Publisher: D3 Publisher
Developer: Land Ho
Release Date: September 25, 2007
Most gamers have never heard of the publishing company known as D3 Publisher, likely because the games they release are on the side of simplistic and dull. They publish marketed media games such as Ed, Edd, and Eddy: Scam of the Century and Ben 10: Protector of Earth. It's also not too much of a shock that Land Ho, the Dragon Blade developer, is a new contender in the realm of gaming. Having only created one game before this in Japan, Land Ho enlisted the services of well-known fantasy writer Richard A. Knaak (Dragonlance, Diablo, etc.) to develop the story line for Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire.
We start this little adventure with the fire dragon Valthorian. Having a tinge of compassion for the inferior beings known as humans, the four-legged lizard comes down from his high horse — breaking the laws of his kind by doing so — to bring peace and enrich the lives of humans. As with all prosperity, however, it comes to an end as six humans are corrupted with the power he gave them. Along with four other dragons and their leader, the dark dragon Vormanax, they seal Valthorian into a sword and shatter it into six pieces. A king that was still loyal to the kind beast took one of the pieces and fled. Dal, the protagonist of Dragon Blade and blood descendant of this king, is charged with recovering the six sword pieces and defeating the dragons.
Dal awakens from a dream (the tutorial) to find that his hometown and fiancée have been destroyed. Starting his journey, he finds that he can take the powers of the fire dragon by defeating the humans who carry the dragons' powers within Elemental Cores, which are essentially the weak points on a boss. Split into four forms, the powers of a dragon require use of Fire Power to activate and progress through the adventure. The opposing dragons also have these cores and can only be defeated after weakening the beast and repeatedly striking at the area. Usually, going back to one's roots is a good idea, but in a game this artificial, it's difficult to not feel a little disappointed at the lack of creativity. It is rather impressive, however, to see that the story line is capable of a linear plot and descriptive elements, thanks to Knaak.
As with all hack-and-slash games, Dragon Blade is straightforward in its gameplay: Kill these bad guys who pop up; collect small red and blue crystal shards to restore firepower and health, respectively; trigger the switches with attacks; and move on. Control of the weapons and former body parts of the fire dragon — the right arm, both arms, the tail and wings — are controlled entirely by the Wiimote and Nunchuck by moving either up and down, left and right or forward vis-à-vis a stabbing motion.
During your travels, swinging at random debris strewn across the level yields crystals and provides more hits to a combo counter; upon reaching seven hits or more, Dal receives a boost to his firepower and a small increase in speed. This is indeed helpful because our brave adventurer is only capable of jogging everywhere. I guess beating all those monsters is incredibly tiring. Using the skills is visually interesting and has a decent learning curve for its effects. The power necessary to use them, however, is daunting, as even simple gameplay tasks require its use. Double-jumping is now extremely costly, and since most firepower is used in combat and recovery totems do not come back, getting stuck is more than possible. Forcing the player to start a level all over again for no reason is horrible design and screams amateur. I would have called this a bug, but the game is fully developed.
Collecting dragon shards — small red scales which are kept in ceremonial chests with Asian dragon motifs — provide armor which change Dal's look while offering slight defense bonuses. Shrines of red and blue energy increase maximum firepower and health as you locate them. Most of these upgrades are on the beaten path and require no challenge to locate. One of, them however, was behind a section of discolored wall which could easily be overlooked as a work of graphical design. It was the only thing that actually shattered when attacked with his right arm, so it was aesthetically pleasing as well as pleasantly surprising in terms of location.
At the end of every level, you receive medals for the percentage of defeated enemies, destroyed objects and collected dragon shards. Since Dragon Blade is short, items can be located just by being thorough; the boxes are easy to spot and are usually located in open areas. When the developers created the game's enemies, though, they weren't kidding around. Enemies tend to abound when you've had very few breaks and health-restoring blue crystal shards are scarce, so using your abilities becomes an absolute necessity. Reading where your opponents are as they charge you is as important as locking onto specific enemies, such as mages, which stun you with energy blasts, and Minotaurs, which break your guard along with a good one-fifth of your life bar.
The difficulty level in Dragon Blade establishes itself in second level with the sheer number of unblockable enemies. The first boss battle, where you fight one of the human kings who betrayed Valthorian, is pleasantly repetitive, but the boss can kill Dal with three hits. In the monster zones that crop up in important areas, enemies like to charge all at once, very rarely giving you the chance to attack since the controls tend to be unresponsive in critical combat situations. Boss encounters also have this problem; the supposed "balance" is in the bosses who telegraph their moves causing much more damage than ones who don't.
Graphically, the game is far below Wii standards, achieving quality in the spectrum between N64 graphics and early GameCube design. Shadows are completely nonexistent, so environments are drenched in an unrealistic amount of light; this results in bland environments, which is unacceptable for the current era of hardware. Another shortcoming is in the surrounding greenery not lighting up when I wield a blade made of fire. The only interesting graphic with any clear work involved are the activation of the attack forms; springing from the body, they give the portrayal that the fire grows and develops from within Dal, signifying an evolution.
In-game cut scenes, moving from one part of the map to another, are completely obvious and lack creativity. It's bad enough that doors are not destroyed or even cracked when I was told to send Valthorian's right arm into them, but all they did was slowly creep open. (The destruction of the secret wall in the third level must've eaten up the entire budget). What I found completely unacceptable was Dal's face — and the face of every other human in Dragon Blade. For a graphically superior system such as the Wii, the thing that should tell me of a person's emotions and reactions should not be his badly coded body language! There are no facial expressions at all in this title. None. The words may carry the emotional context, but without any sort of physical evidence or voice-acting, all I see is a blank face.
Music in Dragon Blade was another repetitive gesture, as the levels and bosses had the same score with no deviation or innovative music. It's the same drivel over and over, even when it has an uplifting tone. Sound is hardly a factor when the ones that do exist, like the barely audible, useless hit confirmation, or the use of the flame attacks.
It's something when the sword feels like a blade of fire, but when the dragon's arm, encased in flame, provides nothing but a burst of physical power. The severe lack of the flame element in this game is rather disappointing, to say the very least.
For a second game, Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire is a shaky start for Land Ho. They need to work out the kinks of this outing in order to realize their true potential. Getting a well-known author is a good start, and the hack-and-slash with hoards of enemies and innovative powers is a premise that has worked in the past. Also, for a game with little emotional context and musical creativity, Dragon Blade tells a somewhat interesting story. This game isn't worth $45 or $50, but it does have a small degree of potential.
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