Game Description: Dragon Valor provides the narrative structure of role-playing games and combines it with the fighting action of adventure games. You'll take on the role of Clovis, the patriarch in a succession of Dragonslayer warriors. In the first chapter of the game, you'll battle in real-time combat through a fantastic world of powerful dragons and evil bosses. Power-ups along the way will make you an even more formidable hero, and you'll also benefit from spells you'll receive from defeated foes.
Namco is a name that means a lot to me as a gamer. It touches me spiritually, almost. Not only is it the company that invented Pac-Man, Galaga and a monstrous slew of other hits during the golden days of the arcade, but it continues to be a vital, successful and influential force in the gaming scene today. Being responsible in large part for Sony's incredible 32-bit success, Namco brought hit after hit after hit to the Playstation, including such well-known institutions as the Tekken and Ridge Racer series, among others.
Possibly because of its phenomenal track record and unbeatable knack when it comes to games, Namco occasionally tested the waters with things a bit outside of the norm, and in general its been just as successful. The recently released puzzler Mr. Driller and the incredibly underrated Klonoa: Door To Phantomile are perfect examples of Namco's midas touch when it comes to games. However, nobody's perfect. Even the mightiest game company must eventually have a misstep every now and again, which unfortunately brings me to the embarrassingly bad piece of software known as Dragon Valor.
Dragon Valor is the most recently released title under the Namco banner, and as Alanis would say, it is most certainly a black fly in the PlayStation's chardonnay. Touted as an action-adventure title featuring combat against fierce dragons and an interesting twist as the hunt for the lizards continues through a series of family generations, it certainly sounds like a winner, doesn't it? Couple the solid idea with the shining Namco name, and how could you go wrong? That's exactly what I thought as I bought the title with virtually no other information and prepared to spend a few hours with a smile on my face. It didn't quite work out as I expected. My smile lasted about four minutes once I hit the power button.
I first had the feeling something had gone wrong when I was treated to the game's dismally unimaginative opening sequence and the equally insipid writing. Hmm, let's see, someone's family member is killed—check. A young hero swears to get revenge on the responsible party (a dragon)—check. A few sentences stating the hero's intent written on a fourth grade level—check. And I quote: "I'll get you, dragon, whatever it takes!!" How original.
Now I'll be the first to admit that some games just don't have a story as the strong point, and there's nothing really wrong with that. If there's a good base of gameplay and a lot of action to keep your hands busy, it's sunshine and joy all around. Yet Dragon Valor fails to deliver anything but the barest, most plagiaristic and uninspired experience possible. I would guess that the designers had "old school" in mind when they were at the drawing board, but old school to me doesn't mean mind-numbingly unsophisticated and repetitive to the point where you'd rather read the manual again or just stare at the cover art than play through one more level because you JUST CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE.
The game takes the "side-to-side beat-'em-up" genre and uses literally every cliché in the book. The levels are literally nothing more than walking from one end of an area to another, killing enemies along the way while pausing to collect coins and the odd powerup. It goes without saying that there's a boss at the end of every level, but you already saw that one coming. Occasionally there will be a jump or two involved during play, but basically that's all that you're asked to do as a gamer—simply push right on the d-pad, once in a while you'll have to push left, and then just hit the square button repeatedly.
To add insult to injury, not only is the gameplay on the most basic "slash-slash-slash-repeat" level, it's set at a pace approximate to a salted, eyeless snail trying to move through partially frozen molasses while carrying a full metric ton on the back of its shell—uphill. The game moves so slowly that it's completely unbearable for a game that's supposed to be focusing on action. There is a dash button which you'll end up holding down throughout the entire game (causing unnecessary muscle strain in your finger), but instead of actually making you dash, your character simply appears to run more emphatically while moving only fractionally faster.
While "fast" and " action" to appear to be incapable of existing in the game simultaneously with the game's corpselike pace, I must admit that your character does have a very healthy selection of moves—including several slashes, a few jumping attacks, some backflips and a super-move—so the potential for some serious actions is definitely there. Sadly, with such an able-bodied character, it just serves to put the spotlight on how incredibly sluggish the game is, and how little they ask of the player since you rarely need any of the moves besides the brain-dead button- mashing, square-square-square combo to emerge victorious.
While the game makes the intriguing claim that you'll battle dragons through several generations of your family, there's really no meat to this at all, and they don't even bother to explore the concept in any detail. The story does branch at certain parts of the game, and you'll make a choice between two possible partners through your actions, but regardless of who you pick to consummate with, your offspring plays exactly like the character you just had right down to having the exact same items, levels and abilities. In effect, the new character may look different, but there is absolutely no change to the play mechanics. It's one step above a pallette swap.
Proving the old saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" to be utterly true, the game proceeds to fix something which completely and sincerely did not need to be fixed—the shop/item interface. Not content to use the established system of shopping for items used in nearly every other game in existence, the system in Dragon Valor is outrageously lethargic and bordering on satanically torturous. When entering a shop, the shopkeeper will ask if you want to buy an item, and he'll ask you if you want to buy the first one in his inventory. He then goes on to explain what it is, and if you don't buy it he'll ask if you want to buy the second one and explain again. Throughout the entire process is crawling text which cannot be sped up and cannot be skipped if you intend to buy something. You simply can't pick and choose relevant items—you have to listen to him talk about each item in the order it appears, and God help you if you want to buy the last thing on the menu. Trying to think of a logical reason why people would replace something so useful for something so cumbersome, I could only suppose that the designers must have been making outrageous late-night bets with each other as to who could make the most egregious design decision possible without getting it cut from the game. Either that, or possibly the programmers themselves had never played a game in their lives and had no idea of the sheer hell they were inflicting on anyone unlucky enough to buy this game from a store without a good return policy.
A sad, unredeemable effort like Dragon Valor makes me wonder if they actually had compiled a checklist of every action game cliché created in the last 10 years and were checking them off one by one during the development process instead of actually sitting down and trying to create a game on their own. What new ideas was this game supposed to bring to the table? What new techniques? Why was the game published by Namco of all companies, or for that matter, why was it even brought to the United States? It's been a few years since I broke the addiction of needing to beat every game I play, and Dragon Valor is exactly the type of game which helped me shake the habit. Some games just don't deserve the time or effort.
Based on Brad's review and my own experiences with this game, I'm not at all surprised that Dragon Valor has gone so long without a second review being written for it. Why did I even bother? Well, let's just say that I got the game very cheap and, since genealogy is a hobby of mine, I was slightly interested in the fact that the game had a family tree in it that followed four generations of Dragon Valors.
The Dragon Valors are supposedly a hereditary line of semi-divine humans who are capable of wielding magic swords and slaying dragons. Yet the execution of this idea, as Brad alluded to, is shaky at best because there is very little fleshing out of each successive member of the family line. I was constantly confused during the game and found myself struggling to understand what exactly made the Dragon Valors so important. Killing dragons isn't exactly central to the game's confusing plot, which actually wanders away from dragons half way through to focus on something else entirely.
There is also very little continuity among this particular family; each new warrior barely seems to know where he came from, and as a result the player is forced to endure multiple variations of the same moment of self-discovery when the character realizes that he is indeed a Dragon Valor because he killed a dragon that he has just happened to come across while in the midst of a totally non-related adventure.
Brad was bang on when he commented that everything about Dragon Valor is about as clichd as they come. The game has a decidedly "been there, done that" feel to it, from the sliding spiky blocks and lever puzzles to the zombies enemies that can be chopped in half and still go after the player by dragging their top halves along the ground.
The levels, too, are painfully predictable. I quickly learned to ignore extraneous passages in the dungeons because I would inevitably have to keep going and obtain a key before doubling back and taking the secondary route.
Brad covered the nice range of special moves that are ultimately rendered pointless by the game's sluggishness and the fact that most enemies are so easily felled. Personally, my repetitive button-mashing move of choice was X-X-R1, which produced an impressive downward leaping stab. There, let it be said that I actually disagreed with Brad on at least one point.
Though Brad and I seem to share all of the same disappointments with Dragon Valor, I will also add the fact that except for a decently challenging final boss, there is no perceivable learning curve to the game. The levels are all more or less at the same difficulty level, which is "easy" save for a few spots that are rendered difficult by stupid control quirks (especially the depth perception issues while jumping) or other unfairness. The same batch of enemies crop up in every single one of the five chapters without any stat adjustments or even so much as a palette-swapped skin to give the illusion of being something different.
I did in fact ultimately finish Dragon Valor; it took longer than it could have because I had to break my sessions with it into small chunks to avoid brain atrophy and left hand strain from constantly holding down the dash button (Brad was absolutely right about this). I'm not necessarily against action games that are on the easy side, but the sheer monotony and repetitiveness of Dragon Valor makes it a wholly undesirable experience.
According to the ESRB, this game contains: Animated Violence
Parents will want to avoid the game since it's likely to be too boring for the older kids and too difficult for the younger ones, and being released at a regular pricepoint makes it even less of a worthwhile purchase. Spend your money elsewhere on something more exciting—like an algebra book.
Gamers in general won't find much of anything here to find appealing or entertaining. Dragon Valor is an action game at its most basic level, and I can't see anyone but the greenest of newbies finding this to be any kind of fun.
Action fans and experienced gamers won't even want to give the title a second look since the gameplay is so slow as to be sleep-inducing, and the monotony involved with the brainless levels increases exponentially.
Namco fans expecting the solidly playable titles Namco is known for had better stay away since picking up this title for release in the states must be something of a gaffe for the usually dependable company.