They are the diamonds in the rough; the high quality games that often get snubbed by potential buyers because they lack one or more attention-getting qualities (e.g., a big-name developer, a belonging to a popular franchise, a gratuitously endowed female mascot, etc). Their lineage transcends the eras, from the 8-bit Shadow of the Ninja, to the SNES's side scrolling Run Saber, to the frenetic splendor of the hapless Saturn's Guardian Heroes.
Don't get your hopes up. Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm may not make that elaborate (and growing) list, but it ain't half bad either.
Crave Entertainment's third person hack 'n slasher places you in the shoes of the Dragonsbane; a mighty hero chosen by destiny to liberate a far off mystical realm from a giant, winged, reptilian scourge. Sound familiar? Yep, it's the tried and true dragon slayer formula, almost to a tee. Don't let that discourage you into writing it off as another "jello mold" fantasy adventure, however. Lack of originality notwithstanding, Draconus contains a wholesome batch of quests, each with its own unique and engaging sub-story.
Before being thrust into this fantasy world, you're prompted to choose between one of two warriors: Cynric, the bulky, armor-clad swordsman, or Aeowyn, the comely, spellcrafting sorceress. As you can probably tell, they are well versed in swordplay and magic usage respectively, and each character improves in his/her respective strengths as the game progresses. Going through the game with both characters doesn't make it any less linear, but I'm certainly not against any modicum of replay value.
Got your sword and shield handy? Good. Time to leave the nest and enter the game world; and what a world it is. Draconus garners big points in the ambiance department. Though the setting isn't one of a kind, the levels are so beautifully constructed that you won't even care. Over the course of your journey, you'll venture through lush forests, dilapidated castles, and dwarf-inhabited mines, just to name a few. Lamentably, an otherwise good looking game is occasionally marred by graphical glitches like clipping and some unshapely terrain features, not to mention the annoying framerate drops that plague the action every now and again.
Things get even more interesting once you happen upon the threatening array of enemies jonesing to get you out of the picture. You'll run across baddies that range from the canine-like krujen to the exponentially more terrifying dragon knights. Again, while there's nothing groundbreaking here, these legions of terror are still sufficiently intimidating. In addition, should you battle your way past those abominations without fear or fail, Draconus has some bosses up its sleeve that'll make your palms sweaty.
Sound-wise, the music is done fairly well, with a fitting orchestral score that fades in ominously as you approach some important area. The voice talent is mostly good, partly middle ground, and somewhat bad. Both selectable heroes share the exact same dialogue, word for word, rattling off sarcastic Evil Dead-esque one liners at every opportunity. Such remarks can be pretty amusing in some instances, overly cliched in others. Sound effects are nicely done, as every swoosh, clang, and volatile thud rings true.
Despite the highs and lows in previous categories, what really stands to make or break this title is its gameplay. Thankfully, it isn't bad...just in dire need of polishing. Case in point: the control, easily the most lacking component. Fending off enemies usually poses no problem, unless two or more enemies present themselves, and they often do. To maintain a bead on your intended target or targets, you will frequently need to move around whilst attacking, which sometimes unintentionally triggers one of the game's combo maneuvers. This usually ends up in you lunging forward with your weapon or pausing briefly to execute some sort of special attack, producing mixed results. A dysfunctional camera also puts a damper on the fun. The game is designed to take place from a third person viewpoint, but every once in a while the camera spins way off-kilter, leaving you to wonder which way is up. Needless to say, this is not a welcome altercation during a heated swordfight.
On the plus side, the enemy AI is actually very up to speed. Opponents block and evade your attacks, incorporating a surprising amount of strategy into the combat system. These nasties don't have any hang ups sticking it to the honor system, either. Not uncommonly will an enemy turn tail and run, only to find another creature to team up against you. Beyond all else, however, is the undying fun factor in hacking armies of monsters limb from limb. Face it folks, sometimes the most simplistic and visceral concepts are the most refreshing.
All in all, Draconus is a worthwhile contribution to the Dreamcast library and an ideal "$39.99 and under" title, even if it has "could've been" written all over it. Though far from a must have, it's definitely a picker upper if the price is right.
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