A voyage through well-trodden territory…
For anyone that has been following my build up to the release of this Xbox One exclusive, it will have been abundantly obvious that it is a title that I have been eagerly anticipating for some time, but with the game receiving a mixed reception at best, I had begun to wonder if my faith had been somewhat misplaced, though after spending over two weeks with the game thus far, it’s clear to me now, that I was right after all…probably.
Taking place on a planet known as Draco, human settlements have come under attack from a virus, which is believed to be the handiwork of a large, terrifying creature that roams this desolate world, the White Phantom. Assuming control of a dragon rider, the player is tasked with investigating outbreaks of the virus and collecting genetic samples that might lead the Seeker organisation (the protagonist’s employer) to discovering a cure. The game is played out over seven areas (plus a final foray against the White Phantom itself), each with several missions to complete within them, and whilst the game has come under some heavy condemnation for its length, these critics have failed to recognise the retro, point scoring gameplay that provides almost endless replay value to anyone that cares enough to notice. This is deepened by medals that are awarded for meeting certain criteria (such as wiping out all enemies in certain sections, or among several others, registering a high shot down percentage), along with a wide variety of interchangeable secondary weapons and the vast array of various dragon types that can be used, improved and eventually evolved. Despite picking up seven games at the launch of the Xbox One, Crimson Dragon has invariably managed to remain as my most played game, though it certainly isn’t without its flaws.
The dragon that the player controls is particularly large, and whilst this does aid the overall look of the game, it has come under heavy criticism for making Crimson Dragon a highly frustrating experience by obscuring the player’s view of incoming enemy projectiles. Now, whilst this is true to a certain extent, it never feels quite as frustrating or as random as it has been depicted by the majority of video game critics. Players can avoid incoming attacks by strafing the dragon around the screen, much like in Panzer Dragoon, but in addition to this, Crimson Dragon also offers the use of a barrel roll to achieve the same objective, though whilst the controls feel more than a tad sluggish, I am still unsure as to whether this was a deliberate design decision to ensure that players use the manoeuvre sparingly. Successful enemy attacks induce a stun effect that prolongs the time that it takes to enable both defensive and offensive moves, this is possibly the most frustrating aspect of the game’s design, but it is one that does seems to become increasingly less offensive with additional play.
The micro-transactions that have come under heavy derision in the gaming media exist to aid players that struggle with the game’s difficulty, but having completed it on its highest setting without the need to spend any of my own money, this argument is a pretty flimsy one at best. Though, in fairness, developer Grounding Inc. did release an update in time for the game’s release to address some of the issues raised in the initial wave of appraisals, and hopefully further updates will follow. The inclusion of RPG elements into the game’s design was a last minute one also, crammed in as the title shifted from a Kinect driven 360 release to an Xbox One launch game, and it shows. Whilst there is certainly replay value to be found, these additions are far too shallow and do not properly highlight the growth of a player’s dragon, or demonstrate the value of evolving the dragon type once it has reached its maximum level. This could have been easily fixed, and perhaps will be if Yukio Futatsugi’s team are still prepared to listen and respond to the criticism that their creation has received.
The ability to hire a wingman to take into battle, however, is an excellent feature and one that is at times a necessity if the player has any chance of emerging from a screen filled with enemies and their many attacks, as is a regular occurrence on Draco. The sheer volume of projectiles being thrown at the player at any one time is regularly far too high, and thus frustration is born from the many failed attempts that the player will endure in their efforts to manoeuvre through. But, if one can look past all of this, there is certainly some enjoyment to be had, believe it or not.
Visually, the game looks sharp, but it was originally intended for the Xbox 360 and without expecting it to look entirely next gen, one cannot be too disappointed by it. There is a relatively high level of detail to be found on the dragon models and the surroundings are wonderfully colourful and unique enough from one another to prevent the game from becoming stale-though there are certainly some ropey textures to be discovered. There were a number of talented artists in the development team behind it, and generally, it shows, though it doesn’t quite have the sparkle that the original Panzer Dragoon games displayed, and nor does it seem as original. The audio performs admirably, with a soundtrack by Panzer veteran, Saori Kobayashi, which is excellent throughout, and in places is rather strongly reminiscent of his work on the brilliant, Panzer Dragoon Saga. Of course, the sound design in general is very strong, with Sega veteran Keiichi Sugiyama helping out here, though the voice acting is really rather poor-but as the vast majority of releases to make their way west out of Japan typically prove, storytelling is not their strong point.
I want to love Crimson Dragon very much, but it is so inherently flawed that I simply cannot do it. However, it does have more than enough to make its £16 price tag seem justified, and I can still honestly recommend it to anyone either with, or planning to purchase, an Xbox One. Supposedly, there is also a wealth of DLC planned for release over the coming months, though it remains unknown as to whether this will simply add further dragon types or a selection of new areas to the game, the latter would certainly be the most welcome of additions, particularly to players seeking new challenges upon which to test their mighty steeds. Given its relatively poor critical showing though, there is likely to be a knock on effect to its sales, and its future will surely become clouded as a result, so we shall simply have to wait and see if this content comes or not. The saddest part of this though, is that it is even more unlikely that Yukio Futatsugi and his team will be given the opportunity to produce the full Crimson Dragon RPG title that they desperately wanted to make, and we may very well have just missed out on something truly special.
– James Paton @TheBlackPage81
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