Crimson Dragon Hands-On: So Close, Yet So Far

By Matt Hawkins . June 19, 2013 . 3:00pm

To say that Crimson Dragon has been through the wringer is an understatement. Fans of Panzer Dragoon were delighted to hear that series creator Yukio Futatsugi was developing a spiritual successor, except for that one very key detail: that it was a Kinect title.


Then, I played the demo at a Penny Arcade Expo in spring of 2012, and I became convinced that it wouldn’t be so bad after-all. Crimson Dragon played about as well as a Panzer Dragoon-like game that was driven purely by one’s full body motions could possibly be. And at the very least, it was far more enjoyable to play than another Kinect-driven sequel to another favorite game of mine—Child of Eden.


Then, silence. Crimson Dragon seemingly disappeared without a trace; one couldn’t help wonder if it had been cancelled. Then out of nowhere came the revelation that it was being prepped for the Xbox One, with traditional controller support no less.


It was what Panzer Dragoon fans wanted: a traditional Panzer Dragoon experience, sans the need to wave one’s arms around. Enough to make one who had been on the fence about Microsoft’s hardware to seriously contemplate getting the One. So, does Crimson Dragon play like the next gen Panzer Dragoon we’ve all been waiting for?


Nope. Not really. At least not right this moment.


The left stick is for moving your dragon and the right stick is for aiming its targeting reticule. It doesn’t sound all that strange at first, though the original Panzer Dragoon games had both functions tied to the directional pad, so splitting the two is a tad bit jarring. Still, the dual analog control scheme exists elsewhere, so what’s the big deal?


The best way to describe Crimson Dragon’s interface is to imagine if both arms of your body has been mapped to one of the sticks on the Xbox One’s controller. Meaning, both the dragon’s movement, and that of the reticule, take quite a bit of movement of the sticks. It’s as if the full-body Kinect inputs were assigned to the sticks as is, without any adjustment.


To aim with your arm, naturally the game needs to compensate for a wide range of motions. Why this range of motion wasn’t scaled down for controller is beyond me, but it most definitely should have been, given how confidence in Crimson Dragon is shaky, to put it politely. Thankfully, I was told that the controls in Crimson Dragon are still a work in progress, so hopefully it should be better when all is said and done.


As is, it was tricky playing the E3 demo. Not impossible, just difficult to have any real degree of finesse. Unlike the previous demo, which had the dragon and its rider soar high above the skies, you were in a cramped, underground environment, which perfectly highlighted how unwieldy the controls were.


As you navigate an underground cavern, which is lit up by the lava flow below, you encounter a large, multi-segmented boss that flies all around. Controls aside, Crimson Dragon oozes the DNA of Panzer Dragoon, it terms of art style, animation, and everything in between, which is one of the game’s highlights.


Those hoping for a substantial upgrade in terms of visuals from the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One will be disappointed. That said, Crimson Dragon looked incredible to begin with, so it’s a moot point. More importantly, though, every diehard Panzer fan will be beyond satiated; Yukio Futatsugi and his team’s aesthetic sensibilities shined on the Sega Saturn, and it most definitely looks beautiful here.


Unfortunately, I was not able to make out the music very well. The soundtrack is being composed by Saori Kobayashi, one half of team responsible for both Panzer Dragoon Saga and Panzer Dragoon Orta’s soundtracks, and which will undoubtedly sound great. I simply was unable to tell.


The demo was quite short, much like the last one; after dealing with the large caterpillar boss, and trying to navigate obstacles, one comes face to face with another dragon and its rider, presumably the end boss of that particular level. Again, the game was hard to control, yet very pretty. It’s a very good chance that the entirety of the game will follow that formula, unless the controls are adjusted.


If not, your average game player will be disappointed, as will Panzer Dragoon devotees, though the later will at least be able to indulge in another dip in Panzer Dragoon-like waters. At the very least, for many fans it would be better than nothing.


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  • Ed Powell

    Really REALLY hoping they fix the control “dead zone” issue you describe. All this talk of revised XBone policies actually had me excited towards the prospect of owning and experiencing Crimson Dragon. :C

  • Michael Synodis

    The control scheme you are describing is Sin and Punishment. Like IDENTICAL to Sin and Punishment. That game took a lot of getting used to. It was like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time but 100 times more difficult. But once you do get the hang of it, it’s great! It offers a deeper, more challenging, intense game experience than just about anything.

    I love all the Panzer Dragoon games and it is too bad for people who wanted that exact experience again. But I for one am more excited for this new game than ever before. And hey, I don’t have to boycott the Xbone anymore, so I might actually play this some day.

  • Junko Enoshima

    This post only reminds me of my BURNING DESIRE for a re-release of Panzer Dragoon Saga. This game sounds disappointing…

  • Göran Isacson

    Hoping they can patch this up in time for release, I know one guy who desires this game with almost every bone in his body and if this turns out dissapointing, I don’t know WHAT he will do with himself.

  • Juan Andrés Valencia

    What worries me a lot is that this is technically an Xbox 360 game running at 1080p30 when it should be running at 60 FPS. I don’t mind the Kinect controls but why is this running at 30FPS?

  • Tom_Phoenix
  • Ayo_Ayo_Son

    The dual stick setup is fine, but it will slightly suck to go back to that after getting used to the Wii mote pointer + analog stick movement setup Sin and Punishment 2 introduced. I now feel that is the best combination for this style of game (or any type of pointer + digital/analog movement setup…like mouse or touch screen).

    Hope the game turns out good.

    • Michael Synodis

      Agreed. Though I think those who played Sin and Punishment 1 might quite enjoy this control scheme

  • loempiavreter

    You know that you can play this game with a controller now they announced that a while ago), so any Kinect moaning is pretty much oblivious.

    • Michael Synodis

      Yes, that is covered IN the preview, so I don’t understand what it is you are trying to say.

  • H_Floyd

    Saori Kobayashi actually composed more than half of Panzer Dragoon Saga, with Mariko Nanba filling in the rest. For Orta, Kobayashi did most of the music–except for 4 tracks by Yutaka Minobe.

    I’ve heard the game rip from Crimson Dragon Side Story (which has basically all the same music from Crimson Dragon proper), and it’s all golden. It’s precisely the style of Orta and Saga blended together.

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