The best old-school RPG for Windows Phone 8, Dragon’s Blade could be an even better game if it worked out some frustrating game-balance issues. As is, though, it’s a pretty diverting pastime on a platform that doesn’t have many alternatives.
Available in an ad-supported free version and a “clean” 99-cent version, Dragon’s Blade has a pretty typical old-school console RPG setup. You get four characters who can choose between seven classes; three fighting types, three magic-users and a hybrid. They’re represented by little sprites who wander along the screen in a dutiful line, through a two-scale world with an overworld map, towns and dungeons. You move around with a virtual D-pad and action button, and as this is a turn-based game, quick reflexes aren’t needed.
The map is generally segmented into difficulty-level areas, with each difficulty level including a town that provides some quests, and the dungeons to do the quests in. While the game is technically nonlinear, the huge jumps between difficulty levels in the different areas make it basically linear. There’s currently enough content to take you well past level 100, which I’d call dozens of hours in, and creator Nate Monster is constantly writing more.
Random monster encounters abound. Combat is turn-based, with shortcuts that let you tap on a creature to attack it or hit “auto” to repeat the last turn’s attacks and spells. Spellcasting strategies rely heavily on time-limited buffing spells that you have to renew every ten turns or so.
Like my Editor’s Choice iPad game Silversword, Dragon’s Blade gets big points for going beyond the app. It has a cooperative online play mode with a built-in chat room and bonuses for working together. There’s an active Web forum where the creator often weighs in, a blog about his further game development, and a player-created Wiki with maps and hints. That all compares very well with games like KEMCO’s Android-based JRPGs, which have little or no out-of-game content to help you along.
A World Out of Balance
Where Dragon’s Blade doesn’t compare well is in plot and game balance.
Most great single-player RPGs have a plot, characters, and an overarching quest. There are variants on this theme. In JRPGs like the KEMCO games and later Final Fantasies, you tend to play a defined character; in old-school western RPGs your character is often more of a blank slate, but there’s usually a big mystery to solve.
Dragon’s Blade has neither plot nor characters, really. There are a lot of little things to do, but it doesn’t seem to build to anything, and your characters are ciphers. I got to level 23 and the third stage of the game, and I still haven’t found an overarching quest.
The game also has a serious balance problem. A well-programmed RPG slopes gently along the length of its quest: as you get more powerful, your challenges get harder. Dragon’s Blade moves in dramatic jumps. You’ll complete one area and be nowhere near powerful enough to confront the next one, leaving you grinding out levels in a dull, repetitive, dynamically-generated proving ground called the Larkwood Mines. At 20 to 30 minutes per level, with a 5-10 level gap between completing one area and starting the next, it’s a lot of unnecessary hacking and slashing.
Dragon’s Blade wins back points for being one of very few similar games on the Windows Phone platform. The only decent alternative I’ve been able to find is the original Final Fantasy, for $6.99, and it’s the original Final Fantasy. I’ll be reviewing that one soon.
Old-school RPG lovers could do a lot worse than Dragon’s Blade, especially if you’re the patient type who likes to watch your levels rise as you slaughter monster after monster. I prefer a little more plot and character, but beggars can’t be choosers. I’ll keep playing Dragon’s Blade until something better comes along.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc