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Dragon Force
Sega Saturn. One CD, RPG/Strategy.
284 blocks of memory, Digital controller.
From Working Designs.

One of the highest-acclaimed titles for the Saturn is Dragon Force. A translation of a Japanese title with bugfixes and cosmetic changes to streamline play, Dragon Force is a title that strikes fear into the hearts of other games.

The dialogue per character is less than awe-inspiring while you're playing, but consider the following excerpt from the inside back page of the manual: "For the in-Battle messages alone, there are 20 context-sensitive messages per character, and over 170 characters, for a total of 3,400 battle-mode-only messages." However, what really knocks my socks off is the paragraph that states that "Wein's text files alone are over 60,000 lines."

Anyway, the basic story is that you have eight kingdoms, each with a leader with a different personality. There are also a good number of troop types, Which include Soldiers, Cavalry, Dragons, Zombies, and so on. Each one has weaknesses and strengths, for example, Soldiers are average against other soldiers (of course), Bad against cavalry, good against mages, very bad against dragons, and so on. This does become very important during gameplay.

In addition, in combat you can cast certain spells which damage either the enemy commander, or the enemy's troops. You get spells at certain levels, so be patient. It's horribly annoying to have a character with no spells, but if you see someone wandering around with no troops, and you have a commander ("General") with the minimum 10 troops and no spells, you can always send him up against the enemy, have his troops die off while wearing the other guy down, and then you go into a Duel.

A chance for a duel occurs whenever both armies are out of troops. By the way, an army is from zero to one hundred sprite-based warriors, which have a limited number of frames but look good in large numbers anyway. Commanding them is fairly fluid; I'll get to that in a second. In any case, in a duel, the generals beat on each other until one of them dies. It's not very complicated. Some generals seem to be much better than others and will attack rapidly while the other soaks up abuse. Life isn't fair, I guess.

Command of your soldiers is very clean. Everyone has attack and defense, most of them have a "special", and then there's one further choice which varies from general to general. Some people have a "Raid" ability, where you can send small subgroups of soldiers around the battle to engage the enemy general, some of them have a "surround" ability which lets them fall in around your army if you send it up the middle, etc.

There two other parts to the game. The first mode you really get involved in after selecting your kingdom is the Administration Mode, and more to the point, the "Domestic Menu" which is the big deal inside of Administration. From here you can give awards to characters (allowing them to command ten more soldiers), equip items (which let players command various types of troops not natural to them, or do more/take less damage), interview generals, attempt to recruit prisoners as generals, search your castles, or fortify your castles. Keep in mind that any given general can only search or fortify once per week, they can not do both, and not all generals can do either. This makes characters which are able to do such things extremely valuable, and you can easily end up putting all your eggs in one basket in order to surround a general with troops and keep them alive. What's a King/Queen/Whatever to do? The manual talks quite a bit about administration mode, so further expansion here is unnecessary.

Finally, there is the map screen, and there are some things you do here that are very important. First, you can click on any castle and see what generals are inside of it, and what kind of troops are with them, as well as the level of the castle. The level of the castle determines what bonus the defenders will have, and can be increased by Fortifying (as mentioned previously in the administration menu.) Also, since different kinds of troops do better or worse against one another, knowing what troops are there now is required information if you want to send your own in to kick their asses. This is also the screen from which you organize generals into armies and send them out to do battle from. Their icons (which all look like your main character) will then slowly trudge off to wherever you've sent them, and then you go into Battle Mode, etc etc. There's a hourglass on the map, and when it runs out, it represents the passing of a week, after which you'll be dumped back into Administration mode.

So, what makes this game so great? First of all, it successfully combines RPG and Strategy elements. There is a story here, and it will take a while to unfold. I'm not going to lie and tell you that the bad anime cutscenes (they look kind of like Fist of the North Star "quality" animation encoded with Cinepak, and they are) enhance the story much, but they're not what's important. What's important is the absolutely beautiful gameplay. This is a truly well put together game. Even the packing is keen, which is a normal Saturn Giant Jewelcase, which at least lets you have a reasonably sized manual, if nothing else. The documentation has embossed letters on it (Including the chrome "SEGA SATURN" down the spine, heh heh) and a bunch of red foil in the title and on the back. The documentation is well-printed and in full color, so you can really see what the screenshots are of. All of the tables and such are faitly legible without being plain black on white (the pages have a faux parchment print) and the charts are all stored in the back of the book so you don't have to search for them.

Finally, on a short technical note, from the Options menu (which only has one actual "option" on it, which is Mono/Stereo) you can play the music and sound effects, and watch movie clips. I can only view two clips, Opening and Opening1, and it seems excessive to have a menu for this if there's only two clips, so I have to assume that as you unlock more, it will let you view them.

Also on the technical side is the savegame system. You can only save game in Administration mode, but as weeks pass fairly quickly this isn't any big deal. The savegame system is called "Archives", and it's a screen divided into four panes. One of them allows you to select which ram you want to save into (if you have some direct save memory plugged into the cart slot on your Saturn, anyway) and another lets you pick your operation; The middle pane lists your savegame slots which have to be created with "New" and the bottom tells you what you're doing. Your five options are new, update, copy, erase, and end, and they're all pretty self-explanatory, and kudos to Sega for making the internal memory nice and speedy; Saving the game takes only a moment.

There is one annoying thing I've located in the game. It's possible to get into a situation in which you have a fully healthy army stuck between two allied castles. In my case, however, a plot point came along and took care of that for me (I'm trying very hard not to give spoilers here) so it ended up not being a big deal; However, if I had sent my army in the other direction it would never have happened, so just be aware of such things.

There is a sequel to Dragon Force, known as Dragon Force 2, but it was never translated to English.


References:

Website: GameFAQs (http://www.gamefaqs.com/console/saturn/game/21838.html)

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