My story with Dragon Force begins a long time ago, maybe two or three years after its release, and I didn't know its name then. At the time, I saw some distant cousins of mine playing a weird device in my grandfather's house that was neither a Playsation or a Nintendo 64. My young self saw them playing a game with excellently detailed 2D graphics. The music attracted me, and the battle scenes were mesmerizing.
To my 9-year-old self, the game looked glorious. One image stayed long in my memory. The special move where shockwaves go through the enemy force. Other than that, I had no idea what's the name of the game or even the system it was in.
To my surprise, while playing it now for the first time, I realized this was the same game I fell in love with only a day's glance.
As it turns out, that love, which was borne from pure instincts, was fully justified. Dragon Force, despite not quite reaching a fully glorious level, is a very good game.
16: Dragon Force:
Genre: Real-Time Strategy RPG
Publisher: Sega, Working Designs.
Developer: J-Force, Sega.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste.
"He and his villainous legion scorched the land and dried the once sparkling seas with a towering fury unequaled in all creation"
The story of the game is par the course for the time. An evil god, Madruk, fought the goddess Astea for control of the world, and that fight was partially resolved through Astea's dragon proxy. Still, the evil god wasn't defeated, and another fight broke out 300 years before the events of the game, and Madruk was again partially defeated.
The world as it exists now is mostly unaware of the events in the past and is divided between eight nations which are currently embroiled in an all-out war. The immediate threat being the war-like nation of Fandaria, but everyone is attacking everyone else.
You can initially choose one of six nations, with the other two only unlocked after the game. This means that there are at least eight semi-unique playthroughs of the game since each nation comes with its own cutscenes and story perspective.
You can choose one of many nations to play as
Predictably, the story reveals itself slowly as your character realizes the relationship between the current war and the events of the past, which informs your decisions to conquer all nations and gather the eight warriors that compromise the force necessary to defeat Madruk yet again.
While there is little original in the story, and I wish there was more interaction between your main characters and the named unique commanders and heroes in the game, it is a nice enough and well-told story. Especially when you consider the eight possible different perspectives.
"You can stop quaking with fear, step forth and fight!"
With the story out of the way, let us discuss the game's unique gameplay systems. Notice the plural, because there are many systems in place here. As the leader of one of eight nations, your main objective is to conquer the continent of Legendra, which your leader somehow justifies as a defensive maneuver.
This is done in an overview maps where you can move your armies in real-time from city to city. Each army consists of up-to five commanders with their own battalion of troops. This battalion can be anything from ten or so classes, with the number of troops depending on the merit awards held by the commander. This phase is similar to strategy games such as Total War and Romance of the Three Kingdoms but is limited to troop mobilization, as there is no domestic improvement done in this phase.
In fact, there is little domestic improvement scope in the game, which is left to be done during the domestic phase which is not in real-time. In this phase, you can attempt to recruit captive commanders, give awards to your own commanders (which can allow them to change troop classes or command a greater number of troops), or utilize development options. These development options are limited to fortify and search, both of which can only be conducted by commanders with an intelligence stat of 70 or more.
The Pre-Battle Taunts are really good
Usually, in a strategy focused game, the significant lack of developmental options would be a considerable negative. However, that's not the focus of this game. Instead, it is really all about war and the real-time battles that happen when two units meet each other on the map.
Here, the game cuts to the battlefield, where two sprite armies face-off against each other. In this phase, you can direct your troops with a number of tactics and can change in mid-battle as well. Also, your commander, depending on their own class, has access to a max of three special moves that can drastically change the flow of battle. It is a unique battle system that I haven't seen before
One of my favorite tactics is with Samurai commanders with access to the breach tactic, which is designed to breach through enemy forces and rush their commander. What I do is start the breach, but command the formation to move down instead of the middle. This pushes the enemy army into the middle, at which point I use the shockwave special attack which attracted me so much as a child. It completely obliterates everything in its path, which through my tactic was at least half of the enemy forces.
"No. There are some who shall hold the power of victory. They will be called the Eight Warriors of the Dragon Force"
With an excellent and unique gameplay system with eight different campaigns to play, there is a lot of replayability built-into the base game. There are multiple ways to tackle each campaign and many commanders to recruit and use in a game that is almost always engagingly fun.
I say almost because the game, like many other strategy games, does settle into a mid-game lull once you gain critical mass and become too big for the other nations to effectively attack, the game is predictably won until the end game where it gets exciting once again.
Also, at that stage, you usually have too many commanders and cities to oversee, which makes the lack of group order commands annoyingly obvious.
By the end, you may have around enough commanders to fill a soldier battalion
I feel that the addition of more micro stories into the game map (a few such stories exist) would have benefitted the game greatly, especially if it involved more interaction between the unique characters in the game.
This is the reason that despite absolutely loving the game, I don't plan to play it beyond two or three playthroughs, which is honestly more than enough to say about any game. If you think you would be on the same path, then it is worth it to not pick two similar characters to get as much variety as you can.
"You are part of the company in your fight against Madruk"
Back at that time when I first saw the game, I wasn't sure what the game was about when my cousins choosing in the domestic phase. I was then intrigued by the movement of the icons on the overworld map, wondering about what all this menu diving signifies. However, when the first battle started between two small sprites on the map, I was immediately blown away.
Two beautifully designed commanders, each with a regiment of 50 or so troops, stood facing each other in full 2D splendor with multiple planes giving the battlefield some noticeable depth. And, then, the onslaught began with a hundred detailed sprites attacking each other in different formations. I am still not sure if I heard or imagined the battle cries.
Then, in the middle of the battles, three impressive shockwaves cleaved through the enemy forces and my cousins excitedly claimed victory.
This is the special move that stayed in my memory for so long
Honestly, Dragon Force may be the most visually impressive game on the Saturn, and that's mostly because it doubled down on 2D sprites that look great today when other games attempted newer and uglier technologies. Even in its use of classically animated cutscenes, the game stayed visually consistent with its visual designs.
As for the game's soundtrack, I feel like it doesn't take full advantage of the increased capabilities of the Saturn besides having some limited but predictably terrible voice acting. To be fair, there are some memorable tracks such as the Apostle battle theme and Gongos's theme (which is the best character theme).
In general, I noticed that Strategy games tend to favor music that doesn't steal the scene, which is understandable given the time you spend on the map versus the time in battles compared to JRPG games.
I had a faint memory of witnessing a great game in action many years ago. Such faint memories of games gone by are a major reason that I am going back to playing the supposedly best games of systems past. In the hope of playing great games that I would have otherwise missed.
It is without any exaggeration that I say that Dragon Force is such a great game. You get the feeling that a sequel that ironed out all of its minor flaws and added more story to the game would have become a perfect game. Unfortunately, I am not sure such a sequel ever materialized.
Yet, we are still left with a game that compares with the best of its time.
This is classic 90's anime style
1- Make sure to utilize the tactics in the middle of battles.
2- For instance, mages can retreat and keep shooting at the incoming melee attackers. That allows them to be effective against all enemy types.
3- Shooter-type soldiers can keep shooting during special move animations.
4- Another tactic is to disperse your troops to avoid area-of-effect moves.
5- Make sure to save before finishing any domestic sessions.
6- After finishing these sessions, disloyal commanders may desert. Go back and give them rewards if you want to keep them.
7- Disloyal commanders can be useful for defending cities and transporting troops, but they shouldn't be used as your offensive force.
8- Fight outside of the city gates to avoid damaging your own cities.
9- Develop the cities next to the three temples.
10- Make sure to level-up the hero characters.
For those reading one of my Saturn review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now to review Generation 5 consoles; starting with the Sega Saturn. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this top 100 games list from Retro Sanctuary.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not in the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
I forgot to mention that the battles may also involve some awesome duels
After greatly enjoying Dragon Force I am hoping for yet another great Saturn game. It looks like I am in luck, as Shining Force III, which sits at #11 on the Retro Sanctuary list, looks as sure a bet as any other game.
For Previous Saturn game Reviews:
For More Screenshots: