Let’s face it; aside from the fighting genre, the SRPG genre is dying here in the West. With developer’s minimal interest in bringing over SRPGs from the Land of the Rising Sun save Nippon Ichi and Atlus (to an extent), most of the good ol’ SRPG love most of us remember and cherish seems to be going the way of the dinosaur. This isn’t to say, of course, that the SRPG genre isn’t worth the time of day; this simply suggests that SRPGs are in a major decline. Of course, if you import games regardless of your fluency and/or literacy in Japanese, there’s no point in complaining about it right? Bragging rights has its benefits after all.
Enter Dragon Shadow Spell, the latest SRPG developed by Flight Plan, the brilliantly talented minds behind the Summon Night series and Utaware Rumono. Dragon Shadow Spell begins with the main character Kaito, a Variant-in-training, and his dragon friend Suihi carrying on a conversation near a park; out of nowhere, Kaito and Suihi hear a ominous siren sounding off in fear, and they decide to go to where the siren is to see what’s happening. Upon arriving in the discovered ancient ruins of Tokyo, Kaito meets Shizui and shows Kaito a weapon known as a Matrix Gear, a special and powerful weapon that can only be wielded by those with the title of Variant, magic users capable of proficiently using a Matrix Gear. Kaito and Shizui explore the ruins and suddenly see a man face down on the ground when monsters appear out of nowhere; and with no other choice but to fight, Kaito takes the Matrix Gear into his hands and fights.
One of the most interesting things about Dragon Shadow Spell, aside from its upbeat music, battle themes included, is how battles flow seamlessly, without a worry in the world as to whether it’ll lag or things of that nature. The way the game goes about choosing which characters to use in battle is pretty basic and somewhat similar to Fire Emblem; at the beginning, you have the option of choosing the characters that you personally want to use in battle including Kaito, the main character. As with most SRPGs, enemy and player movement is indicated by a columned area to the right of the screen that dictates the sequence in which said player or said monster will have his/her/its turn. All battles take place on a isometric plane where the standard conventions of SRPGs come into play; things such as attacking from the sides or from behind tend to give off more damage than attacking a foe or being attack by a foe upfront, and, famously, how far a character can move based on his MVT (movement). Also, as better known with some SRPGs, whenever a character plans on attacking a monster or set of monsters, a percentage indicator will appear on top of the monster(s), letting you know full well whether your intended attack will succeed in taking damage or the monster will dodge your attack.
The introduction of Party Mode is what makes battles in Dragon Shadow Spell all the more fun to engage. Using up a certain amount of BP, which is necessary to initiate Party Mode or even perform each character’s special red skills (ougis), some of your characters, dependent on how close they are to one another, can band together and enter Party Mode. The basis of Party Mode is simply to give all your characters within Party Mode the chance to attack without having to wait for their turn to come which serves as a pretty good initiative if, for example, you’re fighting a foe with a lot of HP and want to take out a good chunk of HP before his turn comes around, giving you a bigger initiative to quickly bring him down. Ougis, spells, and standard attacks can all be used in Party Mode to help bring down the hard boss in question, and each character attacks one at a time. The best way to wrack up some BP points is to do anything on the field, things ranging from moving to attacking to even being attacked though the last one isn’t really recommended. Other kinds of skills, green skills, can be used in Party Mode.
One of the many types of complaints SRPG fans have with SRPGs is the abundance of what could be better termed as "dead-weight characters", characters who basically have little interaction with the main cast at some point in the game then later just become a support system. In Dragon Shadow Spell, though, all characters are pre-plot characters and are involved (at least in my opinion) in the game’s main story. Every character has their own personality, another thing that sort of kills SRPGs when it comes to recruiting characters that appear to be a carbon copy of another character, and each uses their own type of weapon and skills. Some are melee combatants, others are long range combatants, and others are natural spell casters.
Overall, though, Dragon Shadow Spell, with its variety of multiple endings with one true ending, has proven thus far to be a great game and worthy of anyone’s attention, be it an importer or aficionado of SRPGs. Chances are slim to unknown as to whether the game will grace U.S. shores; and when it comes to asking how literate you have to be in Japanese to play the game, the easy and obvious answer is simple, "If you’ve played SRPGs, you know what to do regardless", though you may miss out on the rich, humorous, and sometimes deep dialogue that characters exchange between one another. I should also mention that you can choose to buy characters, yet these characters won’t immediately be accessible. Why’s that? Simple; they’ll be at your disposal when you start a new game with New Game + after finishing the game on your first playthrough; so be sure to buy as many of them as you can. Nothing beats making a second playthrough easier and fun than having instant advantages at the beginning of the game.