According to Dragoneer's Aria producer Sohei Niikawa, he is proud to present the latest game from the collaboration of Nippon Ichi and game developer Hitmaker. He goes on to say, however, that Aria is quite a departure from the usual gaming experience NIS is known for. Describing the game as epic and "meaty," he states that they really wanted to do something different with this one. And, with Lineage II's Juno Jeong designing the artwork, the game's atmosphere is clearly revolving towards that
direction. But, how epic does Dragoneer's Aria get?
Dragoneer's Aria is a tale set in the world of Gredia--a world where guardian dragons and faithful warriors, known as Dragoons, protect and preserve peace throughout the lands. However, Gredia did not always enjoy such halcyon days. For in centuries past, the Black Dragon Nidhogg ravaged and plundered all in his wake. It was not until the Holy Dragon Grinlek, accompanied by a legendary hero, would put an end to the Black Dragon's carnage. But, Grinlek paid a hefty price fighting Nidhogg, shattering the ancient wyrm's soul into six fragments. These fragments then became elemental dragons and the protectors of earth, fire, wind, water, thunder, and ice. And needless to say, each dragon has command over their respective element, the world's climate, and nature itself. For the next several centuries, these dragons would safeguard the world in Grinlek's stead alongside the Dragoons.
Back to the present, our hero Valen Kessler is preparing for his graduation from the Dragoon Academy in the city of Granadis. The six elemental dragons attend the graduation ceremony each year and bless the graduates with their powers; however this year, instead of the elemental dragons appearing, Nidhogg the Black Dragon surprisingly shows up and lays waste to the city. Valen takes it upon himself to seek out each elemental dragon, receive their blessings, and defeat the ancient evil. Along his journey, Valen will meet several companions, such as Euphe Kalm, a gorgeous green-haired girl, first to join the party; Mary Murphy, a pirate captain in search of her lost sailing vessel; and finally, Ruslan L'Avelith, a cynical Elven hermit with shaman-like powers.
"The guard system is also an interesting aspect that is somewhat similar to the Judgment Ring in the Shadow Hearts series."
The battle system, too, has its share of an epic feeling. There are no random encounters as enemies appear on the field map. All battles are handled in traditional turn-based action; however, there are several interesting twists on the game mechanics that'll certainly spice things up a bit. For example, in order for characters to perform magic, skills, and combination attacks, they have to spend mana. Mana is not the same as MP in the sense that it does not grow and stays at a static maximum of ten units of mana. To attain mana, characters will have to perform attacks which, in turn, generate energy. 100 energy points equals one unit of mana. Other ways of replenishing mana are through the use of restorative items such as crystals, or through the use of specially located mana points on the field map. Most skills and magic use only one unit of mana to perform a task; however, for combo attacks, any number of mana can be spent for more moves and damage. While each character will have a unique battle skill they will also have shared skills. One such shared skill is the Dragon Skill which adds elemental damage to an attack via equipping element-specific Dragon Orbs. Magic is gained through gem items called Lusces that can be equipped and used only in battle. All skills, magic, and combination attacks will have to be leveled up individually in order for players to reap the benefits of more powerful attacks. As skills and magic increase in level, they will also demand a higher mana cost; however, players can adjust how much mana they want to spend, ultimately affecting the ability's strength. Players will also notice that before they can equip certain items, weapons, and armor, they have to first meet a level requirement. This will most definitely raise the difficulty of the game, and make players consider putting more effort on strategic planning.
The guard system is also an interesting aspect that is somewhat similar to the Judgment Ring in the Shadow Hearts series. To perform a guard move and make an enemy attack completely void, players will have to hit all five random markers on a ring that will appear on the screen. Each marker represents 20 percent and getting all five will block the attack 100 percent of the time, causing no damage. Getting anything less than that will only reduce the amount of damage received. While this sounds easy, keep in mind that hitting markers will be done under time pressure. If a mistake is made, the guage will reset and players will have to hit all five markers again as the countdown continues. Last but not least, in regards to the battle system, is the use of summons. Summoning is attained by defeating enemies and capturing their souls which can then be equipped and used in battle.
Dragoneer's Aria also boasts of a refined crafting system where players can turn their old obsolete junk into new and useful items, weapons, and armor. In addition to the regular combat skills, each character will have skills that can only be performed on the field map. These skills will revolve around getting by enemies on the field map. Some examples are Ruslan's 'Warp' skill which can make the party warp randomly to another area or Mary's 'Trap' that'll freeze enemies in place. Another interesting feature of the game is the PSP ad hoc support. Players can go dungeon-crawling on multiplayer adventures called 'Dragoneer Mode.'
So, is Dragoneer's Aria epic enough? Well, North American gamers will get their chance to find out on August 21, 2007 when the game will be ready for sale at local retailers. Japanese gamers will have to wait an extra two days for August 23 to get their hands on copies of the game, and as for Europe and Australia, no word so far on a release for those regions.