Review: Square Enix's Drakerider

Drakerider, an iOS exclusive game from Square Enix dropped today. Like the recent iOS port of The World Ends With You, the game is split up into chapters. The first’s one free, you’ll just have to pay for the other four…which will end up costing you $20.99 for all five additional chapters, or 6.99 for individual chapters. I downloaded the first chapter to play this morning, prmarily intrigued by any game that would let me ride around on a dragon. I mean, what’s up with all those other Square Enix JRPGs that make you walk everywhere? Shouldn’t your entire party have insanely overdeveloped legs by that point? Especially considering how often I made them run places. In Drakerider though you don’t have to worry about that. Like the title suggests, the main character Aran gets to ride a big ole dragon named Eckhardt.

Story:As dragons go, Eckhardt is kinda a dick. Aran has to concentrate at all times to control Eckhardt or else the dragon will go on a murdering rampage, killing his master first. Sadly, not everyone in the game world of Igraine gets to ride dragons. This special power was given to Aran by (you guessed it) a “mysterious girl” dressed in white/pink. She bestows this power on Aran after he rescues her from a dungeon and defeats a monster that is known as a Dread. The Dread are the big baddies in this game, they’re invading Igraine and it is up to the dragaliers (BAMF dragon riders) to defeat them. The catch is, that there’s actually only one dragon. Eckhardt takes a slightly different form with slightly different powers depending on the person who is riding him. Under the mysterious girl’s supervision, Aran is supposed to defeat Dread demons one by one. That is the basic plot, which is fairly straightforward for a JRPG. If that bothers you, don’t worry! This is a spoiler free review, but there are a few twists and turns just in the first chapter for you! Overall the initial story, though definitely full of JRPG tropes, was fairly compelling. It definitely left me looking at my bank account to see if I could afford to buy a $20.99 game for my iPhone.

Behold! The Mysterious Girl!

Gameplay: What I liked best about the game was the combat system. I can best describe it as turn-based esque. Rather than picking a skill from a menu, you control the dragon Eckhardt with chains. By sliding the chains left and right on your iOS device, you’ll be placing the chain in a different color quadrant. Each color quadrant has abilities and attacks already assigned to it. You can disable abilities if you don’t want to waste Crystals (The game’s version of MP), but typically it doesn’t matter too much. For example, the ability “healing” is assigned to the blue quadrant. If you place the chains in the blue area then Eckhardt and Aran will automatically heal if they’re HP is low, or attack if you have close to full HP. You have to quickly move the chain before your attack bar fills up, whatever quadrant the chain is in when the attack bar is full is the ability that is going to be used for that turn. I think it is a fun way to incorporate the touch screen while still relying on a fairly familiar style of JRPG combat. It’s not too hard to get the hang of, and I think its a bit more fun than scrolling through menus for attacks.

Leveling up incorporates a system similar to the Crystarium from FFXIII. Aran starts out with certain abilities, and there are clear paths that you can choose to go with. It’s less complicated than the Crystarium, but still allows you enough options to develop Aran to fit your play style. These abilities are also bought with Crystals, so it is actually not always advisory to buy multiple abilities before a boss fight (learned that the hard way). You need Crystals to fuel your attacks, and if you run out during a boss fight, you are basically completely screwed.

World: When you aren’t in a specific location, you fly around the world of Igraine on the back of your dragon. Instead of being an open world, locations spring up linearly after you’ve completed certain missions. If you’re buying this game wanting to use Eckhardt like a Golden Chocobo to explore all the nooks and crannies of Igraine, it’s not going to happen. You can only go to locations that are available to you…or at least that was my experience with the first chapter. There’s always the possibility that  your options might be expanded in later chapters, although this is an iOS game so the world is most likely not going to be quiet as developed as you may be used to in a typical Square Enix RPG. This wasn’t a negative for me, but it might be for all of you crazy explorers out there.

Aran..the hero!

Overall:It took me 2-3 hours to play through the first chapter on and off  and I enjoyed playing it most of that time (except for the 20 minutes where I kept dying to the second boss because I needed to go power level). Again, the story was compelling even though the Mysterious Girl seemed way too young to be as naked as she was, and she was a completely passive character (If she had been playable, she would have suffered from White Mage syndrome). Aran fit the stereotype of rogue turned hero, although he was much more Titus than Cloud. Overall, my biggest problem with the game is the pricing. As you can see here and here (and many many other places on the web) no one has really been able to get behind Square Enix’s pricing of their recent iOS games. $30 for Final Fantasy Dimensions, $20.99 for The World Ends With You and now $20.99 for Drakerider seems a bit extreme to most people.

To me this signals that Square Enix is treating the iOS and Android platform as a legitimate gaming console rather than a place to make a quick buck. With most iOS and Android games relying on the  micro transactions model, do you think the high pricing of these games is a new model to counteract that? Would you rather pay $20.99 up front than realize at the end of a game that all of your small $0.99 purchases added up to over $20? I’m honestly not sure it would be possible to change JRPGs to facilitate a micro-transaction system without detrimentally changing the narrative and gameplay that makes those games JRPGs. I’m pretty upset that the whole Chapter format forced me out of the story because I need to pay for more chapters. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I needed to buy some in-game currency to extend/enhance my gameplay. Between the two, I would much rather pay $20 for about 20 hours of a good JRPG than see games like this switch to a micro transaction model. The price is still cheaper than most Wii and DS games (where all the good JRPGs come out nowadays)
and the game utilized the touchscreen well to update turn-based combat a bit. If you need a JRPG fix, I would definitely recommend this game,  but I do understand the price may be a barrier to some, especially people that are broke like me!

If you’d like to see more of the game before making a decision, here’s a video walkthrough of the first chapter. Clearly, there are going to be spoilers.


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