Publisher: D3Publisher of America
Developer: Land Ho!
Release Date: September 2007
Ready to give those arms a workout? D3Publisher of America’s inaugural Wii release, Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire, could potentially supplant a punching bag with its emphasis on motion-based visceral thrills. As an action-centric hack-and-slash title, Dragon Blade eschews side-quests, mini-games, and even combos and memorization for an experience intended to be straightforward and easy to jump into without much hassle. Such an arcade-style approach might scare off some looking for depth and variety, but those simply looking to cause a ruckus with Wiimote (and Nunchuk) in hand may find it to be just right.
Conceptualized by New York Times-bestselling author Richard A. Knaak (Dragonlance, Blizzard’s Diablo and Warcraft novels), Dragon Blade tells the tale of Dal, a young warrior who seeks to put together the titular sword. The Blade, formed by the spirit of a fallen dragon, has been scattered into six pieces, each with its own special powers. Dal’s father was once a great king who left his post after being manipulated by evil dragons, so Dal must recover the sword pieces to bring order back to the ravaged lands and perhaps take his rightful place at the throne.
While the game appears to have a layered back-story, Sam Guilloud, product manager at D3PA, was hesitant to call it a narrative-heavy affair. It’s meant to be an arcade-style action affair, through and through, which is evident in its heavy use of dual-handed motion controls. Players will use the d-pad to alternate between the various dragon elements, and each allows Dal to perform two to three unique attacks.
For example, with the Dragon Claw piece, Dal’s sword turns into a flaming claw, which gives him the ability to punch and perform uppercuts. Likewise, the Dragon Tail acts like a whip, while the Dragon Head can breath fire on enemies with a swipe of the hand. Only quick movements are needed to perform the attacks, but as a hack-and-slash affair, you can bet that it will be easy to work up a sweat moving the Wiimote and Nunchuk in all directions performing moves.
Six unique worlds are planned for the game, each with four distinct levels. Each world looks to pack a half-human/half-dragon mini-boss and a significant, multi-stage boss battle against a themed (ice, smoke, etc.) dragon. According to Guilloud, each boss will feature three forms, with vulnerable spots that must be exploited before Dal is allowed to perform a finishing attack. We saw the battle against Iagira, the water dragon, who was able to turn into liquid and hide amongst the standing water on the ground floor. Once Dal had sufficiently worn down the dragon, he was able to unleash a Core Break, which prompts the player to perform several timed movements or button presses to finish off the boss.
Dragon Blade’s emphasis on streamlined, no-frills action may ultimately lead to its greatest weakness, which at this point is its bland presentation and uninteresting art design. Though the developers are quick to point out its Asian-inspired dragons (as opposed to medieval ones) and the contributions of Knaak, Dragon Blade bears the kind of awkward genericism that marked many late-era Nintendo 64 titles (looking at you, Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage). We haven’t seen enough of the game to know how the story will be told (whether via cut-scenes or in-game sequences), but without a reasonably compelling narrative, Dragon Blade could be an eight-hour grind without much to break up the action.
With its September release date fast approaching, we found it a bit odd that only hands-off demonstrations were being given, both at D3PA’s pre-E3 event in June and on the show floor at the E3 Media & Business Summit. A game like Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire will live or die with the quality of its gameplay, so until we have a chance to dig in and wave our arms a bit, we remain cautiously optimistic about this (seemingly) by-the-numbers bash.
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