Dragon Force

RPG fans should enjoy this one.

Publisher: Working Designs
Developer: Working Designs
Genre: Strategy

One of the biggest problems about strategy games on consoles is that they get tedious very fast. Once past the first few battles, they tend to bog down with resource management and upkeep. Dragon Force isn't like that. They've distilled the essence of the fantasy wargame to its purest essence. Unlike Year of the Horned Rat for PlayStation, Dragon Force is a realtime adventure perfectly adapted for consoles.

To veteran strategy gamers, the scenario is one you've seen before. Have your heroes take over towns. Each hero can command a certain number of troops, which he or she can recruit from a town. Then, get more heroes and conquer again. However, Working Designs' keeps it fresh with deft characterization and the strength of the combat engine.

Combat is all done in pseudo-realtime. The armies duke it out in realtime, but action freezes as you give orders. Individual units aren't controllable, but highly maneuverable as a mass. Basic formations include all-out, offensive, defensive, and special tactics for each general.

Each unit, from the lowly soldier to the dragon has special strengths and weaknesses. It's to Sega of Japan's credit that each unit's characterstics make sense, and don't include dodgy compromises. Since each general can control up to 100 units, it looks pretty spectacular when a horde of dragons massacres lowly archers.

Dragon Force's battles reflect a different, more dramatic esthetic. Instead of remaining some godlike third party, your generals are on the field, fighting the good fight. The battle doesn't end until the general dies, not the soldiers. Each general can either defend against agressors, or send spectacular magical attacks against enemy armies. Some of the cooler effects include Thor's Hammer, in which your general summons a giant, smashing the ground, sending the ground spiking, or the Meteor Shower, which looks as good as it sounds.

Only two major flaws mar the combat experience. Generals can't move. They can't do anything except sit in one place, which makes it very, very annoying when only one or two units are left on the field. Players have to wait some useless seconds until their units get slaughtered even when one or two blows from your general could take him out.

Then, when moving into the duel phase, your general is totally uncontrollable, combat reduced to a series of attacks handled by probability and numbers. While I think it can be excused if you wish to believe each general is an independent character, it defeats the whole purpose of controlling units in the first place.

Making you believe that each of the 100+ generals in the game is a real character isn't an easy feat, but Working Designs' excellent translation makes it look that way. Each character comes alive in a one or two line monologue, with a depth only hinted at.

Your generals each have individual characteristics that can affect your quest to unite the continent. Some are fiercely loyal, eager to fight and die. Others are lazy and prefer to stay in a castle on border patrol. There are even some who are cowards who might even turn traitor on you if you don't reward them enough. Learning to balance your characters and keep them happy is totally necessary.

As you get into the flow of Dragon Force, it takes on an epic air, the sense that forces larger than your character are at work, hurtling the land and your loyal subjects into an apocalyptic war against evil. Empathizing with your generals and feeling "the Cause" won't be uncommon, and is the most enjoyable part of the game.

Although it isn't cutting-edge technology, Dragon Force's gameplay makes it one of the best of the Christmas season. If you're a fan of fantasy RPG's, this one is definitely one to pick up.