Draglade is not based on a popular Japanese anime TV series. It may look and sound like it's based on a long-running anime series, but I assure you that it's not. Instead Draglade takes all of the clichés we know and love about Japanese cartoons and turns them into a compelling action/fighting game for the Nintendo DS. While it might not grab you at first, Draglade is a refreshing action game that may just surprise you with its unique game play and exciting battles. It still hits a few bumps along the way, but at least it's not based on a TV show.
The story of Draglade isn't especially deep, but it gets the job done and gives us a reason to fight a lot of sword-wielding men and psychotic animals. You play one of four characters who are on a quest to become a "Master Grapper". That's right; this game is all about grapping, grappers and the people that love them. Apparently a "grapper" is a person who makes their living from fighting other opponents in an arena battle. Grappers use what amounts to a wrist computer (known as a G-Con) which will create unique weapons that you can use to clobber your opponent to death (or at least until they are knocked out). It's kind of a silly concept, but I suppose it's no worse than telling a story about a kid who wants to be a professional wrestler or a pugilist.
For whatever reason, Draglade takes quite a while to get started. Before you even have a chance to start a fight, you have to put up with quite a bit of narration and some generic conversations (none of which are very good here). There's a whole back story about a kid who meets his hero and is told that if he practices every day for years he too could be a, ahem, "Master Grapper". Thankfully Draglade doesn't make us sit through a multi-year montage of our hero training; instead we pick back up with the story five years later and go on our merry way.
After talking to some of your friends, getting your grap license and buying some supplies, it's time for our hero to embark on what is sure to be a grand adventure. But not so far, because before you can start having fun you will have to learn how to grap (apparently you didn't learn that in the five years of training we just skipped past). How it works is that each character has two attack buttons, one that is a quick and light attack, and the other is a hard attack that is slower. Beyond the two attack buttons, there is also a jump button and a magic button. The battles resemble 2D brawlers (such as Magic Sword and Flame of Recca) more than your traditional fighting game. At first this take on the fighting genre feels a little weird, but it doesn't take long before you're getting the hang of it and even having a fun time.
Thankfully there's a little more to Draglade than I've let on, this game also features an interesting "beat" mechanic that helps to set this fighting game apart from the rest of the crowd. You see, this is a music-based fighting game. That's right; Draglade combines the fun of Street Fighter II with the rhythm mechanics of Beat Mania. Okay, so maybe it's not that extreme of a combination, but the music-inspired game play is definitely an interesting idea that goes a long way to making this game fun. At the bottom of the screen sits a "beat" bar that you can use to create some massive combos. The trick to this meter is that you have to hit each of the beats at just the right time, if you miss one then your combo is over and you leave yourself open for possible attack.
Outside of the "beat" mechanics and standard attack buttons, your grapper also has the ability to cast magic at their opponents. At first you'll only have a couple of magic attacks, one that you can throw at your enemies (a fireball) and one you can use to heal yourself. But don't worry, along the way you will earn all sorts of other magic attacks, including a lot of the classics, like a wall of fire, electricity, ice and so on. While you can carry dozens of magic attacks, when you are in battle you can only choose from six at a time. You select the different magic attacks by using the touch screen; it's a simple thing that ends up adding a lot of strategy to each battle.
Draglade is split up into a couple of different sections, including one where you're walking around various towns talking to the townsfolk and one where you are running through 2D action level that requires you to fight hypnotized animals. Beyond that you will have to battle other grappers in one-on-one arena battles (some of which have levels that fight back). The whole game is just one battle after another, generally with you earning money and experience along the way.
I'll be completely honest with you; I didn't care much for this game when I first started playing it. I found it hard to connect with the characters, the initial story was a complete bore and the conversations were painfully dull. What's more, every aspect of this game felt like it was ripped away from another anime-inspired action game. But I gave Draglade a chance and found that this is not just a fun action game, but it's also a lot deeper than I had given it credit for. Draglade isn't the best game on the Nintendo DS by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a lot better than most of these kinds of games.
The reason that this game works so well is because of the fighting engine. Sure, it's not as complex as what we've seen in traditional fighters (Street Fighter II, Virtua Fighter, etc.), but it also feels fresh and exciting. These battles only become more fun when you have a lot of magic attacks to choose from, which will happen relatively early in the game. You'll still have to plod through the game leveling up your character, but even that isn't all that annoying thanks to the fun fighting engine.
The fun extends past the single-player mode, as well. Draglade offers a compelling multiplayer mode that is even more addictive than the single-player story mode. Best of all, you can connect to people both online and off. Make no mistake about it; this is an exciting fighting game that is even more fun against real people. Part of the reason this game works so well is because it perfectly matches the Nintendo DS hardware. This isn't one of those games that tries to do more than what the hardware will allow, it understands the limitations of the DS and crafts a game that perfectly matches the system. Hardcore fighting games may have a hard time going from Virtua Fighter or Tekken to this weird 2D anime-influenced action/fighter hybrid, but those who give it a try will be impressed with what Dimps Corporation have been able to pull off.
Make no mistake about it; Draglade is not a perfect game. I personally could have done without the longwinded conversations and boring back story. But once the action starts it's hard to put this game down. Even though the heavy emphasis on Japanese anime can get a little grating at times, Draglade is a solid action game that is worth picking up. If you're a Nintendo DS owner who has been waiting for a solid fighting game, then you should already be running out to your local game store to pick up this wacky little action game.
Companies: Atlus Inc
It may look like it is based on a Japanese TV show, but I assure you that this game is not based on a licensed property. And maybe that's a good thing, because Draglade proves to be an interesting take on the fighting genre that perfectly fits the Nintendo DS' limited hardware.