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Adventure game released by Dynamix in 1990, after becoming part of the Sierra family. It's a futuristic detective story with stylish hand-drawn scanned artwork and an immersive point and click interface.

The gripping plot, involving an oriental cult and a mysterious drug, blatantly borrows many of its elements from Blade Runner. The game is primarily story-driven and its sections often have multiple solutions. Consequently, it's quite easy to finish the game in a few hours. There is a frustrating arcade section near the end, but can be skipped after trying for some time.

A decade after its inception, Rise of the Dragon still stands as a very playable game with pleasant graphics and music.

"How do you know I'm the chosen one?"

"Process of elimination."

"Huh?"

"The forces of darkness eliminated all my other candidates."

Rise of the Dragon (also occasionally known as Rise of the Dragon: a Blade Hunter Mystery) was developed by Dynamix, under the direction of Jeff Tunnell. It was their first game after being bought out by Sierra Online, and, as such, Sierra published it. It was first released for the PC in 1990 (and later would be somewhat lazily ported to the Macintosh and Amiga), and was later ported to the Sega CD in October 1992. The cover for all four games, save for trade dress, are the same: a shadow of a man with a handgun cast onto a brick wall with a triangular dragon emblem, with cultists backlit by a fire off to the left. The Sega CD version comes in two packaging variations: long plastic jewel case (similar to early PSX cases) and thin cardboard case (similar to music CD packaging of the time.)

The three computer versions shipped on floppies, and were identical other than basic platform differences. (For example, the Mac version used the Enter key instead of right-clicks.) The Sega CD was enhanced with fully-voiced dialogue and a minor extra scene, but an optional scene where Blade sleeps with his girlfriend has been removed, a less-suggestive "Pleasure Dome" (without the woman disguised as a man cross-dressing as a woman) scene is substituted for the original, and 'skip action scene' option has been removed. The computer versions predate the ESRB and ELSPA rating systems, but the Sega CD version is rated MA-17 (mature audiences only) under Sega's self-imposed rating system of the time.

Rise of the Dragon was the beginning of the Sierra/Dynamix/Jeff Tunnell trio that would go on to give gamers classics like Incredible Machine, Adventures of Willy Beamish, Betrayal at Krondor, and, later Starsiege: Tribes. (It would be followed up by Heart of China, which has no story connections but uses the same engine.) It's clearly informed by the work that had been going on at LucasArts on the SCUMM engine adventures, and hews closely to the sort of dialogue tree and 'use ITEM on TARGET' sort of puzzle gameplay that would dominate graphic adventures until their demise.

Rise of the Dragon stars William "Blade" Hunter, a private investigator in a fictionalized LA. It's the first week of August, 2053, and he is investigating the death of the mayor's daughter. Something has left her horribly mutated and deformed. Along the way, he discovers a new street drug, a horrible disease, a plot to poison the resevoir, and a millenia-old prophecy. In the end, it isn't even about discovering who or what killed her, but stopping an evil with the ability to destroy the world.

Despite the fantastic elements (which are handled with a very light touch until the very end of the game), Dynamix drew firmly on the visions of William Gibson and Ridley Scott, making their LA of 2053 a dark place, where technology has brought many advances but few wonders. Despite the essentially ugly subject matter, Dynamix gave their dingy setting a sort of life, getting quite surprising detail and atmosphere from the EGA palette and the very limited animation they had at their disposal. Little details bring you into their futuristic LA, like a heavily-armored policeman running by in the foreground in the slums, or the faceless people thronging the streets in the better part of downtown. Between the stylized environments and comic-panel cut-scenes, there's a graphic novel feeling to the presentation.

The story, while not terribly original, is treated well and fits well. Rise of the Dragon doesn't tread any of the tired cyberpunk moral cliches like "governments are going to destroy us all" or "society is doomed;" the police are heavily armed and there's squalor and decadence, but there isn't the feeling of inescapable oppression or hopelessness that permeates many similar stories. Little touches of humor (and not just black humor) do a lot to lighten things up, and the story is, at its heart, good fighting against evil (even if good does keep electrocuting himself fiddling with phone lines.)

Anyone who wants to experience this vision of the future, though, is going to have to deal with the game, and, well, it's a Sierra graphic adventure from 1990. Piss someone off in a dialogue sequence, and they'll refuse to help you, bringing the game to a screetching halt and forcing you to restore from a save. There aren't too many hidden instant deaths; just don't bother heavily-armed guards, insult the mayor, or try to use the tainted drug patch on yourself. As always, save early and save often, and make sure you have a decent walkthrough if you get stuck. There are some fairly frustrating side-scrolling shooter (along the lines of Contra, only significantly more sluggish) parts, but they're skippable in the computer versions and quite a bit less annoying when controlled with the Genesis controler in the Sega CD version.

Once you get past the essential user-unfriendliness of graphic adventures from the period, there are some pretty slick ideas here. There's a timer ticking down, and events will happen in the background unless you do something to stop them. Even when you're not under time pressure, you need to eventually go back to your apartment to get some sleep, or else you'll pass out in the street and several of your items will get stolen. Verbs are also completely contextual; there's no fiddling around with HIT/OPEN/TALK/TAKE; there's only left-click for action and right-click for info.

If you decide you want to give it a try, you've got some troubles, as it's been out of print for a very long time. Even if you do find a copy, you'll have to scrounge a floppy drive or a Sega CD. If you want to give it a try, though, there are a couple options. If you've got a pre-Windows ME PC or pre-PowerPC Mac, The Underdogs (or its sister site, Macintosh Garden) has a copy for you to download. Alternately, if you've got a good SegaCD emulator or a Sega CD and a CD burner, you could always download an iso disk image and burn it to a CD-ROM. Worst-case, you can run the DOS version in DOSBox or another DOS emulator, but there aren't any DOS emulators with sound support for Rise of the Dragon.

Oh, and if you do play it, make sure you get dressed before going out, and make sure you get your ID card from your vid-phone.

Source: The Underdogs, IGN, and MobyGames.

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