As I recently stated in my review of Silent Hill 2 (here) I value honesty when it comes to game reviews. It is an integral part of this blog. So, to begin with, I’m going to be open and upfront with this review; Tears of a Dragon (available on Steam) is made and released by a long-term friend of mine. However, that is not going to change or affect this review, as I will still be honest about the game. I just wanted to make you all aware of this fact beforehand.
With that out of the way, Tears of a Dragon is a top-down 2D RPG made using the RPG Maker engine. Whilst that might put a lot of people off straight away, I’ve previously written a post about RPG Maker and how it can make great games (here). The game engine can create some truly epic games if it is put in the right hands. It can also make truly awful games as well. Tears of a Dragon, however, doesn’t fit into either of these extremes. So, let’s take a look, shall we?
For those of you who have been reading 16-Bit Dad for a while now, you probably know that the quality of a story is very important to me. A poor storyline can completely break a game in my eyes. So, when I started up Tears of a Dragon and played the first few minutes, I was rather torn. You see, the opening caught my attention with the idea of a “Dark Passenger” and the main character referring to the plot as “my story”. It echoed Final Fantasy X’s use of the phrase.
However, after a few minutes of gameplay, I found my interest levels falling. Part of this was the fact that the areas of the game were based upon real-life locations that I had grown up in or around. That did break the immersion initially. Then things started to turn around. As I continued through the game and was taken back in time to a point where the lead character worked as a mercenary, things started to get interesting again.
The reason I focus on that is because it helps to show my opinion of Tears of a Dragon’s storyline very well. The game’s plot has ups and downs throughout. There are parts that seem really good and very interesting, but interspersed between them are low points that feel like they drag a bit. In short, whilst Tears of a Dragon may not have an award-winning storyline, it definitely isn’t a low-quality one.
The plot is enjoyable, especially considering it was put together by a single person as their first game. This is especially true as the game features multiple endings, which is a feat of achievement for many development teams, let alone a single developer working on his own. Just don’t go into the game expecting something along the lines of Final Fantasy or Silent Hill. You will be interested and entertained, though… And that is, in the end, the most important thing a story can do.
Considering that it was built in RPG Maker, Tears of a Dragon’s gameplay makes use of the standard J-RPG format of town and dungeon exploration with random battles that appear as you move around. Battles are menu driven and utilise a turn-based system that you would expect to see in classic J-RPGs like the aforementioned Final Fantasy or Suikoden. Each character in your team gets access to a variety of special skills and attacks as well, and there are 10 playable characters that you can have in the said party.
It is worth saying, though, that the battles are challenging to say the least. The enemies deal a relatively high proportion of damage, dwindling your health down rather quickly. On the other hand, to begin with, you’ll find that your attacks miss rather often… Oh, and they also seem to not do a lot of damage compared to the amount of health that the enemies have. For me, this is actually a plus, as I dislike games that feel like a walk in the park. Difficulty and challenge make progress in a game all the more satisfying. However, it won’t be for everyone. If you want a game that you can breeze through without any real thought to a battle, then Tears of a Dragon probably isn’t the game for you. However, if you like to be kept on your toes, then you’ll find the battles very enjoyable, once you’ve started to unlock extra attacks and skills.
The only real negative that I have about the gameplay is that it doesn’t add anything particularly new to the J-RPG formula. However, that can be attributed to the fact that it is the solo developer’s very first published game and was made with an engine that is designed for traditional RPG gameplay. This also doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the game either, especially if you are a fan of old-school J-RPGs.
Being that Tears of a Dragon was built in RPG Maker, it makes use of sprite-based characters and objects on top of a tileset world, similar to the 8- and 16-bit (and some 32-bit) era games. As you can probably tell from the name of this blog, I’m a big fan of the 16-bit style graphics. However, despite using this style of graphics for the game, RPG Maker itself is actually 32-bit, meaning that the characters, objects and tiles within Tears of a Dragon don’t have the pixelated look of classic SNES and Megadrive games.
Instead, the sprites and tiles used to create the characters and game world are smooth around the edges, feeling rather polished. This is a very big plus for me, as it captures the nostalgia of the 16-bit era but with a more modern twist.
In battle, Tears of a Dragon makes use of background imagery related to the current area you are in, which keeps a sense of immersion during the switch between overworld and battle scene gameplay. However, the battle graphics for enemies often feel disproportionately large compared to the player characters. This results in two different reactions at the same time;
- A sense that the enemy is stronger than you, suiting the challenge of the battle, reminiscent of early J-RPGs like the NES Final Fantasy games.
- A slightly confused sense of scale in the battle scenes.
This isn’t a major issue, though. The enemy graphics, even though they are static, look different and unique with a rather original art style that I haven’t seen in other indy RPG Maker games.
In fact, the only downside to the graphics is probably the mapping of each area, which can sometimes feel a bit empty. Yet, once again, I think it is important to remember that the game was developed by a single person who hasn’t made a full game before Tears of a Dragon. There was no long-term experienced level designer involved in the creation of the game, and the developer has added numerous improvements and patches to the game since release. Therefore, I feel that the game is rather good in terms of graphics. Again, it may not be award-winning, but it is still enjoyable and the graphics don’t really detract from that enjoyment.
And That’s All Folks
Tears of a Dragon is a game that is actually really hard to review, and not just because the developer is a close friend of mine. Overall, the game has some really high points and the odd low point as well, meaning that giving a final score that justifies both of these is difficult. But, for a first-time developer releasing a game they made entirely by themselves, Tears of a Dragon is impressive. Also, considering the fact that it is just £3.99 on Steam (here), you can’t really go wrong with just giving it a try, can you?
As stated earlier, Tears of a Dragon isn’t a Game of the Year candidate, but it is a fun and enjoyable game in the end. Have you played it? Would you be interested in playing it? Let me know in the comments below!