I have to say, Draglade surprised me. I was really expecting nothing more than a 2D fighter with a musical element to it. And seeing as how I'm a huge 2D fighter fan, Draglade seemed like a good bet for me. But instead, I got something completely different. A 2D fighter at heart, Draglade also incorporates platformer, beat 'em up, and RPG elements with a dash of Bemani influence, all tied together with an anime storyline straight out of Saturday morning. Draglade has some stiff competition in the area of DS fighters, with excellent games like Treasure's Bleach DS series, and Ganbarion's Jump series. So how does it fare up against it's brethren?
Well, really, it's not quite fair to compare Draglade to games like Bleach DS and the Jump games. At least, not entirely. Draglade is far from being your average fighter. At the outset of the game, you're presented with four characters to choose from, each with their own unique story. However, they all revolve around "Grapping" (not Grappling, as I originally thought it said). Grapping, as the game explains, is a popular spectator sport in the world of Draglade. Fighters square off using weapons known as Glades, which emit musical tones when striking. And although you're presented with four separate story modes to play through, the main character of the game is a boy named Hibito. You see, Hibito wants to be a Master Grapper, but his Grandfather doesn't want him to and blah blah…Okay, look, I'll level with you. Draglade's story is nothing new. You've seen it a million times before in countless anime. (Blank) wants to be a (blank), but his (blank) doesn't want him to. (Blank) sets off on a journey to become a (blank) anyway, and has to overcome challenges and makes friends along his way to becoming the best. It's generic and bland.
But as overdone and frankly, lame, as the story is, the gameplay makes up for it quite well. What initially seems like yet ANOTHER "Smash Bros. in 2D" fighting system actually ends up being pretty deep once you get the finer points down. You have both strong and weak attacks, which can be modified by holding a direction while pressing the attack button. You also have "Bullet" attacks, which are triggered with the A button. Bullet attacks can be customized by purchasing new Bullets in towns. Fire, Elec, Heal, and Bomb are just a few of the 100 different Bullets available in the game. Aside from attack Bullets, there's also Bullets that affect your attack, defense, speed, and more. The coolest part of Draglade's combat system, though, is the Beat Combo system.
Once activated, this mode allows you to pull off musical combos. The Beat Combo gauge in the lower right of the screen kind of resembles a horizontal Beatmania row. Notes will go from right to left, and pressing Y in time with the notes will cause your character to launch into an impressive, cool sounding combo. The best part of this system is that you can create your own combo, called a Beat Score. In fact, you can create several of these combos and save them. However, only one can be set as your Beat Combo at one time. You get twelve notes to work with, and you can change the spacing and tone of the notes, as well as their sound. The sound sets you can choose from all sound a bit like they're taken from one of those Yamaha keyboards we all had as kids. You know, the kind with all the different sounds you could set the keys to. The only real downside to this is that if you're a bastion of musical ineptitude, like me, your custom Beat Scores will most likely sound like a three year old child mashing away at an electric keyboard. But if you have any kind of musical skill at all, you could definitely come up with some great Beat Scores. I'm sure someone out there has already made the Super Mario Bros. theme into a Beat Score.
Draglade's story mode feels somewhat similar to the gameplay of games like Megaman ZX, except with an overworld map system instead of a huge, traversable overworld. Towns and other areas are connected via a map, which you select your destination from. In towns you can shop for new equipment, talk to NPC's, and sometimes even battle, er, Grap. Then there's battle areas you have to get through between towns. Here's where the game's platforming and beat 'em up elements come into play. The battle areas scroll from left to right, like a standard beat 'em up stage. When you encounter enemies, the stage "locks" you into a preset part of the stage until you defeat all the enemies. You can earn bullets and money from these enemies, as well as experience points for your character. Outside of these battle areas, you'll also have standard one-on-one Grap fights against human opponents in the game's cities. The only letdown about the story mode, aside from the story, is the fact that you can't backtrack to areas you've been to previously until you've completed the main story. Once you've done this, however, you can go back to any area you've been through previously and continue to level up your character and search for Bullets you may have missed out on.
On the technical side of things, Draglade is pretty impressive, if not a bit plain. The character sprites, for some reason, remind me of Digimon games. Both the human characters and creatures you encounter along your journey all look like they were ripped right out of Digimon. Characters move fluidly, however, and are fairly well detailed. Backgrounds are somewhat bland, but still look nice from a technical standpoint. There's not much going on in them, though. Overall the game's graphical presentation is nice, but it lacks anything that'll make you say "woah, that was awesome". The sound, as one would hope of a game that revolves around sounds, is very well done. The music is good, and the sound effects that your character's Glades emit are crystal clear. Draglade also features online competitive play via Nintendo WFC, which is a cool addition. You can also trade both Bullets and Beat Scores with friends via WFC.
Honestly, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with Draglade. What I expected to be a standard, sub-par 2D fighter ended up being a surprisingly good blend of several genres. Many games that attempt to combine genres the way Draglade does inevitably end up being a jumble of ideas that don't quite mesh in the end. Draglade, however, manages to be fairly successful in it's endeavor to mix fighters, beat 'em ups, platformers, RPGs, and music games. The only minor downsides to Draglade are the cliched, unimaginative story and the fact that if you're like me, your custom Beat Scores will undoubtedly sound like a cat in a dryer (like mine do…and that's being generous). Still, aside from these minor gripes, Draglade is a fun, inventive fighter. I'd definitely recommend it to fans of games like Jump Ultimate Stars, as well as fans of anime in general.