save more money that way, and it does not really make much sense to buy individual chapters if you are not going to finish the story in the end). For those of you who are still on the casual stage of playing app games, you might want to give Drakerider a pass. But for the rest of you hardcore fans who have been looking for a true single player experience with plenty of good content a solid game system to back it up with, Drakerider is one good investment you should not miss out on. We give this game a frightened cultist’s 86/100.