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Platform(s): GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Vivendi
Developer: Stormfront Studios


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NDS Review - 'Eragon'

by Katarani on Jan. 22, 2007 @ 12:58 a.m. PST

Eragon is an epic fantasy-adventure which centers on a young farm boy named Eragon whose destiny is revealed with the help of a dragon. Based on the upcoming movie, Eragon, now a Dragon Rider, is swept into a world of magic and power, discovering that he alone has the power to save -- or destroy -- an Empire.

Genre: Action/RPG
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Amaze Entertainment
Release Date: November 14, 2006

Licensing is an imperfect art of paraphrasing and reworking. As much as fans of the original source material – be it book, movie, or game – may complain, certain sacrifices need to be made in order for the new product to be even remotely palatable. For instance, could anyone envision playing a game that was as wordy as the original J.R.R. Tolkien Lord of the Rings trilogy? Even the movie wasn't a word-for-word reenactment. Such a thing in the motion picture or video game industry would put millions of people to sleep, in addition to selling horribly.

Likewise, novelizations of popular movie and game franchises (the Resident Evil book series comes immediately to mind) need to add character development and new plot hooks in order to keep people interested, as reading about an explosion is only exciting when it happens once every five chapters, as opposed to once every five words. You might be wondering what this has to do with a video game review, and that answer is simple:

Eragon is not 100% faithful to the original book. Eragon for the Nintendo DS is not 100% faithful to the movie, like the console versions strive to be. Heck, the actual percentages may actually be closer to 60% on both. The NDS incarnation of Eragon is instead a video-game version of the tale, with its own set of rules and spin on the tale.

Granted, it couldn't be called Eragon if it didn't share some of the same points, especially in the back story. Eragon is a tale of the tyrannical Galbatorix, who in ages past eradicated all of the world's dragons and dragon riders in order to cement his rule over the people. However, a young farm boy by the name of Eragon comes across a strange blue stone in a field one day.

After bringing it back home and trying to sell it off for food, he discovers that the stone is in fact a dragon egg. Upon hatching, the baby dragon inside forms a special bond with Eragon, and he is gradually led to his destiny as the last dragon rider of the land. All in all, it's the perfect setup for a fantasy hack-and-slash, which is exactly what Eragon is, in fact. It takes a bit from Legend of Zelda, and a bit from Champions of Norrath, and combines them to moderate success.

Actually, to say that Eragon is identical to a Zelda game is a bit misleading because the combat system actually reminds one heavily of the Dynasty Warriors titles. There's a button for a weaker, faster attack, and one for a stronger, harder to combo attack, as well as buttons for special moves, jumping and defending. Your weapons – at first a dagger, then later a larger sword – level up as you defeat foes, allowing you more powerful special moves and longer combos.

There's also a button to lock on to an enemy Zelda-style, but amazingly, combat actually flows better without it being used, and in fact it's entirely possible to go through most fights without once incorporating it. It's nice to be able to strafe during boss fights, of course, but normal combat almost seems easier if you can just turn around and slash the guy stomping up behind you as opposed to switching your lock-on focus.

In addition to his slashing implement of the day, Eragon carries with him a bow and arrows with which to snipe distant enemies. Sadly, the bow has several problems associated with it. First and most notable is the use of the touch-screen. In Eragon, the touch-screen works kind of like a control panel, providing a button for bow usage and a button to call up the mini-map. It sounds good in theory, but in practice, it falls apart due to the spell-casting mechanic.

Touch anywhere on the screen other than the bow or map hotspots, and the game throws you into a Bullet Time-like "spell-casting mode," where the game slows to a crawl to allow you the ability to cast spells unimpeded. If you hadn't figured it out, calling up the bow is either an exercise in taking your attention away from the main screen to poke the button with your stylus, or an exercise in frustration as you mis-touch and use up your admittedly limited spell-casting mode power.

Another problem with bow combat is the aiming; if you're already locked on to an enemy, you can shoot them from a third-person perspective, but if you aren't, you fall into a first-person aiming mode. The aiming is overly sensitive; the slightest change in direction causes the crosshairs to fly across the screen, and even if you're aimed directly at an enemy, you'll miss unless your sights are trained and remain on him. The biggest problem with this is that in order to lock on to an enemy, you have to be close enough that they'll detect you and charge forward like a steam engine to knock you on your rear.

Aside from the problems inherent in the touch-screen controls, spell-casting works wonderfully. In order to cast spells or use inventory items such as healing herbs, you draw runes in the middle of the touch-screen, similar to Lost Magic. Unlike Lost Magic, Eragon is fairly lenient on the drawing detection; nine times out of 10, what I drew was good enough to be recognized, and the 10th time was typically because in the heat of battle, I was using my finger on the touch-screen instead of the stylus.

Outside of fighting random enemies, you'll complete an assortment of quests, ranging from chapter-spanning ordeals to simple little fetch quests for townsfolk. These fetch quests are somehow even more frustrating than in most games of this type; many of them are simply "find this spot before time runs out," and another in particular was odd because it had Eragon collecting tankards of beer strewn all over the countryside. If the townsfolk couldn't hold their alcohol, they shouldn't be drinking.

There are also brief moments where the game harkens back to simpler days. At certain stages of the game, Eragon will leap onto the back of his dragon, Saphira, thrusting you into a stage not unlike the original Starfox or Panzer Dragoon. Sadly, the age on this type of play mode shows readily; in a game like this, flying through rings seems almost boring and arbitrary, as if it were thrown in simply to give players a reason to play as the main draconic character in the story.

Sadly, the flying stages aren't the only thing archaic about Eragon. Admittedly, the Nintendo DS isn't a graphical powerhouse, but other games have proven that just because a game is on the DS, it doesn't have to look like it's a first-generation PSX game. Unfortunately, that's exactly what Eragon looks like; 3D models are blocky and jagged, and the colors are drab and blend together fairly easily. Thankfully, the greens of the landscape do contrast the more bland colors of the rest of the game, making it easy to tell where your character is.

Likewise, the sound is only passable. It's the very definition of "unmemorable" – five minutes after I stopped playing the game, I forgot all about what I heard completely, and turning the DS' volume slider all the way down takes absolutely nothing away from the gameplay experience, save for a few clangs and grunts.

The final nail in the coffin of Eragon is that the title is fairly short and chaotic. It can be beaten in roughly four to six hours, and once you're done with it, if you're new to the source material, you'll sit there wondering what just happened. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I will say that, due to the fact that this is the first book in a series, it's incredibly abrupt and leaves a lot of questions unanswered, especially considering the way that the story just kind of attacks you out of the blue without any rhyme or reason.

People who have already experienced the book shouldn't be pushed away by the fact that it's not identical; Eragon takes the source material and shapes it instead to a world that is designed for the action-RPG system presented within, without having to make many parts seem forced. However, those who are new to the Eragon name may want to approach with caution. The title throws plot pieces at you seemingly at random and will confuse you if you aren't careful. Thankfully, the game manages to be enjoyable enough to make up for this fact, but in the end, Eragon is simply another middle-of-the-road offering.

Score: 6.8/10

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