Slashing through Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire


dblade1.jpgI've always been a fan of fantasy stuff. Swords, wizards, dragons, and all that. I've read many a DragonLance book, have had plenty of experience rolling D20's in various pen-and-paper RPG's, and have spent countless dollars on Magic: The Gathering. That's why I was excited to get my hands on Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire. Finally, a Wii game that promises me all the goblin slashing, village saving, dragon slaying action I could ever want.


Well, the first thing that needs to be covered is the story. Written by Richard A. Knaak, author of various dragon related series of books, such as DragonLance and Dragonrealm, Dragon Blade's story revolves around a young man named Dal, who is tasked with…wait, Dal? His name is Dal? Oh come on. That's just Lad spelled backwards. Creativity abounds! Anyway, like I was saying…The story revolves around Dal, a typical run-of-the-mill fantasy story hero, who is tasked with saving the world from the evil dragon overlords that have overtaken it, using the Dragon Blade. Which is actually a dragon itself, except this one is sealed inside a sword. Or a sword's handle, to be more precise. Why exactly the evil dragons trapped the good dragon inside a sword, and not, say, a spear, axe, or spatula, is never explained. My guess is that Dragon Spatula: Wrath of Fryer doesn't have the same ring to it as Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire. But I digress. Dal's girlfriend is killed in a raid on his generic village by the evil dragon Voranmax's forces. As she and Dal say their final goodbyes (in Sim-ish, it seems), Dal becomes enraged and takes the Dragon Blade in hand and blah blah blah…You know what? This game's story is about as shallow as a kiddie pool. You know how much we learn about our hero over the course of the story? About enough to fill a Post-It note. I've played games of D&D with better plots than this game.





But the story shouldn't matter all that much as long as the gameplay's good, right? Well, thankfully, the gameplay's good. Not stellar, mind you. Not even "very good" or "pretty good". Just good. When I received it, I honestly wasn't expecting much from this game. So after breaking out my dice, finding my Monster Manual, and getting my character sheets ready, I realized I wasn't playing D&D and popped Dragon Blade into my Wii. After getting through the opening cinematic with my sanity intact, I jumped into the game. The first thing I noticed about the gameplay is that it's very smooth. There's very little slowdown, if any, even when there's 20 or more enemies on the screen at once. The framerate remains pretty constant while you're running through the various levels. Ahh yes, the levels. While the variety is very nice, the levels themselves are pretty threadbare. Okay, maybe that's not the word for it. Honestly, the levels are plain. Plain and boring. Almost completely linear and devoid of any type of personality. And the worst part? Invisible walls. I. Hate. Invisible. Walls. Seriously. There'll be many times where you'll see an area and try to run over to it, only to be stopped by an invisible wall. Bottom line is, unless an area is clearly marked on your map as traversable, you can't go there. Even if it looks like you should. You can't even jump off the side of a staircase. I know this isn't a huge deal, but it's frustrating nonetheless.


The game's controls are quite good, however. Swordfighting works much like in Twilight Princess. Except instead of moving the Wii Remote around wildly to slash blindly in one direction, you'll be moving the Wii Remote around wildly to slash blindly in FIVE directions. In fact, moving the Wii Remote around to slash feels kinda like shaking a D20 around in your hand…D20…maybe I should go play some D&D…No, no, gotta finish the article. Ahem…Anyway, aside from slashing, you can also do the usual action game things like roll, jump, dodge, etcetera, etcetera. The interesting part is when you break out the dragon powers. As you progress through the game you'll earn new dragon powers by defeating mid-bosses. Almost immediately after starting the game you'll get the first power, which is kinda a dragon's claw. It feels really cool to swipe down a group of enemies with this, and it really adds a lot of much needed "wow factor" to the game. As you go on you'll earn things like a second dragon claw, wings that allow you to double jump and dash, and some other very cool powers. Along with the boss battles, this is really the high point of the game.



Ahh yes, the boss battles. The part of the game that really makes playing through the monotonous, invisible wall-ridden stages worthwhile. The dragon bosses are extremely fun to fight, and are also quite challenging. Once you get their patterns down, however, they become much easier. It's all pattern memorization, though. Seriously, there's more pattern memorization required for victory here than a game of Contra on the NES. The fights with these huge dragons do get pretty intense, though. Especially the later ones where more strategy is involved. The evil dragons are all pretty cool looking, too. Among others, there's a water dragon, a dragon that looks a lot like Angirus of Godzilla fame, and one that looks like King Gidorah, also of Godzilla fame. Hm…I think I'm picking up a pattern here…And then there's Voranmax, the final boss of the game. While I can't comment on his design since I haven't yet gotten to him, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that he's a huge black dragon. Because, you know, evil dragon overlord and all that.



So what exactly makes this game so fun then? Well, I'm not even sure I know, really. There's just an addictive factor to it. Something about it really makes you want to see it through to the end. Like, you know that feeling you get, when you're halfway through a Will Ferrel movie and you realize that 45 minutes of your life are gone and you'll never get them back? It's the exact opposite of that feeling. There's a fulfilling quality to Dragon Blade. It just feels cool to bring down two huge flaming dragon claws on a group of foes, or to finally land the final blow on that giant minotaur that you've been fighting for the last five minutes. However, the question must be asked. Is Dragon Blade worth $40? Well…no. Despite how fun it can be, $40 is still a bit too steep for what is essentially an above-average hack-and-slasher with Wii Remote controls. My suggestion is to wait until it drops down to $30, then take the plunge and pick up a copy. Although it's a short adventure (6 hours, maybe 8 if you go to the trouble of finding all the armor shards and stuff), it's a rewarding one. And while there's little in the way of replay value, the game does keep track of your best time for each level, so if you're a speedrunner, you'll have some incentive to play through the levels again. There really is some value hiding behind the layers of 5-year-old graphics and repetitive gameplay Dragon Blade offers, and if you give it a chance, I'm sure you'll find something there to enjoy. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to put on my cardboard armor and go down to the park. My friends and I are going to meet up and hit each other with foam rubber covered pieces of PVC pipe while yelling at each other in Olde English.