Crimson Dragon Review
The dragon riding rail shooter has returned! At the helm of Crimson Dragon is Yukio Futatsugi, who was the director of the first three Panzer Dragoon titles. Alongside Panzer series composer Saori Kobayashi, Crimson Dragon has taken up the dragon rider's mantle which hasn't been occupied since Panzer Dragoon Orta was released in 2002. It looks like Sega has wanted to leave the series alone, but an oppressive industry hasn't stopped rambunctious, dragon riding heroes from rebelling, right?
At first glance, Crimson Dragon has nearly everything you would expect from a Panzer Dragoon title. Many of Futatsugi's old teammates went on to make Rez and Child of Eden, and both were widely embraced by fans and critics alike. But as beautiful and fantastic as Rez and Eden each were, they were rather lighthearted and did not contain any giant dragons. Futatsugi has been quite vocal about wanting to apply the same formula to Crimson Dragon — make a rail shooter and continue the franchise with an RPG in the same universe. So let's see if Panzer's spiritual successor is the next Dovahkin in the world and is worthy to the mantle of Sega's cult classic series.
Crimson Dragon is, at its heart, a grindfest. Crimson Dragon does the tried and true Starfox routine of traversing through a level on rails but being able to maneuver your dragon around on the screen as you shoot down enemies and huge monsters. It also tries to employ the World of Warcraft approach of having to repeatedly farm the levels and bosses in the hopes of trying to find a specific item just to unlock the next level. But the rate at which this occurs is absurd. If the required items were a guaranteed drop, or even have a 50% drop rate, then yes, this would be acceptable. But expect to find yourself constantly farming the same level over and over, just to find out that the next level looks similar and reuses the same areas as the last.
We must say that the size of some of these monsters and boss dragons are so huge that we were impressed. We haven't been this impressed by enemy size this massive since the first time we played Monster Hunter or Shadow of the Colossus. These moments are awe-inspiring, it's just a shame that they are surrounded by frustrating gameplay before, after and during these immense encounters. And much of this frustration can be attributed to Crimson Dragon's camera system combined with the constant speed at which your dragon flies through the levels. That's right, one of the main fallacies of this on-rail shooter is its camera, which is a fundamental and basic part of the on-rail experience.
Having an automatic camera system, you would think that Grounding Inc. would try to keep your path clean so that you can efficiently clear enemies and avoid getting hurt. But the paths which Crimson Dragon take you to are convoluted and have plenty of sharp camera turns. While these camera and directional changes are expected, the enemies of Crimson Dragon are relentless, offering you very little time to actually take them out before they start damaging you. We thought that we had excellent reflexes and response times in terms of our gameplay skills, but Crimson Dragon left us dead in the air plenty of times. This all boils to the point of frustration where the average player will probably not want to even try.
It's not that Crimson Dragon is too difficult of a game, it's just that the enemies attack like clockwork and are relentless. Even when you hire a wingman from the leaderboard to help you out, you will still find yourself coming up short when trying to finish a level. Slap on the easiest difficulty, and you will still find yourself dying frequently. While we're glad that Crimson Dragon doesn't pull its punches and doesn't attempt to hold your hand, it's just that its camera system and enemy A.I. are not oriented towards the overall gameplay experience.
Crimson Dragon's story is rather laughable and acts simply an excuse to get a teenager on the back of a dragon and start going to war with an entire world that is out to get them both. The Crimson Scale virus enraged the local wildlife on the planet your people are colonizing (it's also doing the same to some of the humans). You are one of the Seekers, a group of people immune to the virus, who must venture out into the world on your dragon's back so that you can investigate the source of the virus so that you and your dragon can reestablish peace.
While everything is in motion, Crimson Dragon isn't particularly pretty, nor is it of the standards we have expected for next gen consoles. Nothing really warrants Crimson Dragon's Xbox One exclusivity since it looks and sounds like an Xbox 360 title. The last set of levels are beautiful looking (on par with our expectations for the Xbox One), and make up for the lackluster first 75% of the game. But getting that far is so frustrating that we expect most people will never even get there.
By collecting specific sets of items and by progressing through the story, you can unlock new dragons to die upon. These dragons offer very little in terms of statistical differences. Instead, they have elemental affinities (lightning, fire, etc.). These elements have a rock-paper-scissor effect with each other and will matter on the battlefield as bosses and more powerful enemies have their own elements. But since dragons can have attacks with different elements, the actual type of the dragon is insignificant and is more of a cosmetic choice.
Crimson Dragon doesn't live up to its Panzer Dragon ancestry. If we were to compare it to the rest of the console titles of the series, Crimson would most rank towards the latter end of the franchise. Its final levels are pretty, but everything up until then is repetitive, difficult and annoying to the point where Crimson Dragon feels more like a chore than it is any actual fun. The paths on which the you fly on are horribly cluttered, have plenty of unnecessary sharp/dynamic turns (breaking the gameplay and causing plenty of cheap deaths), and do not cater towards the overall experience. It's as if they designed the levels first, then the enemies and worried about the gameplay interactions later. It doesn't help that your dragon can't slow down or hover. You would think that a dragon would learn to flap its wings and stay in the same spot so you can nail those mission objectives. For a game starring a dragon, this title just drags on.
This article is based on a digital copy of Crimson Dragon for the Xbox One that was purchased for review.