Oct 4, 2007
Picture the least interesting licensed action game you've played in the last several years. Now, swap the license and its ensuing production values for a generic, by-the-book fantasy setting. What's left? Probably something pretty similar to Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire for Wii.
Like many early Wii titles, Dragon Blade takes an established concept (weapon-based brawler) and adds motion controls to the mix, though the term "tacked-on" really isn't appropriate here. Dragon Blade does a solid job of picking up each swing and stab of the titular sword with the Wii Remote, while movement and jumping are handled comfortably by the Nunchuk attachment.
Dragon Blade's core gameplay packs equal portions of hacking and slashing (plus light "cineractives" during each dragon battle, in which you input simple commands to trigger flashy, complex actions onscreen). This leads to an expectedly rote and monotonous experience - at least, until the dragon powers are added to the mix. Each world features a mini-boss battle wedged within an early mission, and completing each frustrating fight will yield the player one of five flame abilities, granting gesture-based attacks based on dragon arms, wings, a tail, and a fire-breathing head.
The game packs a surprising amount of difficulty in the earlier missions, and never seems to let up until the third world - or shortly after the player has acquired the dual dragon arms power. Of course, doing well in the later parts of the game requires you to use the powers as a crutch, reducing the mystique and spectacle of such abilities in favor of dying much less frequently. Sadly, the standard gameplay never improves or evolves beyond the standard sword swinging, making Dragon Blade something of a tepid experience as it progresses towards its conclusion.
Best-selling fantasy author Richard A. Knaak reportedly developed Dragon Blade's narrative, but you have to wonder if he merely affixed his name to a rough outline before cashing his check. It's not that the narrative doesn't have potential - it's just nonexistent. Dragon Blade is purely an action game, and its rare attempts to further the storyline are poorly executed with clumsy, unlabeled subtitles, occasional C-grade CG scenes, and a dud of a main character. Protagonist Dal is perhaps the least compelling action hero in recent memory, lacking any sort of personality, style, or reason for being a featured player in any game. As the descendant of the lone king who supported the heroic dragon, Valthorian (who later transformed into the sword), Dal travels the land, defeating corrupt dragons and monstrous rulers to regain the powers of the blade.
Unfortunately, the in-game visuals won't keep you going either, making the game look years older than it is. Typically poor textures are painted over jagged, simplistic architecture, with level designs that rarely offer more than a straightforward path littered with carbon copies of eight or so common enemy types. Aside from the aforementioned dragon powers, which light up the screen and provide Dragon Blade its only legitimate hook, this is a game that appears to lack charm or charisma in nearly every decipherable way. It's like a textbook on how to design action/adventure titles - from 1998.
Modern action games are expected to be stylish, thrilling, customizable, and visually compelling, and Dragon Blade comes up wildly short in most regards. There's surely a market for titles that feature punishingly difficult, fast-paced battles and little else, but most gamers will likely tire of this drab experience long before the final battle.