Legend of the Dragon Review
It would be reasonable to assume that cartoons would make for good video games. But for whatever reason, much like attempting to translate other television shows or movies into games, we rarely get a quality production. But what if the basic concept of the cartoon is actually based on fighting, unlike Family Guy or The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy? Some of those Dragonball Z titles are actually pretty entertaining, so we figured a similar cartoon would fare equally well in the game realm. And that cartoon is "Legend of the Dragon," which is a popular show for kids that has a distinctive Japanese style; the game just recently released for the PS2. We had a chance to tackle this relatively unique fighting title, and our conclusion is simple- stay away. Stay far, far away.
The Game Factory decided to go with cel-shaded graphics for this one, which isn't a bad idea, but because the presentation is so poorly constructed, the visuals fall flat. Yeah, there's some decent color here and there - often a strong point in this graphical style - but beyond that, the detail is hopelessly lacking and everything just screams "generic." There's nothing even remotely special about the character design, which is worse than mediocre, and the environments and backdrops are painfully bad. Just wait ‘til you see the ridiculous excuse for a "world map" in the Quest mode; it makes that mess we had in Legend of Dragoon appear magnificent. Some of the combat visuals would've been cool, but such a serious technical deficiency makes them seem meek and bland. Overall and simply put, this is just a bad-looking game.
Given the atrocious graphics, you'd think the sound would have a good shot of being significantly better. But unfortunately, while they are better, it's hardly a big difference. The sound suffers from the same lack of polish and refinement as the visuals, and despite some semi-average fighting effects, everything is just completely forgettable. The soundtrack is almost non-existent, and the repetitive nature of every blow you land during combat is tiresome. Not once do you get an inspired track from the cartoon; not once are you rewarded with sharp and intense effects after executing a combination attack. Regardless of which game mode you select, and regardless of the situation, the sound is almost as terrible as the graphics...and that's just ridiculous. It's almost as if the developers forgot a game should have sound.
But as is always the case with video games, provided the gameplay is solid and entertaining, even the most grievous technical flaws can be overlooked. However, it's rare that a title will fail in the graphics and sound category and miraculously succeed in the gameplay category, and Legend of the Dragon is no different. The game focuses almost entirely on standard 3D fighting, although there is that silly "map" available in the Quest mode. All you really do is move automatically along a dotted line between pagodas, which is so mind-numbingly boring it's almost funny. Once you enter combat, things don't get much better; the difficulty is erratic, one original concept doesn't seem to work at all, and none of the encounters hold any excitement whatsoever.
We assume you want to know what that original concept is, so here you go: certain characters can transform during battle, becoming stronger and faster. If they do, and you're attacked, there may be a series of button-presses you'll have to execute to avoid getting blasted. The only problem is, you can never really tell when or how to start pressing those buttons, and when they do show up, it's like a bad game of Memory; you have to remember every displayed button and then get to it when they disappear. Now, this would be okay if there were maybe four or five buttons, but there are eight. Eight. What exactly is the point of that? You get to look at it for a few seconds and that's it, so we hope you have a very fast-working memory, because if you don't, you're entirely outta luck. There are other interesting aspects to the fighting, but it all just boils down to the foundation...which is extraordinarily shaky.
There are multiple modes, ranging from the Quest to Survival to Versus (which has to be unlocked), so that might keep an avid fan occupied. But no matter where you go or what you do, you're forced to endure those terrible battles. The controls are not well-implemented, the responsiveness of the fighters is horribly slow, and the storyline is downright pathetic. We'd like to say it's worth your time to experiment with the various goals you have to fulfill in the Quest fights, but those are either frustrating or too easy to bother with. Your foe is as stupid as they come, repeating many of the same moves over and over, sometimes even getting stuck on one particular attack throughout the entirety of the encounter. We're not even sure how damage is determined; much like the difficulty, damage dealt and received is absurdly erratic.
You've got one button each for punch, kick, and block, and that's about it. You can try stringing those two attack commands together for some combos, but it's a tedious and very stripped down process. When you transform, you can execute any one of three different special attacks, but they're all the same for every character's transformation! What the heck is that about? None of this is fun. You can search high and low for "fun" but you'll never find it; combine a horrendous lack of detail with one of the most basic fighting games on earth, and you've got a very unappealing experience. And let's not forget the uber-clunky and unresponsive controls that serve to annoy the snot out of the gamer, which cripple the gameplay even further, if that's even possible.
There just doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason behind any of the modes. Perhaps a fan of the cartoon would be able to explain it to us, but the story is nearly incomprehensible and definitely a waste of time. You'd expect some of the other arcade-style modes to be fun, but because the combat is almost as bad as War Gods, it's tough to get involved in any of them. You tend to fight in locations that all look very much the same (with only a few exceptions), and certain characters seem much better suited for combat than other characters. Why, we have no idea; it's a cardinal sin of any fighting game, but the balance in this game is awful. In other words, your favorite character might be at a severe disadvantage due to shoddy development, and that's just wrong.
There are no saving graces, here. There's really nothing we can point to and say, "well, that was pretty good." Nothing is "good;" nothing is even close to "average." We could continue laying into Legend of the Dragon, but honestly, we don't see the point. Our mothers always used to say, "if you don't have anything good to say..." and we're going to adopt that adage now. Let's just finish by saying this game is a waste of anyone's time, and it doesn't matter if you like the show. This terribly conceived, designed, and produced title isn't worth the cost of the plastic for the case. As we said in the intro, stay as far away from this as humanly possible.
5/23/2007 Ben Dutka