Thursday, April 30, 2009

AAA looks at: King of Dragons

King of Dragons by Capcom is what is commonly known as a "hack and slash". These games tend to share the same perspective as the typical beatemup but the gameplay tends to focus more on sword-swinging than punching. There's less usage of grabs and success is more about positioning and playing defensively. I've decided to look at King of Dragons partly because it's one of the games featured on Capcom Classics Collection volume 2 and it's a good game for discussing mechanics.

Mechanics as I've probably already mentioned before is simply about making sense. If an attack looks like it misses then it definitely should. Even then however mechanics are allowed some leeway only when it benefits the player. The player has enough of a disadvantage in that he must clear an entire game with only 3 to 5 lives and is only allowed to take a varying number of hits tied to those lives(or depending on the genre only one)

With that in mind let's talk about King of Dragons(or KoD). A great red dragon decides to be evil and it's up to a group of five archetypes(Wizard, Fighter, Cleric, Dwarf, and Archer) to put an end to him and his followers. The game takes place over the course of 16 stages of varying length. Most of them happen to be rather short as you'll go through a few encounters with regular foes while collecting treasure and then face off with a boss(some stages have more than one and some even have none). 

KoD features a unique feature in that as your score rises so does your experience level(like an RPG). This however is a smoke-screen as even though you gain more HP your strength doesn't increase and for the most part you can still only take about three hits before passing away(this varies depending on your character, obviously a fighter or a dwarf can take more hits than a wizard or archer). Most of the time levelups are beneficial for the slight health increase they provide and a couple seconds of invulnerability. And since health-restoring food is scarce your main method of survival is simply by taking as little to no damage as possible. 

This is a tall order to be sure but I can assure everyone reading this forum that most gamers will see at least 2/3rds of the game on a single credit. The trick to this is that the player must understand positioning. Mechanics as mentioned earlier should always benefit the player and KoD understands this well. Obviously getting in an enemy's face is asking for trouble but if you were to move just a little to the side of them you'll find that their attacks miss you completely yet you can still hurt them. Another trick to work with involves the shadows the enemies cast in the game. Unless their shadows are aligned with your body you'll find that you can avoid a lot of damage, making most regular encounters a breeze. 

The bosses on the other hand are a different story. For a game that has little depth on the surface(you have an attack button, a jump, and a special health-draining special attack for emergencies...and maybe a block depending on the character which is done by pressing back on the joystick just before an enemy attacks) much of the challenge in this game is via the bossfights, who all have different movesets, patterns, and strategies. The first boss is quite easy in that you simply have to stay directly in front of him at all times(he wields two ball &  chains that will pass harmlessly by you as they're both on his sides) but other bosses differ quite a bit. Fortunately all of their attacks are telegraphed in one way or another so it pays to closely observe their mannerisms and animations. Even the later bosses give a fair amount of warning before they perform their move so the player can react accordingly. Some bosses(like a fight with a group of spiders or an encounter with sickle-tossing wraiths) mix things up a bit as you have to watch multiple enemies.

Your jump in KoD is an important move as well, since it can avoid almost all ground-based attacks and can allow the player to get in multiple strikes while in the air. Like attacking from the ground however the player must know exactly when to do one or the other has they're helpless while performing these actions. Hack'n'slashes are all about finding openings and you're just as likely to leave one for the enemies as vice versa. The block however is very useful for the characters that have it as even if two enemies surrounding him attack at the same time if he manages to block on the other will pass harmlessly through. This is obviously a flagrant disregard of mechanics but since it benefits the player it can be ignored. The block can deflect a surprising variety of attacks(from mere weapon swings to large bosses lunging themselves at you) so it's definitely worth holding onto.

So anyway check out King of Dragons if you haven't already, it's a pretty decent game.

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