Sunday, December 26, 2010

Emerald Dragon

NEC Home Electronics / Media Works / Glodia / Right Stuff
Super CD-ROM

I took on Emerald Dragon for the first time right after I'd finished my first playthroughs of Kabuki Den and Manji Maru. ED was in an unenviable position, trying to follow in the footsteps of two RPG legends and all, but it got off to a brilliant start, especially aesthetically. Its soundtrack features some great instrumentation, and its graphics are appealing and colorful.

Unfortunately, the more I played of ED, the more I realized that, while it was good in its own right, it couldn't measure up to those two Tengai Makyou episodes (or many other great PCE RPGs, for that matter). It certainly didn't offer as much adventuring as Manji, and its characters couldn't compare with Kabuki's awesome bunch. I also found that the key story elements in the TM titles were more memorable than the high points of Emerald's tale.

And that right there was the biggest disappointment: upon completing ED, I felt that the special climactic moment I'd been anticipating throughout the entire adventure never actually materialized. Sure, it has some shocking moments, though for all the blood and screaming it tosses out there, it basically indulges in one cinematic cliche after another with its "tragedies." And sure, it has some "touching" moments, though the sweetest one of all occurs during the first thirty minutes of the twenty-five hour ride.

So in a fashion, it has its share of surprising moments and emotional moments, but ED doesn't feature THAT moment, a moment that sticks with me, the sort of singular event that most elite adventure titles can boast of. Its cast is of no help, as the characters themselves do little to stand out or offset the cliches. The villain whom you'll spend a large chunk of your quest pursuing comes off as more of a clownish Drax than a sinister Phades, even though he looks pretty cool (in some scenes, at least...). And with the heroine spending almost every second of the journey in tears, I stop feeling bad for her after a while and start wishing she'd just stop blubbering.

I also wish the title featured more scenes like the one during which the hero scores a surprising early-game, blood-spattering slash on the poor man's Phades. And I wish the instance when that blade-wielding hero goes with eyes closed and face red and gives the heroine a tight, heartfelt hug weren't the only time I really felt anything from ED's tale.

What I got were acts of "heroism" in the well-worn forms of sacrificial leaps in front of arrows and magical bolts--sacrifices made by characters I'd come to know only as "likable enough" before they bit a bullet a la Adaon for a Taran they themselves were barely familiar with. This is truly a shame, as ED's cinemas are absolutely remarkable. The artwork is just fantastic, and the events, routine as they may be, are executed with aplomb.

And I suppose it's worth mentioning that, thanks to a cool and unique battle system that lets you run around crashing into creatures like "hell caterpillars" while the computer manages your allies (competently enough), ED is a lot of fun to play. Unfortunately, even the fun of fighting doesn't last the whole way through. Towards the end of the quest, there are some large locations where the frequent battles become very time consuming and nearly unbearable. Enduring the drawn-out fights and exploring said locations will typically earn you little reward aside from superfluous healing items. So while many great PCE CD RPGs really hit their strides with incredible cinematic moments during their last few hours, ED kind of sputters out and degenerates into a mess of irritating battles.

I sound so negative. I must reiterate that the in-game experience is enjoyable save for some of those last few labyrinth treks and that the amazing cinemas are always fun to watch even if the story they tell isn't enthralling. The first time I completed ED, I considered it a disappointment but a good game nonetheless. Lower expectations this time around allowed it to advance to "very good" status. Perhaps if I play through it another sixteen or seventeen times, I'll ultimately be willing to grant it that perfect score that many others have bestowed upon it. Until then, you can check out this fantastic review by one dude who did give it such a score.