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1-01.jpg (4826 bytes)Not just another story about a girl and her dragon—Drakan has brought together the best of both the RPG and Action worlds, and I feel like someone in the design world has been listening to my secret videogame desires. Drakan delivers hours of adventuring fun (roughly fifteen complex levels) with some great new perks that really get me excited. The warrior Rynn and her dragon Arokh must free the trapped Spirit Dragons to help fight against evil magicians called the Desert Lords. Along with the major quest, Rynn is presented with a variety of sideline adventures that help her gain experience, booty, and items that help in the major plotline. The story is fairly familiar—nobody stayed up late thinking of this one. But what is most unique about this title is the gameplay.

6-01.jpg (4944 bytes)As far as movement goes, Rynn is able to sidestep, crouch, jump, grab on to ledges and pull herself up, climb, swim, perform flips to either side and the back, and forward and backward rolls. This is very reminiscent of Laura Croft, and although the controller set up requires a bit more button pushing, she really is every bit as versatile. The camera does a fabulous job of following Rynn through all her acrobatics and the right analog stick pans the camera in a 180-degree radius. It also allows a character fade so that you can see through Rynn and into the environment in front of her. It doesn’t do as good of a job looking over ledges and around corners, but is effective nonetheless.

10-01.jpg (4994 bytes)In the fighting arena, Rynn is able to hot slot a variety of weapons from her equipment menu to cycle through during the heat of battle. This is a good idea, as your weapons take damage, can break, or you may need a different type of weapon for mixed groups of opponents. And because you continue to take damage while in menu screens, being prepared is a must. Although some people complain about the lack of respite in menu screens, I applaud the makers wholeheartedly for giving us a more realistic battle experience. I mean really, would you stop in the middle of a group of Trogs and say, "Excuse me kind sirs, but would you mind pausing while I pull out a more powerful weapon with which to vanquish you?" Please! Gamers have been asking for more realism—perhaps some of them just aren’t ready to step up to the proverbial plate?

9-01.jpg (6751 bytes)Rynn is able to execute more elaborate attack combos with the help of the weapon button and D pad. Some combos are more effective for single attackers, some for group melee, and your weapon type and speed make a big difference. I love the fact that each of the weapons feels and performs differently--and takes damage. I also appreciate the fact that this game has more fighting options than a lot of other games in this genre, including backward moves such as thrust and parry, which come in especially handy when fighting groups or when running for your life. The ability to fight on the move has gone from a bonus to an absolute must as videogames have progressed, and Drakan is right on target with this one.

5-01.jpg (5715 bytes)Spell casting works in much the same way as the fighting commands (except that it requires the magical power of Mana), with the ability to cast a spell using the spell button and the D pad during battle. I loved this option, as I get so tired of RPG games in which you have to go to your spell menu, pull up a spell and waste time waiting for it to be cast. Although using the D pad requires that you know your spells, it is also much closer to what I would call a "realistic" mage experience. If you memorize your spell list and casting procedure, that should be all that is required to streamline your fighting. Because you continue to take damage while in the menu screens, you want to stay out of them as much as possible during a fight. This moves the pace of the game along and requires that you think on your feet. If you’re the type that likes time to ponder, this game may not be for you.

7-01.jpg (5607 bytes)What I looked forward to the most before playing this game was the ability to ride and fight using a dragon. They make you wait until you’ve finished your first major ground objective before Arokh is at your disposal, but that kept me going as I was slogging through some of the slower moments in the Shadowmire. Rynn’s Mana allows Arokh to blow fire and to use other powerful breath attacks. He can also bite while he’s on the ground. In the air you can change his direction using the left analog, his pitch using the right, and his altitude with the triangle button. He can turn sideways to bank, and although I wish he could bank more sharply and quickly, that was a minor issue with as much fun as I was having flying with him. I loved the aerial dragon battles, but Arokh’s flying was limited to a relatively small area contained by the current map screen (affected by your current game goals). It would be nice if the game had let you explore everything, which might also allow you to vary the "plot path." This was one of the places I had an unfulfilled wish—I would eventually like to be able to move through a game at my own whim, and the ability to be airborne really would open up the idea of choosing which areas to play first in a more realistic manner.

3-01.jpg (7445 bytes)Now that we’ve covered more of the action elements of the game, we can take a look at the RPG elements that populate Drakan. First is the questing plot, where it becomes necessary to talk to other characters to glean information and items. We also have a system that reminds me of my days playing D&D. Your character has an experience level (which increases as you work through adventures) and you are required to have a specific XP level before you can wield certain weapons and spells. You also have skill points to assign in Melee, Archer, and Magic skills. Earned skill points can be assigned as desired, so it is possible to give some specialization to your character.

14-01.jpg (8055 bytes)You pick up lots of gold along the way (yes, the old argument about where she carries it all is still in place, and there is no encumbrance) and are able to put it to use when you reach towns. You can sell or fix your damaged weapons or buy new ones at the Blacksmith’s shop and get life, spells, and Mana from the Alchemists (some of which you may or may not also happen to pick up during your adventures). Weapons are rated by damage, durability, and speed, and spells are rated by skill level needed, damage, duration, and Mana used. Spells include Fear, Clone, Time Slow, Rejuvenate, Impale, Combust, Lightning, Ice Blast, Fireball, and Soul Steal. Besides your menus for weapons/items, spells, and skills menu, you also have a map menu and a journal that lists your primary and secondary/optional objectives. More than anything, the plot is reminiscent of the RPG element, but the gameplay is streamlined so that many of the time-consuming RPG elements are no longer required. Because this allows more gametime in the action arena, many have labeled this as more of an action game, but the RPG feel is so integral that I have to place them on nearly equal footing.

8-01.jpg (6938 bytes)The music is what you might expect for an adventure game and is skillfully employed, so much so that I was never annoyed with it, no matter how long I was in an environment (which is definitely saying something for this type of game). It is fluid and provided a nice background for each area. The sound effects are great, but the voice acting has its ups and downs (with a great job done on Rynn and Arokh and some of the gross creatures in the game, but some of the NPCs are a bit lackluster). The game has a nice addition in that you can turn off the subtitles if they bother you, or leave them on if you want to listen to your very own adventure music on your home system.

11-01.jpg (5645 bytes)The graphics have some marvelous moments, with an occasional letdown. The characters may not be as rounded and visually "tasty" as some other titles, but they are well articulated with blinking eyes, raising eyebrows, and mostly in-synch mouths (with teeth!). Some of the movement on cut screens is choppy and there is quite a bit of fogging in the distance during aerial maneuvers, as well as a lack of detail I know is possible in the outdoor environments. But I was so enamored of other things in the game that the graphics, which really are solid, didn’t get much of my attention.

To make a long story short (well not really, but we can dream), this game is fairly deep, provides a nice mix of action/RPG, gives us some great features in regard to movement and fighting, and lets us have both aerial and ground adventures. It also has one of the things I cherish most in these types of games—a save button! What keeps it from having my wholehearted endorsement as a five star game then? It really is just a mix of pet peeves and a desire to once again broaden the scope of this type of game. I didn’t like the fact that the screen went black during the load screens (and I’m always in favor of less load time), and I’d like better graphics in outdoor environments. I would want the ability to talk to people or pull levers without having to be perfectly in line in front of them (this may sound picky, but I wasted quite a bit of time with some of the levers trying to get them to work, and after playing for ten hours straight, this can be cause for controller throwing) and most importantly, I wished for less constriction in how I approached my major objectives (refer back to my comment while dragonriding). I would, however, recommend that gamers give this title a try, and I hope that many of the additions in fighting, menu screens, and movement become staples in the RPG/Action repertoire.

Monica Hafer   (03/26/2002)


Ups: Great controls; lots of game to play; cool blending of action and RPG elements.

Downs: A bit too linear; story is pretty stock; little peeves and mediocrities.

Platform: PlayStation 2