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Dragon Riders: Chronicles of Pern - Review

On the Wings of Dragons

By: Jade Falcon


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 1
   Interface 5
   Music/Sound 3
   Originality 4
   Plot 8
   Localization 7
   Replay Value 2
   Visuals 3
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

20-25 hrs.

 
Overall
Three.
Criteria

Dragon Riders
 

   Game companies are making more and more games based in already existing worlds. Ubi Studios UK had this great idea of creating a game based on a wildly popular fantasy novel series: Dragonriders of Pern. In fact, to make the game better, they asked Anne McCaffrey, the author of the books, to help write the story. The original release was planned in March 2001, but had to be pushed back numerous times until August 2001. It was also released on two platforms: PC and Dreamcast. I purchased and played the Dreamcast version. Did these delays help create a better game?

   By far the best aspect of Dragon Riders is the story. Since Anne McCaffrey worked with the writers, the story plays out like one of her novels. Ninety percent of the NPCs have some sort of story about them, and the more major NPCs have an almost epic story behind them. The game is practically a book itself, with you playing as the main character, D'Kor. It is an experience every fan of the series needs to have.

   Controls while walking around in the world are not the best. D'Kor must be standing still in order perform many actions, such as talking with someone or picking up an item. This is inconvenient, since for some people, there is only one certain place in which the person could be talked to. The same thing happens when there is only one certain spot he could move through. In several places, he just gets stuck, even to the extent of having to restart the game because he cannot get out.

   The battle system can be summed up in one word: horrible. When D'Kor gets close enough to an enemy, a battle icon appears at the top of the screen. Then after pressing and holding the action button, D'Kor gets ready for battle. While still holding the action button, he can circle around his opponent using left and right. Attacks are performed by pressing up, with a stronger attack unleashed when holding up for a short time. Defending is executed by pressing down. However, the actions only are performed half the time due to the fact that the controls are extremely unresponsive. The buttons have to be pressed extremely hard for any action to take place. If the enemy gets the jump on you, you might as well kiss D'Kor's life goodbye, since a clean hit on him from a strong attack by most enemies can take off upwards of three-fourths of D'Kor's life. Once the enemy starts its onslaught, it is almost impossible to get the upper hand back since when D'Kor gets hit since he reels from the impact. This prevents any sort of countermeasure if the enemy follows up with another attack.


Take that, and that!
A battle.  

   What makes the battle system even worse is the fact that you cannot even see what you are doing half the time. The camera has absolutely no controls, so wherever the point of view is, it stays there. This allows many 'invisible' hidden doors and insets. Sometimes when D'Kor moves off the screen, the camera does not follow, forcing the player to attempt to get him back on the screen without being able to see him. Everything would be much easier if the player had control over the camera.

   Sound effects are a mixed bag. The voice acting for the opening sequence is excellent, but the voice overs for the rest of the game are a different story. Some sound like they were patched together at the last second, while other characters have no voice lines. Text is always shown at the bottom of the screen, and what the character says does not always match the caption. The sound in battles is reduced to a clank of swords or an occasional "Ugh." From what I could hear of the music, it sounds good. However, the music is as noticeable as atmospheric noise. While speaking to a person, the music lowers in volume, and in many cases, does not return to the original volume.


Hey, what's that?
Look out behind you!  

   The menu system is mediocre. Five menus appear when the menu button is pressed. The item screen is used for items and equipment. An item is used in one of two ways: It is automatically used when selected in the item menu (potions) or it goes into his pocket, similar to equipping the item, which then is used by pressing the use button (axes, hammers, etc.). There are maps for most places, as well as a journal for keeping up with quests. These make navigating around Pern easier. The dragon icon allows D'Kor to communicate with dragon, Zenth, for information about his location and for navigating between areas.

The graphics are plain and very polygonial. All characters have sharp points on their bodies in many places, such as the fingers and forehead. The characters' faces have little to no detail on them. Scenery looks the same in all places. The same type of rock is found outside in the weyr and inside a dark, damp cave a half a world away. The sky is basically a solid light blue with one or two fluffs for clouds during the day and a darker blue for evening scenes. Items that are on the ground to pick up can barely be seen unless D'Kor are on top of them. Most look like a small collection of specks. On top of this, the loading time for each area is absurd. Some areas take upwards of forty seconds to load! This makes for some lengthy side trips.


Hey Ms. McCaffrey!
I wonder who that could be...  

Dragon Riders is not very challenging outside the battles. Most of the gameplay time is spent wandering around completing quests. Some of the quests are difficult to complete, forcing you to traverse the entire world, but others are just as easy as talking to the person in the next room over. Some quests are just plain time-consuming. For example, a person needs six bugs delivered to him, but the container you use can only hold one bug at a time. Depending on how many side quests you undertake, an average run through would be around 20 hours. A complete game would only take an extra few hours.

The idea to make a game based on Dragonriders of Pern was great, but not implemented well. With the long loading times, freezing, glitches, and a horrible battle system, it is a wonder the game made it out Ubi Studios' lab. From what I know, the PC version is much less buggy and has shorter load times. If you love the Dragonriders of Pern series, this game is for you. If you're looking for fire-breathing dragons and excellent gameplay, look somewhere else.





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