Eragon (Nintedo DS) Review

Click here to visit the Eragon (Nintendo DS) Description page for guides, saves, and more info.

Review by tankMage (April 2017)

Score: D

   I remember seeing copies of this game at game retailers, wondering if it was any good, and resolving to play it one day. Well, the day of reckoning has arrived and it’s time to discuss my experience with Eragon for the Nintendo DS. Now, I’ve haven’t read the book or watched the movie, so I don’t have any preconceived notions of the game aside from it having something to do with dragons and a teen hero who is probably one of them there “chosen ones” (you know, that guy or girl who has no combat training or experience, but wins everything all the time, because reasons).

   Anyway, I fired this game up and it got off to a fair start with 3D graphics that look like a PS1 title, a semi-decent combat system, and good camera mechanics. Then the game slowly entered a death spiral as it forced me to fight the same foes ad nauseam, constantly use it’s broken touch screen mechanics, and confused me with its incoherent story presentation just to name a few of its problems. The sad thing is, this game could have been pretty damn good, but whoever was in charge of development didn’t know what the hell they were doing.

Story

  Eragon is based on a movie that is based on a book.  I’m not familiar with either, but the game should get the general plot across well enough, right? Right??? Well, yes and no. Most of the dialogue explains the movie fairly well, despite the fact that it lacks emotion and fails to go into detail. The problem is mainly that the “cutscenes” are just a series of still images that convey only a vague message. This leads to trouble later on when Eragon is fighting on a bridge one moment and standing in a cave the next with no real explanation aside from a poorly drawn panel of cutscene (I was able to guess at what may have happened, but it still isn’t clear to me).

   There are also a few towns in this game and the devs had an excellent opportunity to bring the book and movie to life through the settlements. In fact, the first town almost succeeds in doing so as you wander around completing mini-quests (which I’ll talk about later) and learning about Eragon as well as the world he inhabits by talking to the townspeople. That promising start turns to dust later on as you visit other towns and find that NPCs often repeat the same banal lines like a flock of parrots. In Eragon’s defense, the final town is fleshed out a bit more than the rest, but it’s a matter of too little, too late.

   The dialog at least attempted to move the story along, but the lines are bland and soulless. In fact I was baffled at what went wrong here. The devs had both a movie and a book to draw a script from; the only conclusion I could come to is that the movie must be pretty piss poor in the dialogue department if the game can’t manage to say something interesting or moving. There was one saving grace in this mess: The character, Brom, who was one of those grizzled veteran Obi Wan Kenobi types that mentors Eragon. Of course the writing for him sucked too, but at least he had an interesting role and background.

   I’d comment on the actual story itself, but its just an amorphous concept that exists in the background of the game that is sometimes referenced by characters and locations. Since I don’t know much about the source material, all I can say is a game should be able to get the point across well enough that someone who knows nothing of the movie will know what’s going on and take some interest in the source material. This game had the opposite effect; I lost interest in the book and movie after playing this mess. Even if the book is well written, the game just made the plot seem trite and devoid of personality.

Graphics

   As far as graphics go, Eragon is a tale of two games. On one hand the actual gameplay graphics look really nice for a 2006 Nintendo DS game, but then there’s the cutscenes….*shudder*. Well, I guess I’ll talk about the cutscenes first, which I touched upon in the story section. Not only do the cutscenes fail to convey the story, but they are butt-ass ugly. The characters in the cutscenes are completely deformed looking and only remotely resemble the actors who portrayed them. The colors were also murky and generally awful looking. I’m really shocked that someone actually got paid to draw the panels for those scenes, they’re an embarrassment. The developers would have been better of using low resolution images from the movie instead.

“Ermahgerd! Eyeh ehrve eh serd!”

   The actual 3D game world and characters are a different story. The DS wasn’t all that great at 3D graphics, but this game looks sort of ok all things considered. The environments are pretty barren and have that sort of flattened out low polygon look and yet, they establish a sense of atmosphere thanks to the often claustrophobic level designs and contrasting color scheme. The character models are fairly well done, if not pretty, and I was pleasantly surprised by the hero’s animations, which were fairly smooth. There’s even a good variety of NPC models.

   The enemy designs are extremely repetitive, however. Just about everything you fight is an urgal (which is some sort of humanoid monster), a wolf, or a creature that looks like an urgal. Even bosses are frequently recycled and the majority of them are just giant urgals. There really wasn’t much the devs could do to add variety to the enemy lineup if they wanted to stay true to the movie, but that is one of the major obstacles that come with trying to adapt a film or book into a game and you’d think that by 2006 someone would have come up with a workable solution. At least there were armored urgals, archer urgals, big urgals, and even Egyptian urgals to add some variety to the sparse bestiary.

   This game also features a magic system (which I have plenty to say about) and the spell effects are ok for the most part. Energy Bolt, Bone Break, and the mist spell (I can’t recall its name) are all fairly entertaining visually, but there’s nothing about them that sets them apart from nearly any other magic system….aside from Bone Break, which twists and shatters every bone in the target’s body with a satisfying crunch.

   Players may also enjoy the flying levels in this game, which were quite well done visually. These stages did have drawbacks, however, primarily the fact that the rings you had to fly through to pass the stage appeared at the last second thanks to the low draw distance. Sapphira will take damage if she fails to pass through the rings, but you can’t see where the arrows are coming from, which kind of ruined immersion.

User Interface

   The standard button controls for Eragon are fine and I was actually kind of impressed at how easily the camera snapped back into place when I hit the R Button. The dragon flight mode controls felt sluggish, but this may have been intentional, because one can’t expect a dragon to handle like a fighter jet. You can also lock onto opponents in combat, ensuring spells and melee attacks are aimed at the target, which is helpful.

   The touch screen controls leave much to be desired, however, and are one of this game’s primary problems. Many of the touchscreen functions are pointless and would have worked better as button inputs. For example, if you wish to use Eragon’s bow, you must activate it by tapping the bow icon on the lower left hand side of the screen, which means you have to take your hand away from the buttons in the heat of battle at times. The devs did have the good sense to make the bow controllable with the left hand which made using it more manageable. Spells are also cast using the touchscreen and this is where things really get dicey. First, the player has to draw the appropriate symbol for the desired spell on the touchscreen (granted Eragon has learned it), then a graphic for the symbol will appear on the screen. Then the player must flick the symbol at the upper end of the touch screen to cast the spell at a target. This may sound fun and creative, but it doesn’t work well. Sometimes it would take several tries to get the spell to move in the right direction, because the DS is not good at registering rapid touchscreen inputs. It was also too easy to use an item by mis-drawing a spell. If all that isn’t bad enough, there are points in the game where the player is required to use magic quite frequently in order to pass through obstacles and the system soon becomes tedious and frustrating.

    Touchscreen mechanics for using items were implemented far more effectively, because the player need only draw the symbol for the desired item and it would activate. Using items was actually kind of fun and added a sense of tension to gameplay, but it still forces the player to interrupt the action by grabbing the stylus and draw the symbol. The devs tried to remedy these broken systems by allowing the player to the freeze time, temporarily pausing the game so he or she could draw symbols for magic. This ability is short lived and has a cool down, so it’s not all that great, but it can be helpful.

   There are also points where the player has to communicate with Saphira using their telepathic link and the player must quickly trace symbols on the screen to talk to her…while trying to read the pointless dialogue. I’m not sure why the devs even bothered with this feature, because it is not fun and doesn’t add drama to the game. At least talking to Saphira is slightly more bearable than the magic system, because it works fairly well.

   At any rate, this game really didn’t need touchscreen functionality and forcing it into the design only served to make a rather bland and dull game into a tedious mess. The developers would have done better to concentrate on the few things they did right and avoid touchscreen mechanics altogether.

Music

   There’s really nothing to be said about this game’s music or sound effects. I can’t remember a single theme and I just got done playing it, so it’s all pretty forgettable. The music at least did a good job at adding to the game’s atmosphere. The sound effects are just as bland and commenting on them would be a waste of time.

Gameplay

   If you’ve read the section about the UI, then you know the gameplay already has a serious disadvantage, because of the messed up magic system and touchscreen mechanics in general, but there’s more to it than that. First of all, the game starts out with some promise. The first few fights are good for practicing with the hero’s weapons (you just have a bow and dagger at first) and whetted my appetite for some more challenging combat. Exploring the first town and playing its mini games was fun too. The game starts to become disappointing later on, however, as its problems begin to manifest themselves over time.

   There’s plenty of stuff to find in Eragon’s world, which keeps things interesting. Essences that Eragon must collect in order to raise his life and magic meters are one such hidden goodie. There are tons of these essences hidden in barrels, bushes, urgal pockets, and doled out by quest givers. In addition to collectables, there are optional levels called towers, which can be can completed to obtain special spells. These towers are really tedious, however, because you must frequently use the awful magic system in order to clear obstacles in these bonus areas. The miniquests given by NPCs are fun at first, but quickly become repetitive, because they boil down to item hunts, timed races, and location hunts. The rewards for the quests are often just some lame artwork samples for the in-game gallery and I’ve already given my opinion on the game’s art, so it’s needless to say I would have been happier with a gold star or even nothing at all as a reward.

   Moving on to combat, I would say that the player’s end of it is fairly well implemented. The bow and sword gain experience with kills and become stronger or open up new moves. Eragon can block, roll, and sidestep, which makes combat feel more dynamic, especially since the game will force you to get out of the enemy’s way. As bad as the magic system is, some of the spells were cool and they added variety to gameplay. Elements of combat were fairly well done in some ways, because many monsters could block and counter you or break through your guard with a powerful attack, so you have to keep on your toes in battle. Of course, combat mostly devolves into getting behind enemies and comboing them to death, spamming magic, or sniping them with the bow, but at least an attempt was made.

  Too bad the second aspect of combat, the enemy, was completely botched. As I stated earlier, monsters could counter Eragon if he got too greedy with a frontal attack, but this was easily worked around by getting behind them. For the most part, enemies are just big, stupid punching bags with low aggro range. Even most bosses fall into this category. Eragon can literally stand twenty feet from a pack of urgals and not get attacked until he steps up to them, plus they will only chase you so far before giving up and walking back to where they were standing. This might be justified if our hero didn’t have powerful magic and weapons, but he does and the game is stupidly easy, because the enemy AI is so terrible. The bosses aren’t any better and most of them are just reskins of the same dumb, giant urgal who uses the same attacks. In fact, one boss battle is broken, because you can bait him off a ledge that he can’t climb back up from and shoot him to death. Once you get magic, the game will just devolve into Eragon back peddling and casting Energy Bolt or Bone Break at everything, then using melee attacks until his magic refills (this even works on most bosses). Good job, Amaze/Stormfront. At least two bosses were somewhat interesting to fight: the Ra’zac and Durza. These guys could actually sort of defend themselves, but don’t expect too much.

   The level designs are nothing to write home about either. Players will mostly just wander around killing brain dead urgals and collecting essences or lame artwork. There are a few simple puzzles and the areas seem to be from the movies, so I guess the devs did something right. I’ve also seen worse level designs, but these are still below average. The towns are really disappointing. Aside from a hidden item and a bland miniquest here and there, there’s nothing to do aside from talk to the NPCs who have nothing to offer aside from repetitive comments. There are no shops or services and no real secrets in towns, so they’re just kind of there, because they were in the movie.

   I could go on, but this game is a waste. If you’ve played God of War or Devil May Cry (even the one people hated), then you’ve played a superior version of Eragon. It’s a shame, because the devs had the right idea, they just failed to get it off the ground or even out of the gutter.

Final Thoughts

   I didn’t really know what to expect from this game. There have always been good and bad licensed games, but not much middle ground. Eragon could have been good, but it’s creators wasted time and resources creating dumb touch screen mechanics that didn’t work and ignored the important aspects of a game…like enemies that could put up a fight, a coherent narrative, or fun places to explore. So, this game earned itself a D; the first D I have awarded in fact. Had the developers made some different choices, Eragon could have been a good title, but they clearly wanted to (or were forced to) focus on gimmicks rather than substance and it shows in the final product.

Recommendations

Usually I can justify playing a game to certain demographics, but Eragon has nothing to offer. It’s not even bad in a funny way, or so broken it’s interesting, so avoid this game. Don’t buy it, don’t play it. If you love the movie so much you want to play a game based on it, try the PS2 version, maybe that’s better, at least the PS2 didn’t have a touchscreen.

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