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PSP Video Game Review: Dragoneer’s Aria

“Dragoneer’s Aria” may not be the best Japanese RPG game but it’s definitely one of those RPG games targeted towards gamers who enjoy level grinding.

VIDEO GAME TITLE: Dragoneer’s Aria

PLATFORM: Sony PSP

COMPANY: Nippon Ichi Software/NIS America

Oh my! What is up with the flood of Japanese RPG’s for the PSP all within the last month? “Tales of the World”, “Riviera”, “Brave Story”, “Jeanne D’ Arc” and “Dragoneer’s Aria”?

For the Japanese RPG junkie that I am, ughh…this is too much goodness and with “Persona 3” on my current play on my PS2, “Etrian Odyssey” and “Luminous Arc” on my DS, which game should I try first for the PSP?

So, with the other games receiving great reviews, I decided to play “Dragoneer’s Aria” because frankly Dengeki Online and Famitsu has been promoting this game and I’m a fan of Nippon Ichi games, so that being said, let’s start off with a few first impressions of the game.

“Dragoneer’s Aria” is Nippon Ichi’s entry to 3D RPG’s. Teaming up with Hit Maker again (they worked together for “Blade Dancer” for the PSP), the story is about Valen Kessler, a graduate of the Lagoon Academy and preparing for his graduation ceremony. Dragoon’s are there to protect the dragons and all of a sudden, the evil Black Dragon thought to be incarcerated is wreaking havoc and destroys part of the city of Granadis.

Forget the graduation ceremony, Black Dragon wants to off all the dragons and Valen is ordered to go on his first mission to search and protect the red dragon. Along with a empath (or elf-like character) named Euphe, both go on their first mission.

At first glance, the graphics reminded me of “Final Fantasy VIII” quality (that is if you were to put that disc in and watch it on your PS2). Also, the cut scenes were not animated pre-rendered. As you walk around Granadis, you see people who are staying the same position every day, saying the same things over and over again. For me, I dislike that.

Needless to say that at first glance, I was disappointed because with all the artwork for “Dragoneer’s Aria”, I wanted to love this game.

But fortunately, once playing the game for hours, I started to enjoy it.

Similar to other Nippon Ichi games which involve alchemy of some kind, “Dragoneer’s Aria” uses recipes to build weapons, items, orbs, etc. Sure, you can buy weapons and items but you can make them too. But to use a certain weapon, you have to be at a certain level.

As for the battles, there are no random encounters. You walk and see the enemies and you can bypass them or touch them to initiate the battle. As with all RPG games, I will spend a good amount of time just fighting to build my characters levels. In this case, I spent three or so hours trying to get each person at level 10.

But surprisingly, I learned that some chests could only be opened if you use a magic item enough times to build its level, then the chests would open.

So, during battle, you have a standard attack. Each regular attack or guard (block) builds mana (a bar on top indicates your mana level).

When you have enough mana, then you can utilize special attacks or magic.

Then there is “lusce”. A lusce is an item you find that you can equip on a characters accessory. So, if you obtain a lusce that deals with fire, water, healing, these are added to your magic skills. You can equip up to 3 or more lusche but when you use these magic skills, they build up overtime.

Thus to make things a little more complicated to the game, when attacking an enemy and if you do have strong mana levels, Valen for instance can use one of his killer dragon attacks and build that, build his rush attack or use a magic spell and build that.

The problem is that these enemies are not all easy (especially if you did not build your characters to a high level). Your first thought is to use Valen’s dragoon attack because it takes so much HP out of an enemy. But then you realize that you can’t open certain chests because your magic doesn’t have enough luminesce (ie. you aren’t using the magic enough). So, I spent the next hour fighting enemies but only using magic, so I can get them high enough to be on level 2. My impression is if you use the level 1 magic around 10-14 times in a battle, you will then get the magic to level 2. To make matters worse, while your dragoon attack or regular attack can shave off hundreds of HP from an enemy. Using your magic at level 1 shaves off less than a hundred HP.

Every attack that you do in a game, builds that attack. But when it comes to magic, certain chests can be opened only if you use it many times.

For many Japanese RPG games, that is something you don’t have to worry about. You equip a magic or special move, you’re set to go.

Not for “Dragoneer’s Aria”. You have to think wisely of what attacks you are going to do and what you thought was great because there are no random battles, you end up searching for enemies so you can build the level for that attack or magic.

And then there is guarding. Early on in the game, your character is going to get attacked (paralyzed and poisoned) and beaten to the point that you wish you spent money on healing potions. Fortunately, you can guard and depending on the buttons you press, you can minimize the damage from a large attack against you.

CONTROLS:

X is the main button you will be using. Square utilizes a characters field skill. For example, if you hit square with Valen, he runs at a fast speed and builds field skill. If you switch Euphe to be the leader, then she will build the teams HP when you hit square. Of course, the field skill only lasts for a short time. And basic controls for the character via the nub or direction pad.

J!-FACTOR:

I love NIS America when they give you the chance to choose from English or Japanese dialogue. I will say that the Japanese translation to English for subtitling, translators decided to not translate certain parts that a character says and no subtitle is shown. Possibly done for pacing and storyline comprehension, not sure.

As for the characters, this game does go through the extreme of making men more bishonen (men with female characteristics) the extreme. Character designs were from Ju-no Jeong (Lineage). The main character Valen, in the beginning I thought he was a she. Long blonde hair, beautiful eyes and pouty lips and then when the character talked… needless to say, was surprised that the character was a “he”. And interesting enough, one of the other dragoons (Lucien) call him a “pretty boy”, although Lucien also is quite bishonen.

I’m several hours into the game and passed the fire dragon level and now in the snow level. I enjoy the game because it is different and challenging at the same time. Although there are no random battles, because you need to build your characters attacks, you end up searching for battles.

The storyline is fun and at first glance, I was a bit disappointed but the more I played, I realized how much I enjoyed the game because of its little intricacies. Also, this is not for beginning RPG players. This is a game that you want to build and level up your characters because there are some enemies (non-bosses) that are quite powerful.

The thing is NIS America released games are not cheap and at $39.99, you probably may find yourself asking if you want “Tales of the World”, “Riviera”, “Brave Story” or “Jeanne D’ Arc” which received great reviews and can be found a bit cheaper at $29.99.

But truth be told, the character designs that I saw earlier hooked me at first glance and the game, I’m actually quite digging it.

UPDATE: I have since beaten this game and it was a fun challenge. But it was one of those video games that you literally kept grinding and grinding and getting your level high enough to withstand the bosses killer attacks. “Dragoneer’s Aria” is not a great Japanese RPG game but it’s not the worst. If you can find it cheap, then definitely pick it up!

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