Been done, been done better
Draglade casts you into a generic anime world, where a new “sport” known as ‘grapping’ has become all the rage. Grapping is, in a sense, a musical duel between two people. The competitors wear strange wrist-based devices known as G-Cons, which form ‘glades’ (this is just silly) out of matter in the air. When striking, these glades produce bland, pseudo-techno musical notes, which sound worse than decade old ring-tones, according to how the game goes about presenting them. Also accompanying the G-Con, is the Dragon Sequencer (DS…which errr…looks like a DS), this little device collects and stores information on the ‘bullets’ you obtain throughout the course of the game, and also your own personal stats.
You start off by choosing one of four decent looking characters with all the usual boxes ticked; huge swords, pointy hair, distinctly Japanese expressions and animations and all of the other things we’ve seen a million times in games far better than this one. This character then embarks on a stranger journey than most; to become a ‘Major Grapper’ for whatever reason they have. These plot lines basically sidestep any ultimate evils, doomed worlds or anything else which would have made these sub-standard stories of shallow personal discovery interesting in any way. Luckily, these characters are well defined in themselves, but the dialogue and writing that accompanies them is simple, bland and leaves you with no feeling of mis-appreciation when you quite happily skip it all.
After a lot of bad dialogue (with the promise of more to come), you can then happily set out around various towns in order to take part in their own heats of the Major Grapper exams. And that’s about all you can do, as the aforementioned towns are full of both useless buildings and dull-as civilians. Some towns do feature events which send you off battling to save a lost person, or to defeat raiding Thuggers, but a lot of these actually end up taking the place of the grapping exams. This wouldn’t be so bad, but like every other part of this game, these adventures are preceded by awful dialogue and sub-par writing quality – which might I mention, goes as far into the game as to be noticeable whilst reading the manual!
Thankfully, this shallow skin harbours something both remotely fun and remotely nostalgic in the form of the grap battles themselves. A good portion of the grapping takes place as a side-scrolling action game, sending you through varied environments – which doesn’t, I’ll add, stop them being awfully dull – whilst going blade (glade?)-to-toe with ‘variants’. These variants are standard animals which have absorbed too much dark matter (nil pointe for originality) and morphed into terrible beasts. You can easily send these guys back to whence they came though, and hope they stay there, as like everything else in this game they are both repetitive and uninspired.
The one thing that this game does best is get the fundamental concept of the grap sport itself right… Kinda. The controls are simple, and no move is complicated, but they really don’t take into account the cramped ergonomics of the DS system, which leads to what feels like the slow development of repetitive strain injury. Better use of the stylus could have softened this up, but this just goes to show the game’s limited use of almost all advanced DS functionality. Blocking can also be spammed like no tomorrow, which drags out battles against particularly tough creatures to almost an intolerable level. The bullets (which act as magic) are mostly unique and some are nothing short of funny, but collecting them doesn’t carry much satisfaction, although limited slots add a much needed level of challenge. Levelling up and making a good kill remain satisfying throughout though, but there is a major lack of reward for doing either. Gaining about 200 health (matter points) for a level up and having a remote chance of getting a bullet for any given variant kill simply isn’t enough, and this shows up particularly well when you take into account how terribly puddle-deep the rest of the game is.
As well as bullets and standard attacks, you also have access to the beat-combo system, activated simply by pressing L. This drains BP (bullet points) in the same way as using bullets. After activating the beat-combo, you can simply just mash Y and end up with a bad combo, most of which will be blocked, or you can painstakingly try to time it so you hit the bar on the far left of the rhythm gauge. Having the bar positioned here, and having the beats start right on it makes obtaining a decent combo unnecessarily difficult. This doesn’t stop the fighting from being fun and action packed though, and there’s no doubt you’ll stay hooked to this strange breed of fighting throughout at least your first story.
You can, however, create your own beat combos (as opposed to buying them). By simply placing bars of different lengths (for different attacks, none of which are awfully varied) at different pitches along a sequence, you can create your own little rhythm combo and choose a tone for it. It’s actually quite fun trying to put these moves together in a decent way, but again there’s a huge downside in that these melodies only ever appear as the sum of their parts, and unless you’re Mozart, will probably sound awful.
I recommend keeping your wallet sealed.
The graphics of Draglade are pretty standard fare in all honesty, with the cartoon anime style severely limiting what can feasibly be pulled off on the system. Two major flaws become apparent though; firstly, the fact that the animations belong back in the SNES era, and secondly; the larger boss sprites have been stretched leaving them with awfully low resolutions.
Despite the flaws, the simplistic style and potential for some pretty cool moves delivered through fast action allow for a good bit of fun while it lasts. Sadly, “while it lasts” is equivalent to around a day, as most stories can be completed in around 5 hours or less, and I can’t reiterate enough how bad the writing quality is, which naturally saps away your desire to play another piece of this clichéd fiction.
More depth to the fighting, less cliché and a better execution of the rhythm system could have sent Draglade a good bit further into both the rhythm and fighter genres, which would have ended up as quite an achievement. Unfortunately, the time is not nigh for this particular hybrid, so unless you’re desperate, or find this for less than a tenner sometime next year, I recommend keeping your wallet sealed.
The Bad: Shallow fighting system; beat combo system is terribly executed; writing is awfully simplistic; most of the game areas serve no purpose; RSI inducing; mega-drive standard animations.
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- Draglade Review (DS) - May 21, 2008
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