With the Panzer Dragoon series lying dormant since the days of the original Xbox, the Xbox’s One’s E3 showcase for Crimson Dragon gave its fans hope. The title may have been shown off without sound, but the seemingly forgotten Xbox 360 game was resurrected without mandatory Kinect usage and with controller support to the elation of all who weren’t heckling at the A/V hiccup. Panzer’s director has returned with a game that succeeds in offering up some amazing on-rail shooting action, but with a few rough edges that hamper it.
Since there are many positives with the game’s design, we’ll start off with the negatives. For one, there’s a plot – it involves some group of do-gooders fighting evil and giant dragons, because why not. This plot takes up time between stages where it can be skipped, and at the beginning of stages weren’t it can’t. The latter is where things get troublesome because it’s not a good story and it winds up taking up time that could be spent shooting at dragons or finding beacon items to add to your score total to increase your in-game cash The levels are broken up into many little sub-sections to make you feel like you’ve done more with your time than you really have. Even a quick 30 second beacon collection area gets its own checklist.
Most of your time will be spent shooting rival dragons, smaller enemies, and giant boss battles. Each level has a fairly set formula with some small enemies leading to a break finding beacons, then a bigger battle before a boss battle finishes things off. The core gameplay is essentially Panzer Dragoon but with a different set of dragons and riders and without 90-degree turns. Before, the 90-degree turns were done in PD because you didn’t have analog sticks, but did have shoulder buttons to move the camera to the side and shoot there. The advent of a second stick for movement meant you could map that function there and get more movement out of it as well. In theory, that’s a good thing, but the end result here winds up a bit muddled.
Unlike Panzer Dragoon, enemies tend to come out of everywhere in CD. This results in the camera rushing to find them, and then you trying to get the camera in place to hit them and also avoid hitting scenery at the same time. Sometimes, everything works at it should and the camera is behind your back quickly – but there are times when it gets a bit squirrelly and will lead to you taking needless damage and incurring needless deaths as well. It’s frustrating to go through a level, do pretty well, and then wind up hitting a section like this and having your work undone. Fortunately, the game has a number of anti-frustration features to help make this problem as minimal as it can be and make the game more user-friendly.
A casual mode gives you fewer obstacles, and is definitely the way to go if you enjoy on-rail shooters, but aren’t particularly amazing at them. This mode will force you to sacrifice some XP, but that isn’t in short supply as it can be earned even on the default setting if you fail a mission. The in-game shop allows you to change your dragon to suit your play style – like a racing game, it’s all about finding the kind of style that suits you. Going all-power can work if you’ve got a lot of skill to make up for the poor agility, but those who need the speed are better off going with an all-around character. The addition of a wingman is the biggest difference between this and Panzer series as it gives you an AI ally either on your back or in front of you to fight and help protect you. There are differences between them as well, and you can use them to balance out your attacks better. Another big help comes from shop items that can give you lives – which you can actually buy mid-level after a death if you’ve got the points for it.
The revamped bumpers on the Xbox One pad make the game harder than it should be not matter what difficulty you choose. The bumpers act as your barrel roll buttons and will save your life when tons of fire is headed your way. Being able to press them quickly and exactly when you want is a big deal, but due to the new triggers, it takes more effort to get the button to press – and because the button doesn’t apply equal pressure from all angles, you’ll wind up having to keep your index and middle fingers in the same position for the entirety of the level. It can result in a bit more finger fatigue, and that’s something you don’t want in a reflex-heavy game. The developers did a fantastic job of making the experience as fun as possible given the few gameplay issues, but it’s a shame they’re present since the end game is a bit less fun than Panzer Dragoon Orta as a result of them.
Crimson Dragon‘s visuals are rooted in an Xbox 360 game, but have received a major overhaul because they look incredible. Comparing this to the PS4’s cross-buy game Flower, the texture work for the environment is a bit stronger – with more details showing up on rock formations. You can see each groove and they don’t just give off a painted look of a groove – when you zoom in, you’ll actually see the groove in the environment itself. The skies have a lot of color in them and it makes the game pop off the screen. Lighting effects can be a bit excessive during daytime areas though, while darker underground sections bring out more of the texture work. Wing flaps look great, but the actual dragon character models look a bit bland and they lack the unique look of the dragoons in the Panzer games. The same goes for the rider, who is just on the dragon and never appears to move. Even a small amount of animation can add life to a game like this – like Space Harrier starting with the rider running before a level to give you some sense of attachment to the guy you’re playing as.
There isn’t much to praise about the acting in Crimson Dragon since it’s perfectly fine, but isn’t even memorable when you’re playing it. Fortunately, the soundtrack is a different story altogether. It’s full of epic songs that not only make the battles seem bigger, but also make your victory seem more important. Shooting sound effects are solid and if you’ve got a good speaker setup, being surrounded makes things even more tense because you can hear the fire coming at you from all directions that much clearer. It adds some panic at a time when you don’t need it, but makes your eventual victory sweeter.
Crimson Dragon is an impressive game that falls short of Panzer Dragoon‘s lofty heights. Visually, it looks better in every way but playable character design. Environmental details make the world come alive, while an epic soundtrack makes your battles within it seem worth fighting. The iffy camera and bumpers can make those fights tougher than they should be, though, and no amount of power-ups and difficulty setting changes can make up for the flaws of the gameplay. Still, at twenty dollars, this is well worth picking up to show support for the franchise and the on-rail genre as a whole. It’s lucked into getting a reasonably prominent release during a major system launch, so if it’s ever going to become a well-respected niche again, this title’s success will be the key that opens up the door. It’s got some dings on it, but is still worth traveling through.
Platform: Xbox One