Dragon Blade is a simple hack ‘n’ slash adventure pitting a plucky young hero against teeming hordes to reclaim his mentor’s glory and rescue the kingdom. His only weapon is a magical sword containing the spirit of said mentor, an ancient fire dragon known as Valthorian. At first he only has basic swings and thrusts at his disposal, but in time he will be able to unleash the power of a dragon.
As Dal (the lad in question) progresses, he will battle the evil dragons and corrupt kings of old who claimed the shards of Valthorian’s Dragon Core. Each time Dal defeats one of the kings, his sword gains one of Valthorian’s attributes: claws, wings, tail, or fire-breathing head. Each form has its own abilities, and Dal will have to master them all in order to defeat the Dark Dragons.
Doing so is simply a matter of swinging or thrusting the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in the proper manner. Dal is fairly responsive and will do what you want more often than not as long as you’re not being frantic. The dragon forms offer you moves like titanic punches, earth-shaking ground pounds, furious claw swipes, and streams of fireballs. The gesture controls really pay off here, as they help to put you “in the game” as opposed to just hitting buttons. Each use of a form’s attack consumes Firepower (think MP), easily regained as you fell enemies, destroy objects, and stab your fiery blade into a boss’s scaly hide.
The battles against the massive Dark Dragons are easily the most impressive aspect of the game. Once you’ve softened them up, you get a Core Break Chance, a quicktime sequence a la God of War. Execute the commands in time to shatter the dragon’s Core and emerge victorious. After having to whittle your way through several layers of health bars (some more sensitive/vulnerable than others), these all-or-nothing sequences are a welcome respite and are among the game’s graphical highlights.
Dragon Blade is mostly combat; there are puzzles here and there, but those are generally solved by simple application of one of the Dragon Forms. Combat can be repetitive if you let it be, but fighting without losing a ton of health requires some actual strategy. Hitting the A button as an enemy is about to hit parries the attack and regains health, but striking them at the right time instead scores extra damage. You can also roll out of the way of blows too heavy to parry, or leap into the air to add oomph to your swing or get additional hits against large enemies. You can lock on to enemies, but this system doesn’t work nearly as well as it does in games like Zelda, partly due to the sometimes-abysmal camera.
You can tell that developer LAND HO! put a lot of effort into the gameplay, but also that this was pretty much their sole focus. Besides the camera, many shortcomings prevent Dragon Blade from achieving must-own –or even must-play– status. The most obvious are the graphics, which are bland and unimpressive, even by Wii standards. Some attention was paid to fire effects and the fights against the enemy dragons are awesome, but everything else quickly fades from memory. The enemy AI leaves something to be desired at times, as you can sucker them into attacking you “black ninja” style rather than in one overwhelming mob. The game is also plagued by invisible walls that keep you on a linear path. Finally, while the music and sound effects are decent, the only voice acting we get is Valthorian during the opening and closing cinemas. Every other time it’s just plain blocks of text.
I love Dragon Blade‘s mostly-original concept and well-executed gameplay, but the repetitive and at times monotonous nature of the adventure combined with the general “blahness” of the presentation make the game arduous to play for extended periods. The ending hints at a sequel, and I sincerely hope that it improves on these areas, because there is promise in this IP at its core (no pun intended). Fortunately, publisher D3 seems to be aware of the game’s shortcomings, as it retails for a bargain $30, less expensive than some DS titles. At that price, Dragon Blade becomes a worthy investment for those willing to overlook its flaws and give it a chance.