I've been playing Wales Interactive's full motion video games for several years now. If I don't play them when they first release, I eventually work my way around to them, generally finding their low-budget takes on genre film to be an amusing way to pass the occasional rainy afternoon. The games in Wales Interactive's stable vary quite a bit in variety, from "near feature film" quality to "90's Sci-Fi Channel corniness". But I've yet to come across a Wales Interactive game that I couldn't enjoy on some level, until I played Mia and the Dragon Princess.
To be fair, Mia and the Dragon Princess is releasing for $13.99 on Steam, so players aren't asked to put a lot of money out for this less-than-premium product. But even by discount game standards, Mia is extremely rough. The story in this brief game is absolute nonsense, completely abandoning anything like logic or narrative flow in favor of choppy nonsense and complete discordance. Nothing in Mia and the Dragon Princess makes sense - not the setup, not the story, not the acting, not the weirdly barren bar set in which the action takes place, not the strange "spy" lady that is fake-playing a fake video game. Nothing.
Things actually get off to a pretty good start, with an animated introduction that tells the story of the titular Dragon Princess. Escaping from servitude back in pirate times, she takes to the seas to plunder her enemies, eventually teaming up with another lady pirate to pile up treasure and rescue other ladies. Then, for no apparent reason, the Dragon Princess takes to the Arctic, where she and her ship are immediately lost in the frozen wastes.
This is where the live action part of the game starts, and things immediately go off the rails. For a while I was willing to go with the game in whatever WTF direction it wanted to take me, but eventually the nonsense overwhelmed my goodwill and I could no longer fake a smile at the on-screen shenanigans.
Okay, so get this. Off-screen, the Dragon Princess has been on display, frozen in a museum like a Dragon Princess-sicle. She thaws out like Encino Man (I think) and follows a magical device on her wrist to a London bar, supposedly a hangout for pirates dating back to the 1600s. When she arrives there, she meets Mia, a local barmaid. Though they are unable to communicate, Mia takes the Dragon Princess into the bar, assuming that she is homeless.
To complicate things, the owner of the restaurant (I think) above the basement bar is trying to buy out the bar owner, because he somehow is aware that there is a treasure on the premises. This leads to a few nonsensical confrontations between the restaurant guy and the bar guy, wherein restaurant thugs and bar patrons brutally murder each other. The Dragon Princess and the bartender somehow know kung-fu, which sometimes leads to a few unintentionally funny fight scenes. After about 45 minutes of nonsense - which somehow takes time out to indulge in a sidebar about krakens, a subplot about the other pirate lady growing old and dying, and a weird bit where they try to talk to the Dragon Princess using a phone app - the whole things wraps up with most of the cast dead. The Dragon Princess...lives happily ever after? Maybe? Displaced in time and unable to communicate? Sleeps in the weird hidden pirate room? Lurks in an alley attacking strangers?
There's a hidden room that comes into play, and the player is occasionally offered ridiculous binary choices that make little sense in the context of the game. At one point I was offered a choice between helping the recently appeared local tour guide in a fight, or a never-before-named bar patron who previously had zero lines of dialogue. I helped the tour guide guy, and the patron lady and her date were horrifically stabbed to death on a stairway by a dude, because they were in the bar, I guess. Sorry, lady. The point is, most of the choices the player is asked to make have very little in the way of stakes, as not enough background information is provided to make you care either way.
The results of your choices rarely feel impactful, particularly since they often don't make any sense. At one point, a group of four-or-so characters were running down a tunnel to escape the murderous restaurant employees. The restaurant thugs killed the two people closest to them, while the other two kinda hung out and watched. Then the non-dead escapees kinda slunk away as though the thugs couldn't see them, even though they were right there. With scenes like this, I got the sense that after filming, the game makers simply didn't have enough footage to put the game together in a way that would make any narrative sense.
The bar set where the entire game takes place is ridiculously low-rent, looking for all the world like it was set up in a church basement somewhere. And while the actors do their best to deliver something of worth, there simply are no straws to grasp, and they all completely drown in the material. And the action scenes - with a few very brief exceptions - are snooze-inducing. And keep an eye on people fighting in the background behind the main fights. They are gently circling each other, lightly slap-boxing.
Even some of Wales Interactive's usual tricks are absent. The ability to skip scenes you've already seen on subsequent playthroughs is sorely missed. And while I appreciated the basic branching map of content in the game, after two runs I wasn't particularly inspired to go back to try to fill in the blanks, particularly since I had to sit through the entire opening over and over. And the weird little "Attribute Trackers" that grade the players performance on stats like "responsibility" and "ruthlessness" make even less sense than usual - and they have zero bearing on the gameplay. The entire interface is drably depressing, and feels very basic compared to some we've seen in the past.
I love that Wales Interactive is branching out into other genres beyond horror, but the fact of the matter is that the company's horror titles are still the ones that work the best. Some of them are a little shaky, but none of them descend quite so crashingly into the realm of complete nonsense as Mia does. I normally come into these games expecting a bit of camp, a bit of choppiness, and a few moments of narrative disconnect. But Mia and the Dragon Princess goes far beyond what I've seen in the past. This game is just brutally bad.
I'll keep playing Wales Interactive's games, as this has been a favorite activity to share with my family, with us passing the controller to make decisions and laughing at the outcomes. I'm not certain I'm going to be able to continue that tradition after playing Mia and the Dragon Princess. My family will put up with a lot, but a wise man knows where to draw the line. I'm drawing the line with Mia and The Dragon Princess.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host Spielberg Chronologically, where we review every Spielberg film in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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