Dragon Force Review
The Art of War
The Sega Saturn never established a stable foothold in the console market. However this did not prevent it from acquiring a large number of RPGs which, while played by few, grew strong followings. Dragon Force is one such game.
When the game begins, the player chooses the leader of one of the eight countries that comprise Dragon Force‘s world. While one of the main goals of the game is to unite this countries, eventually obtaining each of these leaders, the one you pick as the main character has a major effect on both the difficulty of the early game, and the overall plot. In some cases, who you play as radically alters the way events unfold, so the completest will require eight playings to feel satisfied.
Once the game actually begins, the player is first confronted with the Domestic Affairs screen. From here it is possible to look at a political map, speak with generals, interrogate captives, seek out new generals, as well as search for and equip items. It is also possible to award favored and deserving generals with the ability to command more troops. This last option in particular is vital for success, but can grow quite tedious later in the game when twenty awards must be distributed to a select few of the hundred or so generals acquired by the end of the game.
Between visits to the Domestic Affairs screen, roughly ten minutes of time are spent on the world map. Here, the player and the leaders of the seven other countries move generals from castle to castle along fixed paths in real time. The interface is nearly identical to that found in Ogre Battle, however when generals from opposing countries come together, battle ensues in a very unique way. Each general a number of troops which can be increased with awards to an absolute maximum of one hundred. These troops are all of the same type, ranging from the mundane such as samurai and archers, to more outlandish, such as dragons and harpies. Each type performs differently against other units, for example archers are excellent against flying units, but quickly fall when facing cavalry. Sheer numbers and attributes aren’t the only factors involved in combat however. Proper strategy can claim victory even when greatly outmatched.
Battles take place on long fields, with one general on either end surrounded by their troops. After choosing a formation, a wide variety of orders can be issued to your troops as they charge about the battlefield in real time. Words do little to convey the novelty of such a system. On the fly, formations can be ordered to disperse towards the edges of the map, converge into a thin column, or charge blindly towards the nearest foe in an unorganized melee among other options. The generals themselves may not move, but do fend off attacking troops and have the ability to cast spells which cut large swathes through the opposing troops as well as damage the opposing general. With rare exception, once all the generals in a group or castle have been defeated, they are captured by the victor, to be interrogated and converted until every general is under the player’s command. Since even the victor almost always suffers a massive loss of troops, each castle has a large number of reserves which replenish over time. This makes territorial gains fairly important, as well as the acquisition of generals.
The generals themselves add some strategy to combat. Depending on their class, they have different troop types available to command initially. Each general also has their own spells, based largely on class. For example, While Monks and Beastmen tend to have spells which heavily damage the opposing general but leave troops unscathed, Soldiers tend to cut swathes through the enemy troops, and mages have more miscellaneous capacities, such as reviving their own troops.
Although uniting the world comprises the bulk of the gameplay and plot, there is more to Dragon Force than such repetitive campaigning. There are a number of odd sidequests, most of which involve certain generals having to confront ancient enemies, or going out of one’s way to find an elusive and powerful general. Additionally, once the entire world is united, the game takes a sharp turn, forcing the eight leaders into a number of very challenging personal quests, which are nearly impossible if their levels are low. Prior to this, the overall difficulty is quite low, so this shift frequently catches players off guard.
While the gameplay of Dragon Force is rock solid, the esthetics offer more of a mixed bag. While plot points are accompanied by high quality anime style images, and battles offer up to two hundred fairly large sprites slugging it out on screen, the anime introduction and ending have an extremely grainy quality which one can’t help but notice. The musical score is good, but very limited and unvarying. All in all however, these minor blemishes don’t detract from the game, and can be ignored when faced with Dragon Force‘s unique gameplay and amusing translation.
The localization of Dragon Force is wonderfully done, as one would expect from Working Designs. While not as humorous as most WD translations, there is the occasional joke to be found in the non-essential dialog. What Working Designs really deserves credit for is the improvements they made to the controls. While translating the game, they took the liberty of assigning shortcut functions to the X, Y, and Z buttons, which make the battle interface much more user friendly.
All in all, Dragon Force is a wonderful game. While it can grow tedious at times, and is relatively easy, the unique gameplay and multiple plotlines keep fans coming back for more. Certainly it is one of the best reasons to own a Saturn.