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Rise of the Dragon (DOS)

Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
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Written by  :  Cor 13 (173953)
Written on  :  May 14, 2004
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Hey, have you forgotten your key again?!..

The Good

Rise of the Dragon occupies a special place among adventure games of the early 1990's, being oddly similar to the Japanese specimens of the genre. Basically, the gameplay here is wrapped around the plot, and the focus is on natural, story-dictated advancement rather than on the essential Western adventure gameplay mechanic (puzzles). However, the game manages to squeeze everything it can out of this less than promising template and, astonishingly, even introduce its own interesting ideas concerning adventure game design.

At first, the gameplay in Rise of the Dragon may seem like a barely interactive exercise in simplistic clicking. But give the game a chance and you'll see how surprisingly natural it feels. The reason is the game's insistence upon simple logic and realism that creates an illusion of choice. Go out of your apartment without having collected your keys and you'll have a tough time getting back. Of course, you can always make your girlfriend angry by flirting with other women, and she'll flung the keys at you. However, you won't be able to solve the game without her help, so maybe you'll need to figure out another way to get back in. This kind of branching gameplay, as primitive as it is, feels uniquely refreshing after arbitrary inventory puzzles or maddening "triggers" Japanese adventures are so fond of.

Rise of the Dragon cannot be called truly non-linear, but its attention to detail enhances the gameplay and further immerses us into the game's world. Touches like an internal clock that affects opening hours and the schedule of some characters make the game feel more fluent and believable. There are optional scenes and dialogue choices you can pursue just to try out stuff and test various results, but beware: the game won't let you insult others with impunity, and death is a real possibility if you aren't careful enough. You'll be surprised how much you might have missed in the game if you just used a walkthrough and rushed to the end. Rise of the Dragon should be played slowly and methodically to get the best out of it.

The atmosphere in the game is exceptionally well-done. Beautiful backgrounds with occasional animation perfectly reflect the grim futuristic setting. You can see people moving on the streets, neon signs flashing, apartment shaking when a helicopter flies by, etc. Almost every screen is a beauty to behold, and every event is presented with lovely comic book-like panels, emphasizing the game's dramatic pace. Despite the very simple interface, many objects that have nothing to do with the progression of the game can be examined, sometimes eliciting comments and thoughts from the main character. The game also has excellent sound effects and fitting music that further enhance the atmosphere.

Dark futuristic setting is almost a foolproof scenario, but it doesn't mean every game has equal success recreating it. Rise of the Dragon is certainly among the best in this respect; it's worth checking out just to soak in its vibes. The story may be as trite as they go, but the cinematic presentation is unparalleled, unspoiled by excessive verbosity and common immersion-breaking elements of comparable Japanese games.

The Bad

There is a bit too much of trial and error, particularly during the final part of the game or in some of the puzzles. The platform sequence near the end of the game is too hard. It was nice of the game to allow me to skip it and go straight to the final cutscene, but the feeling of achievement and reward was gone. An easier arcade sequence or at least the possibility to save within it would have been more appropriate.

The story is just one big cliche. I couldn't see the necessity of blatantly ripping off the movie Blade Runner in such insignificant details as the hero's name - and honestly, "Blade Hunter" is one of the worst protagonist names I've come across. It all boils down to the confrontation against a cartoony villain; there are no twists or psychological insights, and the hero himself is pretty one-dimensional.

For me, the game's most serious problem is its size and length. More often than not I felt that the developers were showing me brilliant sketches rather than a complete, full-fledged product. For example, the hero's apartment is a fantastic location, but there is hardly another one like that to explore. Some spots allow interactivity while others are disappointingly empty. Branching plot could have been done better as well. I understand that hooking up with a prostitute won't make your girlfriend happy, but why make the game unwinnable because of that?

The Bottom Line

Rise of the Dragon is a rare example of an adventure game that works despite simplistic interaction and shortage of puzzles. Essentially, it is what Japanese adventures always wanted to be: a smooth, cinematic experience that transcends its apparent weaknesses. Together with its "little brother", Rise of the Dragon is an interesting experiment in adventure game design and a testimony to the creativity of Dynamix.