Dragon View (SNES) Review

Click here to visit the Dragon View (SNES) description page for save files, walkthroughs, and more information.

Quick Review

~By tankMage (July 2019)

Score: B+

Here’s a short breakdown of Dragon View’s strengths and weaknesses, scroll down if you wish to read the full review.

Pros

-Nice atmosphere.

-Fun battle system.

-Rewarding exploration.

-Good dialogue, all things considered.

-Enjoyable music.

-Some well designed dungeons.

-Interesting animations.

Cons

-3D map sucks.

-HUD takes up too much space.

-Middling choice of weapons.

-Reused bosses and enemies.

-Some dungeons seem hastily put together.

-Scenery is often recycled and becomes boring.

Full Review

A Massive Improvement

    If I had a “Most Improved Sequel Award”, Dragon View would certainly get it for turning around the dismal failure that was its predecessor, Drakkhen. The devs even seemed to try to distance this game from the first, because they renamed it Dragon View, rather than calling Drakkhen II, which was its Japanese moniker. With an interesting mixture of Beat ’em Up combat, puzzle solving, RPG mechanics, and an emphasis on exploration, this game should please Super Nintendo enthusiasts willing to overlook its flaws. Sadly, the things that hold Dragon View down are too deeply woven into its structure to ignore and players are going to have to deal with a heinous world map as well as inconsistent quality in terms of level design along with the good aspects of this 16-Bit adventure.

Hey, listen!

Story 

    Players assume the role of a young warrior in training named Alex, who has to save his girlfriend from *spins wheel of video game cliche villains*…an evil wizard. Well I can’t give this game many points for originality, but the story does take a few twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. In fact, it ended a bit differently than I expected, so the plot isn’t a total lost cause. Dragon View also draws upon the lore of its forerunner and does a good job of explaining past events in a way that players new to the series can understand. 

    Additionally, the story has its own atmosphere thanks to the unique narrative style of dialogue it relies on. The various characters players meet talk to the hero in a conversational manner that is often lacking even in modern games, which makes the land of Keire feel as if it has a life of its own. There’s even a lot of distinction between towns, which generally have their own atmosphere and stories, many of which are told rather subtly through visual clues as well as dialogue. Unfortunately, some of the writing comes off as awkward at times, thanks to some rather strange vocabulary choices. It’s also hard to overlook the fact that NPCs still issue the usual fetch quests that have been the backbone of RPGs since time in memorium. But, at least the writers managed to add flavor to an otherwise played out concept.

Graphics

    Dragon View is a game of extremes when it comes to graphics. There are some really nice animations and pretty magic effects, especially when Alex faces off against his nemesis in a series of duels. Players may also notice little touches that make the game world come to life, like swinging lamps, cracks in the walls of homes, and animated NPCs. On the same token, there’s a lot of recycled assets and you’re going to get tired of exploring the same drab looking caves after a while. Then there’s the pseudo-3D world map, which is one of the ugliest things I’ve seen on the SNES. That said, a lot of effort was put into making a beautiful world for players to explore and Dragon View is certainly a cut above mediocre titles in this regard.

Caves, caves, everywhere caves.

    The character design was quite nicely done and some effort was made to create lifelike people as well as monsters. You’ll often encounter NPCs chatting in the streets or leaning on shop counters and there are quite a few unique non player characters. Of course, don’t expect them to wander around going about their day’s work like in a more recent Elder Scrolls title. Alex, the hero, is also nicely animated and he can employ a wide variety of melee as well as magical attacks. His armor and weapons also change appearance as he finds upgrades, though these are merely palette swaps. Even so, having the color of your sword and armor reflect their respective levels manages to impart a sense of progress. 

    Dragon View also has its fair share of evil beasties that range from lizard men to multiarmed sword wielding giants and quite a bit of care was put into creating them. Cliches like giant spiders and skeletons were also avoided by the designers, which is something I’m grateful for. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve played that feature skeletons, bats, and spiders as foes. With that said, there are a few fantasy staples that pop up, like mummies and giant scorpions, but these are less common than the aforementioned creatures. The monsters also have their own unique movesets, some of which were quite imaginative. That said, many of the regular enemies and even bosses are reused throughout the game, sometimes far too often. I got really tired of fighting imps and certain bosses. Even worse, it was totally unnecessary to recycle certain enemies, especially the bosses, as frequently as the devs did.

    Players will also encounter a lot of cool magic effects from both the enemies’ and the hero’s arsenal. Alex will find magic rings that allow him to conjure up deadly blizzards and shoot fireballs over the course of his journey. While not top notch, these effects were cool and unexpected. Even common foes can rain fire from the sky and some of the bosses have some really cool looking abilities, like the final boss’s dragon shaped fireballs. 

    There’s actually quite a bit of variety to the environments, which range from mineshafts and fiery caverns to desert crypts. Even the world map, which I’ve criticized a lot, featured seven different types of terrain. With all this variety, I was a bit disappointed to find that the developers chose to reuse their generic cave tiles frequently, especially towards the end of the game. Needless to say, wandering around the same tunnels became tiresome before too long. This error was also easily avoidable, had they planned the level design more carefully. 

    Then there’s the Mode 7 “3D” world map, which was totally unnecessary and did quite a bit of harm to the overall experience. Imagine playing this game for the first time, stepping out of the nice looking 2D starter town and into a primitive 3D nightmare of a world map. I almost wrote this game off as trash, because of the map. However, I have to play devil’s advocate here and point out that 3D was still a novelty at the time and developers were scrambling to push the medium into the third dimension. Games like Dragon View played their part (even if only a small one compared to titles like DOOM) in shaping the future of gaming. They also made an effort to make the 3D world feel just as alive as their 2D environments, it’s just unfortunate that the end result was an eyesore.

User Interface

    Dragon View controls very nicely and has an easy to use item menu where everything is laid out in an efficient manner. The game could have done a better job of utilizing the L and R buttons, since players will frequently have to hop into the menu to change weapons or items and the shoulder buttons could have been used as item slots to save time. There’s also the problem of the gigantic HUD, which takes up a large portion of the screen. I’m not sure what drove the devs to make the HUD so large, but it’s very distracting and not really needed. While the game controls nicely, movement on the world map is somewhat off. Rather than pivoting on a single point, Alex seems to turn on an axis in the overworld map. This makes it difficult to enter areas or bypass obstacles unless you are approaching them from a single point and moving Alex around feels more like driving a car than walking.

Music and Sound

    I can’t say Dragon View has the best soundtrack out there, but the music is quite good overall. In fact, I can’t think of any songs I disliked and every musical piece has its own mood. There’s also a distinctive texture to the music that I haven’t encountered in other games, so 16-Bit music lovers should be pleased with the BGM. I also liked the sound effects, which often added to the atmosphere and were slightly more complex than what one normally encounters in games from this era.

Gameplay

    Dragon View is a mishmash of genres that manages to get all of its different pieces to click into place, but struggles as far as level design goes. The closest thing I can compare it to is Legend of Zelda II, but Dragon View arguably does a better job of fusing action-adventure and RPG elements than LoZII. If anything, its unique fusion of concepts is this game’s greatest strength and I have not played anything quite like it. Alex can run around freely on a broad 2.5D plane that allows him to go in eight directions and is reminiscent of the type of aspect commonly used in Beat ’em Ups. This makes exploration and combat more complex than a simple side view. Despite the game’s action elements, Alex also gains experience and levels up like in an RPG. Players will also recognize adventure game elements in this title as Alex finds bombs that can blow up obstacles and special items that reveal dungeon entrances. 

    Exploration is a big part of this game, but the quest itself is quite linear. The only really open part of the game involves hidden locations on the world map that lead to powerups for Alex’s gear and weapons, but this at least provides the player with an incentive to look around the world. Dungeons often feature simple puzzles and mazes to navigate. This usually boils down to moving statues to open doors, blowing up boulders, and flipping the occasional switch. Many of the earlier dungeons are fun to explore thanks to the puzzle element, but the devs seemed to have abandoned this in favor of more labyrinthine dungeons as the game advances. Sadly, the mazes weren’t very well designed and the developers relied on loops that would send the player back to the beginning of the maze if they made a mistake or walked through the wrong door. This made finding one’s way through later dungeons more a matter of trial and error than a test of problem solving skills, which was a bit of a let down.

   The combat system is decent thanks to creative enemies and an action oriented style of gameplay, but RPG mechanics figure heavily into the formula. In fact, Alex’s level, and weapon/armor upgrades figure too heavily into the system. Players who find all of the upgrades and level up even a little bit will not face much challenge from enemies later in the game, which is kind of a shame considering that most of the monsters are competent fighters with creative movesets. Most of the challenge players will face is to be found in the first half of the adventure and things get progressively easier. While this was disappointing in terms of challenge, there is a certain sense of satisfaction and consistency with the story that comes with being able to trounce most of the baddies.

    Alex can use a sword as well as a boomerang-like weapon called the Hauza. The development team did a good job balancing these weapons, since some enemies are easier to fight with the Hauza and others are easier to hit with the sword. These weapons become stronger as the player finds upgrades for them and even special techniques become available later on. The special techniques not only increase damage, but also change the way the weapon behaves. Players will also find a bow and bombs that can be used to kill things, but the devs neglected to give these weapons a power up system of any sort and they will become obsolete (aside from serving a purpose as tools) after the first third of the game. There are also magical rings that can be upgraded and can deal significant damage if used on the right enemy.

    Boss fights are also inconsistent as some battles require careful strategy to win, while others turn into slugfests. Secondly, there are only a handful of bosses in contrast with all of the places the player must explore. Luckily, they did a good job providing players with challenging bosses early on and at the very end of the game. Even the first boss will present a minor challenge to players just getting used to the game, without being too difficult. However, it would have been nice to see a few more bosses thrown into the mix near the end, since the final dungeon is a boring series of loops.

Final Thoughts

    Dragon View was a bit of a roller coaster ride. At some points it’s really cool, while at others it was bland and boring. In the end, the good outweighed the bad, and I have the feeling that I will look back fondly on this game. That said, the developers wasted a lot of time and energy on the world map in my opinion. A simple 2D map would have sufficed and the resources put into the 3D world map would have been better of being allocated to refining the dungeons. Of course hindsight is 20/20 and the creators of this title seemed to pride themselves on the 3D map. At any rate, it seems that Dragon View was the swan song of the short lived Drakkhen series, which is kind of sad, because it was certainly a step in the right direction.

Recommendations 

Dragon View is worth a look, though I’m not of the mind that the $85 to $100 an actual cartridge costs is worthwhile and most players will probably want to find an alternative means of playing this unique, yet flawed SNES title.

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