Rise of the Dragon (DOS)

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Written by  :  Cor 13 (174226)
Written on  :  May 14, 2004
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 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 quite a bit out of this less than promising template and, astonishingly, even introduce its own interesting ideas concerning adventure game design.

There is simple logic and realism in the game, which create 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 rigidly composed inventory puzzles or maddening "triggers" Japanese adventures are so fond of. Too bad it is barely used in this game.

The atmosphere in Rise of the Dragon is well-done. Beautiful backgrounds with occasional animation reflect the grim futuristic setting nicely. You can see people moving on the streets, neon signs flashing, apartment shaking when a helicopter flies by, etc. Events are presented with lovely comic book-like panels, emphasizing the game's dramatic pace. Despite the very simple interface, some 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.

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 has clunky, stiff controls, and 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 of any kind, and all the characters are completely one-dimensional and forgettable.

A much more serious problem is the game's size. 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 no other one like that to explore. Only a few spots allow interactivity, while most others are disappointingly empty. Branching plot could have been done much 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?

Rise of the Dragon starts strong, but cannot stay on the same level throughout. By the end of the first game day you'll have seen and experienced pretty much everything the game has to offer. Afterwards, it mostly consists of a fairly monotonous routine: repeated trips to the same barren locations, a few minor discoveries here and there, and a flat, predictable cartoony showdown without any significant events along the line.

The Bottom Line

Rise of the Dragon might be what Japanese adventures always wanted to be: a smooth, cinematic experience that transcends its apparent weaknesses. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean much. Despite the obvious talent behind it, the game comes across as a rather shallow and rudimentary product compared to its more developed Western siblings.