Dragon Force - Reader Retroview  

A Force of Dragons: Quite an Accurate Title
by JuMeSyn

30 to 40 hours for each ruler


Rating definitions 

   The Sega Saturn led a hard life in the annals of consoles. Owners of the console would be deprived repeatedly of quality titles thanks to reluctance on the part of Western publishers to have them translated. Dragon Force fortunately did make its way to the English-speaking world courtesy of justly-acclaimed Working Designs, and Saturn players are by far the better off for its presence. For a tactical-RPG experience unlike any other (excepting its own sequel), Dragon Force cannot be ignored or supplanted.

   Dragon Force’s unique battle system requires a bit of explanation. As in many tactical-RPGs the player will come upon many, many potential fighters with a variety of skills. Unlike most others (excepting Langrisser), the characters coming under player control use troops of their own. Each character the player has under his/her command has at least one troop type to command and these troops come in numbers from 10 to 100 based primarily upon the player’s awarding of merits to these characters. Each merit awards 10 more troops for command, and a merit is obtained by winning a battle. Merely having 100 troops versus 30 will not guarantee victory, however, when ten troop types exist in the game with each possessing certain specialties. Harpies will mop the floor with soldiers, but against mages those harpies will be shot from the sky with ease. And those mages that shoot down the harpies can be cut down by soldiers, while those soldiers will be cut down again should they encounter cavalry, the cavalry in turn being cut down by beasts.

Shoot that poison arrow through my heaaaart… Shoot that poison arrow through my heaaaart…

   Victory in a Dragon Force battle is obtained by defeating the opposing commander. The commanders themselves stay stationary, with the exception of using spells. Spells have a number of effects, most of them limited to ‘destroy-enemy-troops-and/or-harm-enemy-general’ but with a few extras that stop ground-based troops from moving for awhile, or freeze the opposing commander’s magic gauge and prevent the enemy from retreating. If both sides see all their troops die then the victor is determined via a duel. Duels are computer-controlled and can be quite unpredictable, making them dangerous to engage in.

   The story itself is not too involved: 300 years ago two gods fought over the fate of Legendra, and being unable to deliver a deciding blow the god Harsgalt transferred his power over the generations to 8 people who would have to finish the job. Naturally, one of these 8 is the person the player starts as. Once all 8 are gathered, the eponymous Dragon Force has been formed. Converting the other 7 rulers to the player's side usually requires beating them into the dirt, and it is during this portion of the game that the majority of the playtime takes place. This story is translated by Working Designs, meaning there will be no odd turns-of-phrase or unintelligible moments. There are a larger-than-usual number of spelling errors, but this can be attributed to the mammoth amount of text in the game – a great deal of which is contingent upon certain characters encountering each other in battle.

   Replay value for Dragon Force is a definite consideration. The story changes significantly depending upon the ruler chosen and its changes are interesting enough to warrant a playthrough using every ruler. 8 playthroughs of the game will take even the fastest RPGamer weeks, and this is without the possible propensity towards building stronger ancillary characters in addition to the 8 monarchs. Doing this took me months, and it stayed entertaining throughout.

Laine writes her own memorable captions so I don’t have to. Laine writes her own memorable captions so I don’t have to.

   Music is generally good but suffers from being overly repetitious in places. While each ruler has a distinct battle-map theme, which is very nice, far too many share the same out-of-battle music. This unfortunately means that an already unexciting composition will be played repeatedly into the player’s ears, and on at least one occasion this particular tired player was lulled to sleep. Sound effects are perfectly serviceable given the Saturn’s audio capabilities, but nothing outstanding. Voice acting only appears at the beginning and end, and as such is barely preeminent upon the grading.

   Graphics are not stunning outside of battle. Inside of battle is another story, for when 200 separate sprites are fighting each other on the screen the temptation for slowdown is great. The Saturn resists this temptation with all its might, even when the generals add their spells into the mix. Brief snippets of FMV bookend the game and they are unremarkable given the Saturn’s capabilities in this regard.

   Dragon Force is not overly challenging once the player comes to understand the unique battle system, which does not require a great investment in playtime. The game does become considerably harder in the endgame however, for at this point the 8 members of the Dragon Force are the only ones who matter in fights. If the player has been lax with any of their training, these battles near the end will be quite challenging. A wise tactic early on is to power-level the player’s chosen monarch before conquering anyone else, as all computer-controlled generals stay close to the player’s monarch’s level.

   In the world of Tactical RPGs Dragon Force remains unique. An addictive battle system combined with massive incentive for replay is all-but unheard of in Japanese-developed games of this type and Dragon Force therefore vaults itself to the top of a very short list. The only RPGamers who would be disinclined to play Dragon Force are those who despise every Japan-developed title and/or those who never play Tactical RPGs. Anyone who does not fall into the aforementioned categories and has the chance to play Dragon Force will enjoy it immensely.

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