Dragoneer's Aria Preview
If there's one company we can always count on to deliver the Japanese role-playing goods on a consistent basis, it's NIS, or Nippon Ichi Software. From the recently released Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia for the PS2 to the fantastic Disgaea titles to plenty more niche RPG/strategy titles, NIS has gathered a healthy following of hardcore fans. Most of the time, they don't create games that would appeal to the casual gamer, but on the other hand, this makes their products all the more appealing to the niche RPG crowd. Granted, it's a smaller demographic, but NIS seems to be doing just fine, especially if we take their recent projects into account. They ain't slowing down one bit in the face of a new generation.
But before they launch themselves into the realm of the PS3 - which is undoubtedly the console they'll side with, based on recent history - they're preparing a very intriguing title for the PSP. It's called Dragoneeer's Aria, and...well, there are plenty of dragons set in a classic RPG environment. As you can see by the latest trailer, the game looks very pretty for a PSP title, and it might end up being one of the first epic RPGs for the system that actually delivers the goods in every way. What we're looking for is something like a cross between Dragon Quest and maybe Star Ocean or Suikoden, depending on how they approach the combat. And of course, the one big question: how big of a role do the dragons play? They probably won't be just cosmetic, but we have no idea what we'll be doing with those dragons just yet. Oh, we're sure we'll be fighting at least one, though.
However, we do know a bit about them. There are six elemental types of dragons, and each rules a certain part of the world. As we hear in the trailer, they apparently run the show from top to bottom, including the climate and other factors of the environment. Dragoneers, as one might expect, are a high-ranking class of knights who protect - and use? - the dragons for the good of the civilization. You may recall the Dragon Knights in the Suikoden series, and while those aren't NIS productions, there seems to be a striking similarity. One such knight, named Valen, is charged with protecting the world when one black evil dragon shows up and starts going nuts, laying waste to everything it sees. Valen will be the main character and the hero, of course, and throughout your adventure, you'll likely use your skills against each of the six types of dragons (they appear to be enemies). But again, we're not exactly sure what sort of skills Valen might have...
One of the first things NIS fans will notice in the trailer is the clear existence of a 3D background. The classic Nippon game usually consists of vividly colored 2D graphics and sprite-like characters, but Dragoneer's Aria looks more like a modern 3D RPG...perhaps it was a bizarre choice to put such a title on the PSP? Maybe, maybe not, but it could end up being a profitable addition to the handheld's library, especially if they can target more general role-playing fans in addition to their loyal fans. Another obvious change is the disappearance of the more "cutesy" style NIS often utilizes as a form of comic relief; this one looks like it has some dark and serious undertones. Strangely enough, it seems the company is breaking new ground and, oh let's just say it, entering a brave new world.
The game will also boast multiplayer fun for up to four people via the PSP's ad-hoc connection, which means you'll be able to combine forces and take on those evil dragons. Furthermore, any money and treasure you earn during a multiplayer session can be transferred for use in the single-player adventure. For both multi and single-player, you will take advantage of a variety of attacks, including both magic and physical combos. NIS fleshes out the rest of the game with the inclusion of an Item Creation system (perhaps similar to the Invention process in Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time or the creation process in Rogue Galaxy) and a very large world to explore. One other little tidbit of information concerning the battle system, according to IGN, is the existence of an intriguing little mini-game; played when attempting to block incoming attacks. It sounds like a very unique concept, which doesn't surprise us in the least. We are talking about Nippon Ichi, after all.
Dragoneer's Aria is scheduled to release some time this summer, and we hope to offer a bit more in the way of details before then. We can only guess at the style of gameplay at this point, but rumors and baseline information lead us to believe it's going to be more action-oriented than the traditional turn-based RPG style we're used to seeing from NIS. And if we also consider the very different approach in presentation, we could be looking at a transformation in the way a classic Japanese company does business... Could they be using this project as a stepping-stone for future next-gen endeavors? Only time will tell.
4/6/2007 Ben Dutka