In many ways, Drakerider is an interesting beast. Not only does it use some creative gameplay decisions, but also provides some cool characters and a fairly intriguing tale. Unfortunately, for all the creativity which appears at the front-end of the game, it isn’t too long before you see some old cliches and design choices which drag the game down from being very fresh and innovative to just being “pretty good.”
Our protagonist, Aran Lawson, does not deal with his opposition in a normal manner. He has been granted a very unique and very dangerous gift: As a dragalier, he controls a mighty dragon born of his own imagination. Despite their bond, however, the dragon Eckhardt is not terribly fond of our boy Aran, and will kill him at the first opportunity that presents itself. As a result of this, Aran must control Eckhardt in battle and out through the use of his will and a set of magical chains.
This leads to an innovative and engaging combat system. Along the top of the screen is a gauge which goes from blue to green, yellow, and the dreaded red. The closer the pointer is to the blue portion, the weaker Eckhardt’s attacks are and the greater his defense, including healing abilities in mid-battle (your life is replenished after each bout, thankfully). But the closer it moves towards red, the more powerful and ferocious his attacks, and if it reaches the red zone? Eckhardt will break free of his chains and, with his might unbound, thrash anything near him– including you, unless you manage to get him back under control.
One to be born from a dragon
Along the bottom of the screen are chains which correspond to the meter; by dragging them left repeatedly with your finger, you can keep Eckhardt under control in the cool zone. But when you’re ready to unleash his power, you’ll want to drag them in the opposite direction– without going too far, of course. Meanwhile, a timer at the top of the screen lets you know when it’s your turn to make a move, helping you to know when to have the meter in a ready position.
This system, which can be augmented by items you get along the way, is where Drakerider soars. However, most of the other gameplay components bring the experience back down to Earth again.
After flying around a cool 3D-styled map of the world to your next destination, you’ll land and walk around often-barren and mostly unpopulated landscapes. Or at least, they appear largely unpopulated until you experience the dreaded random encounters, which– as they tend to do– come from out of nowhere. These battles tend to occur a little too frequently as you’re trying to explore,but really, there is really very little exploring to do; some branching paths lead to chests, while others do not. That’s largely it. The environment is a bit clunky to move around in, too, as the pre-rendered landscapes only give you a loose idea of where you can walk.
The Dragon and His Boy
Meanwhile, the enemies you come across tend to be either too difficult or too easy to deal with. Regular grunts often go down with little problem, while bosses tend to be flat-out impossible by comparison. The solution, then, is to grind until you are at a level capable of beating the boss. It makes a world of difference, yet is kind of annoying that you couldn’t just reach that level over the natural progression across the map.
The graphics are solid, and the character designs are generally pretty good (though one might argue that one character seems a little young for the revealing outfit she is wearing). The story and mythology behind it is fairly interesting as well. As for the music, some of it reminds us of the type of tunes we might expect to hear from SEGA CD games– in a good way. However, the voices are all in Japanese, which can be good or bad, depending on your view. Suffice to say, we read the captions and just pressed on, not even giving them a chance to finish most of the time.
Overall, Drakerider is a solid and enjoyable RPG offering that tries to do something new, but finds that innovative spirit tempered somewhat by otherwise bland gameplay.