Dragon Force is an awesome game that stands out for being truly original. Really, there are no other games that are like it. From the charming chibi style to the fun real-time strategy, this game is outstanding. It is slow paced though, so if you are impatient, it might not be for you.

 

Sega, 1996

Develeoper: J-FOrce

Publisher: Working Designs (NA and EU)

Director: Tomoyuki Ito

Producers: Hiroshi Aso, Tatsuo Yamada, Makoto Oshitani

Artist: Koh Tanaka

Writer: Makoto Goya

Composer: Tatsuyuki Maeda

An epic battle of super deformed soldiers

In Dragon Force, you start off by choosing a ruler of a country in the continent of Legendra. You can select from six of the eight rulers. Each one starts with a different type of troops. You can employ more than one type of troop, but can only deploy one type of troop at a time. There are ten in all, and each has a different set of strengths and weaknesses, much like in the Pokemon games. They are:

In addition to all the different kinds of troops, each general can fall into several different classes, each of which affect their stats and magical spell setup.

Gameplay

You control a number of generals in an army, which after time can be well over 100. You move generals from castle to castle, fighting enemies and taking over their keeps. Defeated enemies will either be captured or killed, but death is unusual. Captive enemy officers may join your side, but some will choose to rot in your dungeon instead.

The game is played strictly by selecting options from a menu. The only actual combat that happens is if time runs out before either general is defeated, or if all troops from both generals are killed and there is nobody left. Even then, combat seems random and your button mashing appears to have very little effect. Still, it helps to go crazy on the buttons and hope for the best.

Weekly Meetings, a chance to shoot the breeze…

This is where you upgrade and search your castles. You can also give out awards to the generals who fought during the week.

This screen shows you how many troops you have. The size of the castle restricts how many you can recruit at one time.

Every week (which is only a couple of uninterrupted minutes in real time), you hold a conference. At this time, you can award any generals who participated well in battle. Giving them an award allows them to take 10 more troops into battle in whichever category you awarded them in. You can reward whoever you want, but if you don’t choose the generals who went into battle, there is a higher chance of them defecting from your side.

You can also simply talk to each general and captive. Captives will sometimes join your side. Other times, they won’t. If you capture the ruler they were serving under later though, they will almost certainly join your side.

You can search or fortify castles that you control, but you can’t do both. Searching sometimes turns up items that allow you to control a new kind of troop, give you power ups,  or sometimes  new items. Fortifying your castle makes it larger. The bigger the castle you’re in, the more troops it can hold at once. When you fight a battle, your men die. You need to replace said dead men with new living ones (unless you control zombies, but the same concept applies). Troops replenish about 2 per second, so if you’re down 100 men, you need to wait about 50 seconds to be back to full. It gets pretty crazy when your general has several different types that need to be refilled, or if you just barely won a large battle and have several hundred men to replace.

To battle!

Not much to look at, but traveling on the road gives you time to manage your castles. You can also line up tasks while paused and the game will do them when you unpause.

Samurai vs. Harpies. The Samurai are at a disadvantage. You really want archers if you’re going up against harpies.

Mikhal’s strongest spell will wipe out a large chunk of your army if you’re not careful. It also damages the opposing general.

Between your weekly meetings, you have a chance to throw down and sack some castles. This is your main objective, as you’re trying to unite the land. Assemble your generals and deploy them along one of the branching, preassigned paths to another castle. Whenever they finally reach a castle or bump into an enemy, a fight breaks out.

In battle, you select a strategy for your troops to follow. It all unfolds in real time, unless you pause to change your tactics. A bar along the bottom of the screen fills, and when it reaches the end you (and your enemy) can cast a spell. Each spell takes a different number of MP and has different cool-down time. Spells typically either attack the enemy army, where it hits everybody, the enemy general, or just the enemy troops. There are a few that differ from that, but those are the main ones. Thieves and Ninjas can also cut down the magic bar for their opponents, which stops them from being able to cast spells.

Whenever you go into battle, just remember that a troop on standby gets the first hit. You will need to memorize (or have handy) the chart that shows your Pokemo-I mean, troop’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s basically the same idea. In the end, you want your generals to have as many different kinds of troops as possible to be able to adapt to each situation. Each main character starts with a different kind, but can expand from there.

Selecting your difficulty

This is also a clever way of selecting easy, medium, or hard. The game’s challenge never changes, but each monarch responds differently to each character. For instance, the pretty Prince Wein gets along with everybody. The enemies that hang out in the turf around him are on equal footing, or are at a disadvantage. Gongos, however, is a hideous man-beast with poor grammar and a big ax. He controls beast men, but is stuck in a peninsula with samurai living in a neighboring country, and they have the advantage in a fight. Not only that, but everybody hates Gongos. Until they get to know him, anyways. It’s a really neat way to choose your difficulty without doing so from the options before a game starts.

What it takes to win:

You have to do a delicate balancing act. As a part of the chosen group of warriors, you and seven others, friend or foe, are all part of the Dragon Force. A team destined to fight the evil god Madruk, who tried to destroy Legendra a long time ago. A holy dragon named Harsgalt fought Madruk but was unable to beat him. Instead, Madruk was sealed away until the chosen warriors could rise together to take him on.

It is your task to assemble the Dragon Force. As you can probably guess where I’m going with this, it’s the eight main characters. Unless you’re playing as Wein though, nobody wants anything to do with you and you must defeat them to get them to see your point of view. Also, their hand glows with a special rune when they talk to you, so it’s hard to argue with that.

The country is large, however, and there are a few dozen castles to take over. It’s easy to forget about one and have a strong enemy sneak up and take it from you. You have to keep your eyes peeled and keep careful tabs so that as few  generals as possible fall to the enemy. It is necessary to continually reinforce your castles, search for new allies and items, and win battle after battle. If your main character ever loses a battle, it starts back over at the last save point.

The final verdict:

This game is one of a kind. It’s phenomenal, but slow paced. It’s something that I go back to every once and awhile and just try a new character. There are some shortcuts you’ll learn as you play, so you can be really efficient at conquest. I love the art and music. There aren’t many games where you get a chance to see two hundred chibi fighters absolutely kick the crap out of each other. It’s a sight to behold, and I love every minute of it.

There was a Japanese only sequel made in 1998. There was a re-release of this game on the PlayStation 2, but again, only in Japan. It’s basically the exact same game with little updates, except for the story-advancing cutscenes. They look great on the Saturn, but the anime style was slightly updated and the picture is sharper. Due to the heavy text in this game, I cannot recommend playing the Japanese version unless you’re fluent in the language. If you ever get the chance to play this game, I highly recommend it. Side note: I found out about the fantasy metal band by the same name looking for music from this game, so that’s doubly awesome. If you’ve never heard “Through the Fire and the Flames”, made ultra famous for being the hardest song on Guitar Hero III, prepare to have your face rocked off.

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