We’ve Got The Beat
Awesome, adrenaline-pumping music generally tends to spice up a fast-paced video game brawling match, but what if success in battle depended heavily on your ability to hammer away at your opponent in-time to the music? It sounds rather silly, yet that’s exactly the strange scenario players will encounter in Draglade on the DS. Atlus certainly doesn’t shy away from cranking out slightly unusual niche titles, and Draglade is no exception.
It turns out mixing rhythm gameplay, a special ability collection and trading system, and simple-but-entertaining 2D fighting wasn’t a bad idea after all. It’s an addictive combination despite the game’s otherwise generic anime presentation.
Everything in Draglade revolves around the wild and wonderful world of grapping. In the game, it’s introduced as a unique new fighting style that combines a range of standard and elemental attack techniques with music and rhythm. By wearing an electronic wrist device called a G-Con, grappers can summon a special weapon out of the matter in the air around them. These weapons – called glades – take on a unique form to suit the personality and elemental affinity of their user. Grapping has become quite the spectator sport, and all the young grappers in the land have ambitious plans of “going major” by proving their worth in the arena. Before they can make it pro, the fledgling grappers have to pass a series of difficult arena battle tests that pit them against their peers.
For one reason or another, each of the four starting main characters players can choose from will set out on a quest to work their way up the totem pole in order to join the ranks of the grapping elite. Many of the important key encounters in the single player campaign are basically the same regardless of which you choose although each character has their own particular sub-story that plays out as they progress through the game. Additionally, each has an elemental affinity and a unique fighting style to match. In general, the overarching theme of striving to be the best will be a familiar one for many players who’ve dabbled in Pokémon or other similar anime titles. It’s nothing new to be sure. Along the path to glory you’ll tussle with more than a fair share of fellow grappers, but the game’s story also brings you into melee with more exotic foes. Non-human enemies generally consist of beasts called variants: normal animals that have absorbed an abnormally high level of dark matter. This turns them into large violent creatures, and they can only be saved by being roughed-up remove the excess matter.
Draglade is a fast-paced fighting title, so it should come as no surprise the battle system is the strongest area of the game. The wise decision to keep things simple by sticking with a relatively basic control scheme makes it very easy for players to quickly grasp the range of possible maneuvers without having to input overly complicated button mashing combos. Hitting the Y and X buttons deliver light and hard attacks respectively. Using the d-pad in conjunction with an attack will let you land high blows which can send opponents skyward and low blows which can knock them off their feet. The other face buttons are used to jump and fire off special elemental attacks using “bullets” that can be manually set in your Dragon Sequencer before battle. You can have up to six bullets equipped at one time – three active and three back-ups which can be switched manually in mid-battle – on the touch screen. Bullets allow you to unleash massive fireballs, twisters, laser beams, robotic explosives, and tons of other cool offensive and defensive techniques. Players have a designated health meter, but a separate meter tracks how much energy you have available to power special moves. Using bullet attacks quickly depletes this meter. Fortunately, it will gradually recharge over time, and you can speed up the process by landing a few quick jabs to your adversary. Players will also gain experience from combat and level up frequently which expands their health meter and their special attack meter.
When your special meter is full, you’ll be able to let loose with a devastating beat combo. This is where the limited musical rhythm component of the game kicks in. Hitting the L trigger will temporarily activate a small rhythm bar on screen, and the background music will change to a simple steady beat. If you hit a short sequence of attacks in time with the beat and in the proper rhythm, you’ll build up a powerful hit combo to wipe out a good chunk of your opponent’s health. These attacks also create a musical flourish which spurs the crowd to cheer wildly.
Greater accuracy with your timing will improve the damage you deal. A superior level of accuracy will let you power up the “phat beat combo,” which deals a ballistic assault worthy of its name. New musical beat combos can also be purchased as you visit different cities on your quest. A built-in editor also lets you visually arrange the brief musical phrases to concoct your own original beat combos, and there’s an added option to change the musical sound that accompanies the notes. Overall, beat combos are a neat addition to the fighting formula, but it’s unfortunate the rhythm component does not factor more heavily into the gameplay.
The bullet collection aspect is an appealing one since you can easily spend a substantial amount of time attempting to locate all of the many common and rare bullets. Throughout the game, new bullets can be obtained by defeating enemies or purchasing them with credits earned in battle. There are over 100 different bullets available between 10 different elemental types including fire, earth, water, lightning, wind, ice, poison, flower, sound, and void. They can also be traded with friends using the DS’ wireless function. Certain opponents are more susceptible to damage dealt from a particular element, and the option to customize your special attacks for an optimum fighting style against a particular set of foes lets you strategically pinpoint and target their weak spots.
Visually, Draglade’s relatively lackluster anime artistic style and presentation looks like it could have been pulled directly out of (insert any number of generic Japanese-inspired action game franchises here). The fully-animated 2D characters, scenery, and arenas appear decent enough, but they’re generally uninspiring. The music is interesting and varied for the most part, and the Japanese emo track at the opening screen is worth a chuckle. Playing through the solo mode with each of the four main characters unlocks their rivals for play, but facing off against human opponents is a big part of what gives fighting games additional staying power. Fortunately, the multi-player options here are substantial. Aside from the being able to trade beat combos and bullets, players can battle their friends or play co-op quests via a local wireless connection. The game also supports single-card download play to let you thrown down with a pal even if you’ve only got a single copy of the game. If you don’t have any friends handy, it’s easy to jump onto the online WiFi network and duke it out against random combatants.
It’s easy to get a little hung-up on the presentation, but Draglade is a good fighting game when you look deeper beneath the exterior trappings. The controls are tight, and the action blows by at a steady pace. Adding a touch of rhythm into the mix is a fresh and exciting idea. The musical elements could have been implemented a bit more thoroughly throughout the game, but all-in-all it brings something new to the brawler formula.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.1 Graphics
Colorful 2D artwork and animation comes across feeling stale and generic. 4.2 Control
The controls stay fluid and fast by keeping things simple. There’s an amazing amount you can do without having to input tedious button combo sequences. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The action hit sounds of beat combos are fun to listen to, and the rest of the music is more than adequate. 4.0
It’s a well rounded fighting game. You may get sick of looking at it, but overall there’s a lot of content to explore.
3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.