I of the Dragon

I of the Dragon

Written by Tyler Sager on 12/14/2004 for PC  

The I of the Dragon has many of the elements that just strike a certain chord with me—a rather unusual premise that, well, allows me to fly around and blow stuff up as a dragon. Even when the game got a little on the repetitive side, I still was able to take a step back and tell myself, “Hey, I’m a dragon. Cool.” And then I was back to enjoying things quite a bit. That being said, I’m sure that gamers without my optimistic bias for this sort of title will have a much more difficult time overlooking the game’s faults, since there are quite a few.

Players take control of the last of the known dragons, left behind to protect humans from a scourge of monsters. Things have been going quite badly, and the humans are left holding out in a single tiny town. It’s up to the dragon to push back the tide of monsters and defeat an evil demon-king. Or something. The story is really rather weak, and the cutscenes that bring them all together are generally poor. Once the initial story is kicked off, it’s time to kill monsters. Lots and lots of monsters.

The world map is divided into several regions, all of which begin the game crawling with baddies. Most of the missions are variations on the same theme—clear the area of all monsters. Each region is riddled with “lairs”, which are simply monster generating buildings. Every so often, new lairs will appear on the map unless a human town is constructed in the region. Thankfully, the dragon is quite capable of magically building these human towns, which is accomplished by a simple keystroke. Once a town is built, it’s up to the dragon to defend it while clearing out the region of all monsters and layers. Towns have some ability to defend themselves, especially when built up to larger sizes. Once an area is monster-free, it’s off to the next region to repeat the process.

There are three different dragons to choose from, following typical action-RPG format. One is a fighter-type red dragon, with some impressive natural fire attacks and lower magical dependence. There’s a quick-but-weak blue dragon, much more reliant on its arsenal of spells than its ice-based attacks. Finally, there’s a necromantic, acid-hurling black dragon, capable of summoning a wide range of units to lend a hand. Each plays a bit differently, allowing for some replayablilty for those who find the game enjoyable enough.

Controlling the dragon is a bit cumbersome. There are a few different control schemes available. I wasn’t able to find a control scheme that I really liked, however, and I often found myself moving back and forth between keyboard-only and mouse-and-keyboard. Defensive flight was the trickiest, especially when trying to avoid homing missiles. Setting up strafing runs was also particularly difficult, since the dragon tends to stop in mid-flight to launch a breath or spell attack. Targeting the enemies (most of which are land-bound) is also a bit tricky, but after a while I got the hang of things well enough. While these controls are a bit clunky, after a few hours I figured out the limitations and learned to work around them. Then the non-dragon missions began, which were almost painful. Where the dragon control was clunky, human and critter control was atrocious during the handful of missions when the dragon isn’t available. In typical RPG fashion, killing enemies garners experience points, which in turn leads to increasing levels. Levelling up is a simple affair, but it does allow a small amount of customization of the dragon. With every new level the dragon gains points which can be spent improving abilities such as fly speed, health, or firepower. In addition, those points can be spent to buy new and more powerful spells. The dragon can also improve by collecting various gems that are trapped in monster lairs. When a set of 5 like-colored gems are collected, a special bonus is granted, such as another spell hot-key slot, increased life or increased natural attack power.

The biggest problem with the game, however, is the repetition. After the first few missions, most of the game settles into “kill monsters, build town, repeat.” I managed to stay involved, mostly because I just enjoy mindlessly blasting monsters every once in a while. But even I was getting a bit tired of the same old thing over and over again. The few thoroughly unenjoyable non-dragon missions scattered throughout do break up the monotony, but not in a good way.

I thought the graphics were decent enough, although they’re certainly not cutting edge. The dragon looks cool, and the attacks and spell effects are well done. Each of the monsters has a unique look, and it’s easy to differentiate them even when soaring high. The eating ability, in particular, looks great. I really enjoyed the ability to swoop down and grab some hapless critter, then noisily and bloodily chow down. The first time I watched this, I sat manically giggling for several minutes. Sounds are a bit weak, mostly various soundbites when monsters die or spells go off. The voice acting is poor at best, and in a disturbing fashion the subtitles never match what the cutscenes were saying. The music was decent, though almost as repetitive as the rest of the game.

For all its faults, it’s still just a great deal of fun to play a dragon. The game isn’t terribly long (less than 20 hours for a single play through), so those bothered by the repetition don’t have all that much to put up with. I found myself enjoying most of the time I put into the game, but mileage may vary. All in all, the I of the Dragon is a decent enough title whose lack of polish mars what would otherwise be a very entertaining and original game.
Who doesn’t want to play a dragon? Unfortunately, a clunky control and a bit too much repetition keep this from being a great dragon-focused action-RPG.

Rating: 7.3 Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

I'm an old-school gamer, and have been at it ever since the days of the Atari 2600. I took a hiatus from the console world to focus on PC games after that, but I've come back into the fold with the PS2. I'm an RPG and strategy fan, and could probably live my gaming life off a diet of nothing else. I also have soft spot for those off-the-wall, independent-developer games, so I get to see more than my share of innovative (and often strange) titles.

Away from the computer, I'm an avid boardgamer, thoroughly enjoying the sound of dice clattering across a table. I also enjoy birdwatching and just mucking around in the Great Outdoors.
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