Author’s Note: This review was originally published on October 29th, 2008. Like other review of the time, it features “witty” taglines for each section. I will say that I’m proud of my “Dungeons and Drag Queens” tagline. I thought it was funny.
After playing Hit Maker’s RPG flop known as Blade Dancer, I decided that the company could make anything but a (here it comes…) hit title. Despite this fact, there came a time when I needed a new RPG to play in order to alleviate the boredom of a long trip. I took a chance and picked up the latest Hit Maker title: Dragoneer’s Aria. Many of the problems found in Blade Dancer had been fixed, but Dragoneer’s Aria still suffered from some issues. Regardless of these issues, however, I still found myself coming back for more and I eventually completed the game. Dragoneer’s Aria left a bittersweet taste in my mouth, but I am glad that I gave it a chance.
Dungeons and Drag Queens.
In ages past, a mighty dragon of holy power was destroyed by Nidhogg, the black dragon. However, the holy dragon separated into six elemental dragons representing wind, fire, water, earth, thunder and ice. The dragons, along with the race known as the Dragoons, vanquished the black dragon. Since then, the Dragoons have been in charge of protecting the dragons. In the kingdom of Granadis, a young “man”named Valen Kessler is about to become a full-fledged Dragoon, himself. Before the ceremony begins, the evil black dragon appears and destroys the city! Even worse, only the water dragon appears to aid the civilians, but gets overpowered by the black dragon’s might. After the altercation ends, Valen meets a woman named Euphe Kalm who seems to know something about the water dragon. Valen and Euphe travel together to check on the rest of the elemental dragons and to understand why the black dragon reappeared.
The story starts off slow and continues as such until a certain plot point plays out. While this twist was interesting, the story is still uninspiring as a whole. Heck, even the ending leaves much to be desired. Luckily, the characters in the story are a bit more praiseworthy. You will have four party members in this game. Valen, who looks and acts like a god damn woman, is surprisingly likable because of his virtue and motivation to do the right thing. Euphe fits the role of the perky, happy-go-lucky heroine. For some reason, Euphe has a crush on Valen. Come on, he looks like female! Next, there is Mary Murphy. My favorite character in the game, Mary is a 12 year old pirate with both a mouth and an attitude to match. She constantly speaks her mind and reminds Valen of how ridiculously effeminate he looks. Finally, you have the smart-mouthed, sarcastic elf named Ruslan L’Avelith. If I am not mistaken, he pokes fun at girly-girl Valen and his looks, too. Your team goes through some interesting changes throughout the game, and at the end of the story, you are left with a character cast worthy of saving the world against some diabolical villains. The classic JRPG story formula is present with Dragoneer’s Aria: a lame story with some fun characters.
A Dragon’s World.
Dragoneer’s Aria lacks a world map, and has exploration follow an approach in which you travel from town to dungeon in order to get to your next destination. At the end of some of these dungeons, you can activate a portal that allows you to teleport back to Granadis. Your character runs slow, but the portals make the necessary backtracking easier. With the push of a button, you can change your lead character. Each of the four characters can activate a field skill. Valen can make the party run faster, Euphe can slowly recover lost HP, Mary can trap enemies in their tracks in a dungeon, and Ruslan can cause enemies to change locations. Obviously, only Valen’s is useful seeing as you can rest at an inn for free. Also, these field skills consume Mana Energy. I will talk more about that later.
In a town, you can shop for equipment, talk to people, and obtain new recipes for the crafting system. Unfortunately, raw materials are rare, and making new items is a time-consuming, tedious process. In the end, you are better off with just the base equipment you buy at a shop. I agree with another reviewer of this game when they say that Hit Maker should take a hint from Gust’s Atelier series: if you want a crafting system, make it fun. Besides this, you can outfit your characters with Lusce. These shameless, Materia knock-offs are what allow your characters to cast magic. Finally, you can give your characters a Dragon Orb, which allows them to use a powerful elemental strike. The field exploration and menus are basic in Dragoneer’s Aria. While the crafting system is useless and you may find yourself unsure where to go next, the overall system is your standard formula, which works.
Swinging Swords and Flipping Ponytails.
Yes, Valen flips his braided ponytail for his victory stance. Anyways, traveling through a dungeon can be exciting or terrifying, due to the difference a level or two can make. Monsters are represented by flying eye-balls. With the push of a button, you can see the enemies you are up against. Enemies in red are more powerful than you and will chase you when they see you, enemies in white are of equal level and will also chase you, and enemies in blue are weaker than you and will spin around in a circle. Odd, I realize. Anyways, when you touch a foe, it is time for battle.
Battles, be it a regular fight or a boss fight, are long. Dragoneer’s Aria has a battle system meant for the patient type. In battle, you give commands to each of your characters. You can chose the order of execution, which is a nifty feature that adds a hint of strategy to the battles. Characters can attack, use items, guard, and attempt to run away from battle. A word to the wise is to never, ever try to run away because it rarely works. The most important feature of the battle system is the shared Mana Energy bar located at the top of the screen. This is what allows your team to use dragon skills, magic, rush attacks, or the character’s special battle skills. Unfortunately, the majority of the just mentioned mana options are useless. But, in order to use them, you need to first acquire mana.
Attacking allows you to gain 50 points of energy for the Mana Energy bar. Successful guarding allows you to gain 100 points. The guard system was one of the most fun features of the game. When a guarding characters gets attacked, a roulette appears with a timer above it. By hitting the X button at certain points on the roulette before the time runs out, you will decrease the damage by 20%. If you hit all of the spots, you will decrease damage by 100%. The more you guard, the more your guard skill goes up. Because you can only have 1000 points of mana at a time, guarding was used quite frequently in order to build it up. As mentioned, the magic points are shared so you need to use strategy in order to make the most of the bar.
So, how do you make most of the bar if I just said that the majority of the options with it are useless? The best way is with the dragon skills. When a dragon orb is equipped, an elemental attribute is added to your attack. You can perform a strong attack against one foe, or a normal attack against all foes. The more you use these options, the more powerful they become over time. However, no matter the level, the dragon skills cost 100 mana. Thus, you should stick to using these the majority of the game. Magic also gains more power (known in the game as Luminescence) as it levels up, but the process of doing this a pain due to how slow it levels up. Furthermore, casting a level 5 spell costs 500 mana. Worth it? I think not. In fact, the only two spells I used in the game were a healing spell and a spell that increased strength. The character’s special battle skills can also become more powerful overtime, but the only useful one is Mary’s. Finally, a rush attack is an onslaught of attacks by one character. But, once again, the higher the level the more mana it costs. In the end, you are left with only a few decent options at your disposal. The dragon skills are your main damage dealers, guarding is what saves you from losing HP, and attacking is a quick way to get your Mana Energy bar filled up. Monsters have a ton of HP, so hopefully you now realize why the battles take so long. Luckily, your characters gain full HP recovery at a level up. For the entire course of the game, your characters need to reach 500 EXP in order to gain a level, the kind of system that is found in many SRPGs. Thus, higher level foes yield greater rewards.
In the game’s defense, Dragoneer’s Aria has some good ideas at work with the battle system. The guard system if fun, and leveling up your dragon skills proves to be worth your while. Unlike Blade Dancer, weapons do not break and there is no shared pool of magic with the enemy. However, this does not save the game from being annoyingly difficult during some parts of the game. Part of the reason why I wanted to finish this game was so I could brag about finishing a challenging title. Because I had to turtle so often and use only Valen as my main damage dealer, fights took too long for their own good. Yet, I was always coming back for more, despite the flaws.
FFX Syndrome Stage 1.
A PSP game should have great graphics, and Dragoneer’s Aria is no exception. The perfectly proportioned polygonal character models and monsters look great. Get used to seeing the monsters, however, because the amount of palette swapping done in the game is utterly ridiculous. That aside, spells and skills look decent enough and there are some towering bosses for you to face. One bad thing about the graphics is that the camera can get a bit jumbled up at times. Still, good graphics for the most part.
FFX Syndrome Stage 2.
A PSP game should have great music and sound, and Dragoneer’s Aria is no exception. Well, sort of. You have a choice of either having the story events play out in Japanese or English voice acting. I recommend Japanese because the English voice acting is awful, and the dubbing is terrible. Also, you cannot skip over any of the story events. If you have already seen an event and do not wish to watch it again, then you are stuck. That negative aspect aside, the game has some good music and decent sound effects.
Almost a Hit.
Hit Maker clearly learned something after Blade Dancer. However, they did not learn enough. Dragoneer’s Aria took about 40 hours to complete, but that was mainly due to the insanely long and difficult battles near the end of the game. The actual story is probably 25 hours. Despite the obvious flaws the game has, I managed to play it from the beginning to the end. I can only recommend the game to those who are patient and wish to have something to brag about in the RPG community. Dragoneer’s Aria is better than Blade Dancer, but I am still waiting for Hit Maker to bring us, well, a hit.