November 18, 2013
Crimson Dragon makes a terrible first impression. The opening sequence is a series of largely static screens with a dodgily delivered, terribly written voiceover attempting to convey a convoluted, poorly-told story. It’s an early indication that this may not be the game we’ve been looking forward to for the past couple of years. Unfortunately, the following six or seven hours only confirm this. Crimson Dragon is a disappointment.
With laughable presentation, mediocre visuals, clunky controls, overpowered weapons and almost non-existent difficulty levels, there’s very little to recommend Crimson Dragon beyond its mildly interesting systems. But even these fail to interact with each other properly. Of the first-party titles Microsoft has lined up for the launch of Xbox One, this is undoubtedly the worst. We had such high hopes too.
Crimson Dragon began life as an Xbox 360 game called Project Draco, developed by Yukio Futatsugi and touted as a spiritual successor to the Panzer Dragoon series he created back in 1995. Announced in 2011, the title eventually evolved into the digital-only Xbox One game we have now, with ideas like Kinect motion controls and three-player online co-op abandoned along the way (for now). It’s likely this difficult journey explains at least some of the game’s shortcomings.
It’s an on-rails shooter, for the most part, in which you play as a human capable of riding the world’s leathery-winged beasts. As your bad-breathed mount flaps through levels, you can aim its attacks and exert nominal control over it movements; but early on the camera twists, flips and turns in such a dramatic way that it’s infuriatingly disorientating. You’ll bounce off of the environment and fly straight into oncoming fire so often that you could be forgiven for thinking it’s unplayable. As you progress it does at least become more manageable, but Crimson Dragon’s controls are less than ideal.
There are six different environment types in the game, varying from underground caverns to blue skied open seas and abandoned cities, each of which offer different beasties to tackle and missions to engage in. There’s a degree of freedom over the order in which you can take on these missions, the only prerequisites being that you have enough credits and the correct Antibodies to begin them, Antibodies being a gameplay and narrative MacGuffin collected from specific kinds vanquished foes.
The most interesting element of the game relate to the way the levelling, dragon, wingman and item systems work. You’ll start off with access to one dragon with two different offensive capabilities, with stat buffs available through the use of Ampoules. As you progress you’ll unlock further dragons and attacks, while earning XP to make level them up. And, in a similar manner to Dragon’s Dogma’s pawn system, you can also share dragons with other players for use as wingmen in missions.
When a dragon reaches Level 10 it can be “evolved” into a more powerful form, providing you have picked up the necessary materials from previous missions. These materials, as well as the Antibodies, ensure that you have to revisit old locations in search of the required items, giving you a meaningful reason to replay missions beyond just improving your ranking. The game does a terrible job of explaining all this, however.
Around the middle part of Crimson Dragon’s campaign I was having fun despite the awkward controls; evolving my dragon, teaching it new attacks, dipping back into old missions and generally working out how everything operated. My enjoyment was short-lived, however, thanks to a few things that effectively broke every system in the game.
The first of these was an electrical attack I taught my dragon, which homes in on enemies without the need for precision aiming, has a reticule that takes up half of the screen, and is ultra-powerful. It fries everything in sight, making the discovery of any new attacks, the further evolution of my dragon and the purchase and training of any other dragons, utterly pointless. I had only evolved my first dragon twice, and it was all I would ever need.
The other issue was currency. One of the items you can buy are Revival Gems, which effectively act as extra lives. By the time I got about a quarter of the way through the game, I had so much currency that I was effectively invincible. Even if I forgot to load up on Revival Gems before the start of a mission, I could just buy more when I died and carry on unaffected. Between that and the super-powerful electricity attack, the final missions involved little more skill than keeping my finger on the trigger, aiming in the vague direction of my enemy. As a result, what should have been a dramatic climax was dull and laborious.
Achievement-wise, after completing the underwhelming campaign I had earned around 750G, a generous offering for no more than 7 hours of play. Reaching 1000G, however, requires a disproportionate amount of dedication thanks to the time-consuming Overachiever and Seeker General cheevos. There’s nothing creative on the list, but Do a Barrel Roll! at least attempts to inject a bit of game-meme humour into proceedings. It’s a perfunctory list for a massively underwhelming game.
So while Crimson Dragon has a number of interesting systems, poor design ensures that its strengths are undermined. With that gone, all you’re left with is a poorly presented game and gameplay which is at turns annoying and unchallenging. It’s very difficult to recommend.
Laughably bad voice acting and a lovely score from composer Saori Kobayashi make Crimson Dragon a mixed bag for your ear holes.
Crimson Dragon may no longer be an XBLA game for Xbox 360, but it looks exactly like one. Not what we’d expect from an Xbox One title.
Awkward controls and limited core gameplay combine with interesting but broken systems to make for a massively underwhelming experience.
There are six locations, each of which offer a handful of levels with a focus on replayability. It’s a rather slim offering. The Dragon’s Dogma-esque wingman system is cool though.
Crimson Dragon offers up an easy 750G for six or seven hours of mere progression. Earning the remaining, largely grindy achievements will take longer than the game deserves.
Limited core gameplay, broken systems, poor controls, a terribly told story and underwhelming visuals make Crimson Dragon Xbox One’s worst launch game by far.