In an effort to bring a new fighting franchise to the Nintendo DS, Atlus delivered Draglade a few weeks ago. Draglade is a side-scrolling action game which focuses on two core gameplay components: brawler areas in the style of arcade greats like Final Fight, Turtles in Time and X-Men, and a unique fighter element that feels like a hybrid of Mega Man meets Street Fighter.
Players take the role of one of four heroes possessing a unique element: Hibito, with the element of fire, Guy, with the element of lightning, Kyle, with the element of water, or Daichi, with the element of earth. Each of these Grappers wields a Glade - a weapon infused with special abilities that is formed from a device known as a G-Con. Glades range from a sword to a hammer to bare knuckles. Each character has their own story, complete with different encounters and different rivals, and to experience the entire game one must complete the game with all four characters.
Going back to the two primary modes of gameplay, players will typically take on Variants in the brawler areas. These monsters are corrupted animals which gang up on the player, and one can't progress beyond the immediate vicinity until typically all enemies are cleared. These sections of the game are designed to give players ample practice before the more difficult one-on-one matchups later on, as well as to level up the player's attributes, but they do become particularly repetitive and the level design accompanying each area is pretty bland.
Typically the player goes from town to town in order to progress, and in between each town are the brawler segments, and at the end of each area or town is a boss or "exam" waiting. Though each character's story is unique, all of them are seeking to become Master Grappers, and to do so they must pass a series of Grap Exams in order to earn the title. These exams are typically no more than a series of enemy battles which test your skill with your Glade, Beat Combos, and Bullets.
The art of Grapping - the term a one-on-one match is given - revolves around three crucial elements. The Glade is the primary weapon but it can be used for much more than basic attacks. Using the second element - Beat Combos - allows the character to deal massive damage via succssive blows from the Draglade, followed up by a special powered attack if performed perfectly. Beat Combos are triggered in a match and a scale meter will appear in the bottom right. As the notes pass from right to left, players must press the attack buttons in sync to get the best combo. For the most part, this element felt too difficult at first to master, and most will end up button mashing as it will still get the job done.
Perhaps the most important element of a Grap match are Bullets - enhancements purchased or earned in the game which serve as special moves. They can restore health, deal range attacks with elemental-like spells, or cause status effects on your player or the opponent. As a result of these three elements, the fighting gameplay is extremely deep, though it can seem way too complicated at times. For the most part, simply using the Glade and Beat Combos will suffice, but in later battles, especially the tougher boss battles, mastery of all three is crucial to success.
The basics of fighter gameplay are present, as players can perform both ground and aerial moves, block attacks, and initiate throws. Blocking is crucial in terms of being able to counter a fierce attack, though players will incur damage while blocking. Blocking also opens up a player to a throw move, which can lead into a devastating combo. While the majority of Grap matches are akin to a traditional fighter, some of the boss battles deviate and feel a bit more like an encounter in a Mega Man title. For example, some of the bosses are Variants that could easily pass for a Reploid boss, engaging in repetitive maneuvers and being highly susceptible to certain elemental attacks, especially from Bullets. Additionally, not all enemies can be efficiently defeated just by ground attacks, and some encounters require master of aerial combos - which are harder to execute and become accustomed to than when performed on the ground.
Draglade presents itself through a very generic "Cartoon Network" pseudo-anime look. Spikey hair, over-the-top facial expressions and outfits that couldn't possibly be plausible for fighting in are all there. Stage designs are bland and uninspired, but character and enemy work is fairly well done. The combat arenas in some instances, though, with their moving parts and layers, are also somewhat impressive. The soundtrack is also very Japanese-inspired, with techno tracks mixed with a bit of rock, though the tunes could pass as something found in a Capcom fighter.
Players will find the single player mode challenging enough, especially if they see their way through all the character's stories, but experiencing the title online is another matter. There doesn't seem to be many players going online over the internet to play this title, but from some local multiplayer matches, Draglade holds true to any good fighter in that the AI in the game will not come close to the challenge of really awesome human players. Atlus also has a real-time stat system online so players can see their ranking and info should they want to continue competing. Trading Bullets is also possible over the internet, so those seeking to obtain every last one can do so utilizing the online capabilities.
Each character's story, however, is extremely short, lasting at about two-hours for an average player. Additionally, except for the final segment of each character's story, all enemy and boss encounters can be overcome rather easily. Grinding through endless brawler areas gets boring and downright annoying sometimes, and the towns for the most part are completely worthless as they are filled with pointless NPCs that engage in rather meaningless chatter. With the exception of the examination areas and the stores, there's not much to do in each town unless you really enjoy boring conversations. Lastly, the Beat Combo system, while it sounds awesome, really is frustrating at points as it seems like all you do is button mash the attack button. Spending time customizing it will be reserved only for the most devout fans as the default combo will suffice for almost everyone.
Final Verdict - 7/10
Fun fighter that feels like a guilty pleasure for the most part. Lots of customization and leveling possible, giving this fighter pretty deep RPG-esque qualities. Multiplayer support is there, though finding an opponent may be the problem. Generic levels and gameplay experience, though, counters the unique elements. Fans of Japanese/Anime inspired games should enjoy it.