Dragoneer's Aria

Off-Key Aria

Dragoneer's Aria is a valiant attempt at a console-level RPG, but it falls flat in some key areas.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: August 25, 2007
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It's sort of an understood rule of thumb in most role-playing games, particularly ones from Japan, that you're probably going to be trying to save the world, and to be honest I really don't have a problem with it. Fantasies of being a hero are one of those things that never really die off, but that doesn't mean the adventure has to be as clichéd as the basic plot would suggest. Hell, some games are comfortable in their clichéd nature, and rather than bucking it, just strive to deliver a very polished version of a well-worn road.

Dragoneer's Aria certainly doesn't stray far from the beaten path, but a tale of dragons and end-of-the-world chaos and prophecies certainly could have made for an interesting take on things. Unfortunately, the game piles on more than a few of the usual distractions like item crafting that instead of supporting the main gameplay, just end up adding to the pile of things to do that the weak little legs of the basic (if fairly entertaining) plot can't really carry.

One of the biggest culprits for the game's dragging sense of slow pacing is just that the storyline cutscenes are given the focus here, and that in and of itself isn't a bad thing, since I relish a good story, but with naught but a little head twitching and wooden, canned animations to give life to the conversation (which, if you have the English voice acting on, can be downright painful at times). The localization is actually very good, as NIS America is slowing coming around to giving the characters in the game, well, character by applying accents and not being afraid to embrace slightly different takes on a character than perhaps the original Japanese text would have implied. The result is a heavy-handed approach to delivering stoic, boring threads of conversation that inch the storyline along far too slowing for the game's own good; hell, it takes a couple of hours before you even get a sense of exploring the world.

The other big drag is actually in what initially appears to be the game's biggest strength: the battles. Oh, the system itself isn't all that bad, really; and it serves as a funnel for almost all of the game's level grinding, which I still have some sort of sick addiction to. See, rather than giving all of the characters in your party their own MP, the game offers a general pool that's raised by simply attacking (or being attacked).

In theory it works well because the natural flow of battle means that the meter is more or less constantly rising. But the later spells in the game can burn through ridiculous amounts of the mana pool, and it's often hard to switch from attack to support phases properly because in a single turn the enemy can (and often does) dole out the hurt enough that one character can't completely heal everyone. Couple that with the fact that all of the mana-fueled powers, from normal spells to the skills provided by the Dragon Orbs that all characters can equip (and though they have different names, the two aren't really different enough to feel unique) level up with use rather than along with the characters, and you have a recipe for needless grinding just to keep everyone competent in support areas.

This is necessary because while the game lacks random encounters and you can actually see your enemies, you really have no idea how powerful they'll be (stronger enemies are bigger, yes, but you only find that out once you charge into battle, and since it's nearly impossible to actually run away from enemies, you're more or less stuck once you start). The field is littered with could-be killers and only by essentially camping out around the save points with their much-needed restorative powers with three- or four-enemy fights in every new area you encounter can you actually level up enough to not get spanked.
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