Fancy graphics are fine, but all gamers know in their hearts that nothing will ever top the drama of Final Fantasy VII or the pure physicality of Super Mario Bros. 3. Playboy’s Retro Gaming articles look at why we love the classics and give you your nostalgia fix.
I’ll never forget the first time I ever played The Legend of Dragoon. There I was, standing in the gaming section of my local Walmart, waiting for the kid in front of me to finish his demo of some Spec Ops game that probably went on to be forgotten about as well. Once he was finally finished, because his mom had to drag him away, I restarted the kiosk and browsed my demo options. The artwork for Dragoon is what immediately caught my interest, as Dart and his fire red armor was emblazoned across my screen. I had played Final Fantasy games at this point, but had never seen anything quite like that.
The demo itself that I played at the lone Walmart kiosk that fateful afternoon was relatively basic, taking place shortly after the game’s opening moments, but it gave me the taste I needed to begin my craving for more. After saving up my meager allowance money and finally snagging my own copy of the 4-disc epic, which I still have to this day, my adventure finally began.
I’d be lying if I told you that Dragoon features a unique and entirely engaging story to become immersed in, because it really doesn’t. There are lots of tropes used in full force here, but it’s worth mentioning this game was released 15 years ago, so cut it a little slack. The main character dresses in red, is incredibly distant and mysterious, returns home from war to see his home town burned to the ground, must rescue his childhood best friend who he doesn’t realize is in love with him, who is also the healer, and is secretly the chosen one. All of that’s in here. But just like any good story, it’s not so much about the tropes and cliches that are used—it’s about what the writers can do with them to still create a memorable narrative.
One of the best plot tricks that Dragoon does is that it will often reveal information to players that characters themselves do not yet know, like flashbacks involving other party members that are not the main character, or shifting the focus to a cutscene involving only villains to paint them in a certain way that the main characters do not see. These and other tactics are used well to not only misdirect the player throughout the story, but to foreshadow larger events looming in the distance. There’s also an incredibly tense death scene that gives Final Fantasy VII—which has maybe the most famous death scene in any video game ever—a run for its money if you ask me.
But let’s not forget about the combat system. Rather than simply choosing the “attack” option and watching your character do their thing without any input from you, in Dragoon you instead take on an active role in battle thanks to the Addition system.
WithDragoon’s Addition system, you have to actually time your button presses for every attack in the game. As a larger square zooms into your view, approaching a smaller square in the center of the screen, you have to press X at the exact moment the larger square connects with the smaller square. It’s simple in theory but gets pretty intense during gameplay. For example if your character has a 7-hit combo, getting the timing down for all 7-hits in a row is crucial to doing the most damage. And your attacks themselves level up as you successfully complete entire combos, providing an additional incentive to not screw things up.
These innovations extended further as well. Every party member eventually unlocks the ability to transform into a dragoon, which embodies the spirit of the dragon it’s linked to. Dart’s red dragoon form consists of damage-dealing flame-based attacks, whereas Rose’s dark, purple dragoon form has life-leeching and dark-magic based attacks. Every character corresponds to not only a different style of play, but different abilities that complement one another and open the door for some truly unique party arrangements.
The most incredible thing about The Legend of Dragoon to me is how it’s been completely forgotten by most people over the years. This was a game that was not only produced by the now legendary Sony PlayStation bigwig Shuhei Yoshida, but was an entirely internal project created by Sony Computer Entertainment (the other big franchises at the time, such as Final Fantasy, were all crafted by third party studios). So why wouldn’t they turn this into an epic franchise? There was enough lore and backstory explored in this entry alone to create several prequels or sequels. It’s one of my biggest unanswered questions.
And a big part of the answer, unfortunately, is probably the fact that Dragoon never achieved the critical acclaim that the other RPGs of its time did and it didn’t sell as well as it should have. But if you ask anyone that ever played this game what they thought, they’ll likely recount the glory just as I have. The Metacritic score sits at a 74 from critics, but over 180 user scores rate it quite highly; it’s currently sitting at 9.3 overall. It was also the victim of horrendous timing. Final Fantasy VIII had just released the previous year in 1999 and Final Fantasy IX and Chrono Cross both released shortly after Dragoon in 2000.
At the end of the day, I’ve got my 4-disc case and my memories and that will just have to be enough. Amongst the countless petitions for an HD remake or sequel, the message boards awash with pleas and questions for the series’ creators, and the fond memory of a game with so much promise for the future, the single common thread throughout it all is an adoration for a true cult classic.
David is a freelance writer and full-time nerd. His favorite game franchise is ‘The Legend of Zelda.’ He also has an unhealthy obsession with buying games during Steam sales that he never actually plays. It’s dangerous to go alone, so follow him on Twitter @David_Jagneaux.
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