They don't make dragons like they used to.
If you visited any arcade about five years ago, you would have seen several of those huge cabinets containing games like Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom or Golden Axe. Indeed, the RPG hack 'n slash action game has a long and noble history. But lately, fewer companies have tried to bring these types of titles to light. Games like Soul Fighter have tried, but the whole 3D thing doesn't have the same feel as the classic games.
Now Namco brings us Dragon Valor, a game which tries to carry on the legacy of the action RPG. Unfortunately, this is one dragon that doesn't have nearly enough teeth.
The story is pretty simple. When you were a kid, a dragon killed your sister. Taking a dragon-slaying sword from a freshly slain dragon slayer, you find the killer dragon and hack it to pieces, avenging your sister in the process. But by some bizarre twist of fate, its spirit is able to escape. Don't you hate when that happens? So, our adventure begins several years later, when you've finally tracked down the dragon for the second time.
Dragon Valor really follows the Golden Axe mold with its 3D side-scrolling gameplay. You hack and slash different enemies with a host of sword skills and blast them away with various spells. You also collect treasure and items, naturally.
What else is there to do in dragon country? Well, how about the occasional platform jumping! Sadly, this frustrating element is made difficult due to the offbeat analog control. However, the control scheme in general is fairly simple. You have one button for jump, one for attack, and one for magic. You can also duck and run. Various combinations of attack, jump, and duck also cause you to do different special moves. These combos would be more interesting if jumping weren't such an effective defense against every enemy in the game.
Unfortunately, many of your various skills end up being pretty worthless. You can do the same powerful move over and over and breeze through hordes of enemies in an instant. It always ends up being jump, jump, stab, slash, then on to the next screen. The magic isn't necessary at all and I hardly ever used any of the offensive spells.
One of the big selling points of the game is a branching storyline. For example, in the first chapter you can meet one of two girls. One is a princess and the other is an inventor. Depending on whom you hit it off with, the next chapter will involve one of your two potential sons. While this does add some variety and replay value, it doesn't change the course of the game much. Interesting, but not a great addition.
The characters in the game don't look very impressive. You can visibly count the polygons on the human characters. The low graphical quality makes it really hard to keep a straight face in some of the more "serious" cutscenes. Characters are so badly rendered that they end up looking like a part of a silly cartoon. Fortunately, some of your magic attacks and special moves can look cool and some of the bosses are impressive. The levels also look decent with no pop-up problems to be found anywhere.
The game isn't very impressive aurally, either. Standard background music and generic sword wielding noises, magic sounds, and explosions make up the bulf of the sound. Your ears won't taste any new candy with this game.
Dragon Valor is one of the most average games I've ever played. It has some mindlessly fun arcade moments balanced by a a mediocre plot and boring graphics. It's probably a good rental if you like big swords and beating up helpless minions, but I can think of quite a few things I'd rather spend 40 bucks on - starting with a better game.