By Rolando . September 9, 2007 . 11:21pm
It may come as a surprise to see that Dragoneer's Aria really isn't all that bad a game it has been made out to be. It lacks a deep, intriguing story and only has semi-decent English voice acting (the game also includes the original Japanese voice acting track). However, Dragoneer's Aria's, much like Hitmaker's previous PSP JRPG Blade Dancer: Lineage of Light, highlight is its gameplay system. Dragoneer's Aria's emphasizes resourcefulness by having players follow recipes to craft items with from fallen foes. This concept turns out to be a very just reward and literally prevents you from going AWOL with your gold when having to purchase new equipment. Does this mean, though, that Dragoneer's Aria is actually a good game despite its somewhat harsh criticism? That's subjective.
Dragoneer's Aria should come as no surprise to those who've already had their hands dirtied with Hitmaker's previous game Blade Dancer. Problems that were prominent in Blade Dancer were rectified in Dragoneer's Aria, with the exception of the horrible loading time. No longer do you have to disassemble your equipment just to acquire a recipe. Should your character's weapons break after depleting their durability or if you want a cheap way to go about purchasing new equipment, recipes for elemental weapons and armor can be purchased at a recipe shop. This leaves you to venture into the game's dungeons and battlefields to acquire the necessary items for synthesis. Some recipes and items can't be purchased until you've completed major portions of the game. As with Blade Dancer, weapons and accessories in Dragoneer's Aria all have a level requirement and as much as some modern-game RPGers hate this idea, grinding in Dragoneer's Aria is heavily important.
Grinding isn't solely for gaining access to higher level weapons and accessories. Throughout the course of the game, Valen and his companions will venture to newer areas where monsters will be significantly stronger than the group. Death is pretty much assured and the need to grind becomes a necessity. Unless you're the kind of person who doesn't mind grinding, it can feel like a constant chore that will deter your attention to the game. Grinding is an acquired taste that you learn to put up with after having played so many RPGs that made grinding an emphasis. If grinding isn't in your favor, then Dragoneer's Aria might not be your cup of tea.
The game's battle system is something to look at, and anyone who's been exposed to Blade Dancer will surely recognize the same system featured in Dragoneer's Aria. Four members, pretty much the only party members you'll have throughout the course of the game, can participate in battle. You choose who attacks first and who attacks last. Monsters don't attack you while you make decisions about moves your characters will be using. Each of your characters will also have access to Mana attacks. These consist of special dragon attacks, acquired when you equip a dragon orb to any of your characters. Lusce, magical orbs that house spells, special attacks like Rush Attack or unique moves can be equipped on your character's accessories. Dragoneer's Aria features absolutely no MP at all. Instead, all characters share MP through the Mana Gauge. The gauge charges when characters perform a melee attack or successfully defend an attack from an enemy. The constant need to charge your Mana Gauge can also be tedious and tiresome as its the only real way, aside from using some Mana items to get access to your character's magical abilities.
Defending also works in a unique and somewhat tiresome way. When an enemy attacks anyone that is defending, a circle of crystal will appear. Five of the many crystals will be lit, and it is your job to accurately hit those lit crystals perfectly to ensure that you completely, yes completely, defend the enemy's attack with zero damage. Every time you miss a crystal, you have to start over and over until you manage to hit all five. A gauge will appear that tells you how much time you have before the enemy's attack takes effect. Even if you manage to hit only a few of the crystals successfully, the damage from the enemy attack will be minimized to a degree. It should be noted that the more times you defend, as well as the more times you initiate dragon attacks, Lusce attacks, or special Mana attacks/abilities, the more your level for guarding or anything Mana related increases.
While Dragoneer's Aria features somewhat interesting mechanics, it doesn't change the fact that the game, much like many games nowadays, isn't for everyone. It's mandatory grinding feel and deep recipe formula may prove tiresome and boring to people. While other things like combat and the horrendous loading times may just be a turn off altogether. The story to Dragoneer's Aria isn't as strong or highly emphasized. It does have its fair share of moments and comedic situations, but Dragoneer's Aria is more about the gameplay and the adventure, something akin to oldschool RPGs. If its a challenge you seek, the game is for you. Just be sure to take extreme precautions before going out and messing around, you could end up dying and having to start all over again.