Dragon View is a 2-D, action RPG developed by Kemco and originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994. It was released in Japan as Super Drakkhen, also known as Drakkhen II. That's because Dragon View is meant to be the prequel to Drakkhen, even though it bears little to no resemblance to the original Drakkhen. On top of having different names in North America, both games are so radically different that you would never guess they were related. Thank heavens you stumbled onto this review! This game wasn't very popular and therefore did not get much of a reception. That's a sad state of affairs, because this game does a lot of interesting things, and a lot of those things happen to be good. Dragon View is a game like few others, brandishing features not many other games within the genre have. It won't change your view on dragons, but Dragon View will still provide entertainment befitting a dragon.
The story begins with our hero, Alex, practicing his sword thrusts in town. Alex's arduous workout is interrupted by his girlfriend, Katarina, who informs him that trouble is afoot. Katarina's grandfather went to the arsenal and hasn't returned. Alex agrees to go check things out, because who could resist such a pretty face? Upon arriving at the arsenal, Alex discovers that Katarina's grandfather has been injured by a nefarious wizard. The weakened elderly man tells Alex that the wizard's name is Argos, and he is after Katarina. Alex wastes no time in hurrying back to town, but unfortunately, he is too late. Argos captures Katarina and whisks her away with his magical powers. It's now up to Alex to save his girlfriend, like any good boyfriend would. What's impressive about Dragon View's story is how well written the dialogue is. Most of the game's dialogue is delivered in first person with extremely detailed descriptions of what's going on, much like a book would. Even though actions are often shown on screen via cut scenes, they also tend to be described within the game's text. This kind of writing can get tedious at times, but it adds a unique touch to the game. Not many other games handle dialogue in this manner, after all. Dragon View's excellent writing transforms what would normally be a mundane tale into something substantial.
There are quite a lot of interesting things about Dragon View, and one of them is the perspective. The average game in this genre normally goes with an overhead view, but that's not so with Dragon View. In case you're wondering, no, the game isn't viewed from a dragon's perspective. Instead, most of the game is seen in a side-scrolling perspective, kind of like a beat 'em up or brawler. You can still walk around in a sort of 3-D dimensional way, but the game is viewed from the side, and all the areas only go from left to right or right to left. Towns, dungeons, and other areas are seen in this manner; the only area that is exempt from this viewpoint is the world map. It's actually a pretty cool way to play the game, especially since it highlights the game's impressive artwork and wonderful graphics. The character sprites, in particular, look superb and are animated beautifully. Despite the straightforward viewpoint, areas do retain some level of complexity, because you have the ability to enter doors or passageways that are either in the foreground or background. Alex can also jump, and there are a few places later in the game with pits that require jumping. The required jumping never gets to the point of a platform game, but it does add more depth. One minor annoyance is that it takes Alex a long time to leisurely walk up or down stairs. It's the only real complaint I have about this, though. The side-view perspective is one of this game's highlights, for sure.
Fighting is primarily what Dragon View is about, and it's where the game truly shines. Alex can swing his weapon and jump at any time when inside of dangerous areas like dungeons, so there are no turn-based battles here. Your primary means of attack is by way of sword. There are a few context sensitive sword moves that trigger in certain situations, like Alex will stab his sword upwards whenever a flying enemy is nearby, or downwards if something is at his feet. While the sword is indeed your main weapon, you do get something else. Pretty early on in the game, you'll find a wicked boomerang-like thing that can be thrown from afar. Switching between weapons can be done at any time in the menu screen, though it should be noted that these are the only two weapons you get in the whole game. It would have been nice if there were a few more, but these two weapons do cover both short and long range situations well. Battles will come down to striking whenever your opponent is open and quickly dodging out of the way shortly after, because most enemies will counterattack upon being hit. You're supposed to use the side-view thing to your advantage by moving to different planes from where your enemies are standing on, as enemies can't hit you that way. There are also a couple of secret weapon techniques you can learn that do tremendous damage, but drain some of your health in exchange. Items like healing potions, bombs, and arrows can be equipped in the menu and used at any time, as well. In addition to all of that, you've got some handy magical spells that can be equipped and used for when you need something a bit more exotic. Magic is equipped like any other item in the form of rings, and spell usage drains MP. Luckily, enemies will sometimes drop HP and MP, so you don't have to be too conservative. Dragon View's combat is simple and to the point, but enjoyably so.
Dragon View is a visually pretty game, but that visual prettiness comes to a screeching halt anytime you get on the world map. Dragon View's world map is rendered in extremely primitive, pseudo 3-D graphics. It's like a giant, flat surface made up of ugly gradients and flat colors. As you can tell, flat is the main adjective that describes the world map. The game somehow does all this without using additional hardware like the Super FX chip, so in some ways, this is technologically impressive. This is also one of the only things that link Dragon View to the Drakkhen series, as all the Drakkhen games used a similar type of world map. The world map doesn't just look ugly, but it's also incredibly difficult to navigate. You pretty much have to look at a map while on the world map to figure out where you're going, because walking around is rather disorienting. There are hardly any discernible landmarks, plus you turn at a snail's pace. Maps to the different regions are collected as you progress through the game, and you're going to have to rely on them and the compass to get anywhere. As if all that weren't bad enough, the world map is the only place in the game with random encounters. Every so often, a random dust cloud will appear, and walking into these clouds will initiate a battle. The battles are, thankfully, viewed from the same perspective as the rest of the game, but that doesn't mean they're welcome. Fortunately, avoiding battles on the world map is easy since you can see them coming. You do get the ability to teleport later in the game, but that hardly improves matters. The one positive thing I'll say about the world map is that it allows a great degree of freedom and non-linearity early on in the game, but that doesn't make up for everything else. Without a shadow of a doubt, the world map is the worst part of the game.
Danger lies in wait for you in many places, but dungeons are at the top of the list. The dungeons are functionally similar to Zelda, in that you move through them by finding keys to open locked doors. What separates Dragon View's dungeons from Zelda, though, is that there are hardly any puzzles to speak of. Dungeons are pretty much just excuses for Alex to swing his sword at enemies. The dungeons do tend to get a little maze-like, so minor navigation skills will be needed, but they're mostly about getting into fights. You'll usually be locked in a room filled with foes, and the only way out is to defeat every last one of the buggers. Sometimes defeating all the enemies in a room will net a key instead, other times, the key will simply be sitting somewhere. No matter the reason, you'll be slaying plenty of monsters. At the end of most dungeons is a boss monster, and these guys are tough. If you get to them without a potion or something, you'll usually be dead meat. Without puzzles to break up the monotony, dungeons can get a little repetitive, but the intense combat more than makes up for it.
On his journey to save his beloved, Alex will visit many towns. Like in ye olde RPG, towns are where you can heal, save, purchase goods, and do other things. Healing and saving is free, but the other stuff will cost you. The other primary reason to visit towns is to speak with the locals. This is the best part of visiting towns, because the dialogue is great. It's not always necessary to talk with the townsfolk, but it can be fun due to the quirky dialogue. Any time you find yourself at a loss as to what to do next, you can always visit the monks at the shrine. One of the monks will always tell you what your next objective is, no matter what. Think fortune teller from Zelda, except it's free. I really like this feature, because it prevents you from having to ransack the whole town to find the information you seek. Visually, towns are wonderful to look at, too. There is a nice amount of detail put into the townspeople, as they're all decently animated. Some of them will even look at you as you walk around, which is cool, but kind of creepy. Another nice touch is how you can see other sections of the town in the background. These backgrounds aren't merely generic images that are set to loop; they actually show the proper buildings that are in them. Towns in Dragon View are a delight to visit, and that's how it should be.
Alex will have to train hard and equip himself adequately if he hopes to achieve anything on his quest. The main method of getting stronger in Dragon View is by simply defeating enemies and gathering experience points. Doing so will level up Alex and strengthen some of his attributes. There are also a couple of growth methods inspired by Zelda, like finding heart items that permanently increase maximum health, or finding stuff to permanently increase MP. Alex remains equipped with the same gear all throughout the game, but that gear can be upgraded by finding treasure chests. Locating "energy" inside of a treasure chest will permanently upgrade Alex's armor and weapons, for example. Also, Alex can upgrade his magical rings by speaking with certain wizards. A nice touch is how upgrades to Alex's armor and weapons are immediately visible on his person. The combination of RPG elements such as leveling up and the Zelda-like upgrades form an interesting mixture. Due to how light the RPG elements are, you never have to spend much time in the menu customizing stuff. This gives the game a very streamlined feel, because the focus is always on the action. The only issue is that it can be a little too easy to over level and completely neutralize the game's challenge. Alex basically becomes invincible at higher levels, allowing him to kill everything in one hit and take almost no damage from any attack. It can also be easy to under level and make the game impossibly difficult. That all depends on how much grinding you do, though, so it's not entirely the game's fault. The lightweight RPG mechanics add depth to the game without getting in the way of things, which is good.
Dragon View is a fantastic game. It sports awesome visuals, awesome game play, and awesome writing. The game is full of awesome. A good word to describe this game is streamlined; it blends RPG mechanics with fast action and streamlines it all. Additionally, the side-view perspective really helps put things in perspective. The game's biggest problem is the grotesque and frustrating 3-D over world map. As bad as the world map is, it isn't bad enough to ruin the rest of the game. Dragon View is worth viewing.
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