A game based on an anime that’s based on a manga isn’t normally a recipe for success, but with Treasure’s steady hand at the helm and their previous track record with anime tie-in titles such as Yu Yu Hakusho: Makyo Toitsusen and Astro Boy: Omega Factor there was only one way Dragon Drive: D-Master’s Shot could ever turn out -
Very badly. Wait, what?
There’s an uncomfortable truth in the gaming industry that Treasure have clearly understood ever since they followed up Gunstar Heroes with McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure in 1993, and that is that creating genre-busting classics capable of pulling off incredible technical feats that aren’t even supposed to be possible on the hardware you’re using just isn’t enough to keep the company lights on, and somewhere along the line a bit of creative pride has to be swallowed and a licensed tie-in game made. The Treasure Difference™ here being that regardless of the IP in question they have still gone on to produce a quality title where other, lesser, developers would have simply churned out Generic Anime Game #3215.
This is what makes Dragon Drive so surprising. This isn’t Treasure having an off day and producing something OK-but-not-great, this isn’t even outright bad, it’s just horribly, obviously, phoned in – a game created to fulfill the bare minimum contractual obligations between Bandai and Treasure, effectively being just enough ‘game’ to allow Treasure to walk away with their money. This isn’t a title with ambitious but unrealised ideas like Gotzendiener or even Septentrion, there’s no glimpse of a flawed beauty or a clever twist that didn’t work in practise, it’s just there, existing as pretty much the definition of ‘Some Anime Game’.
But that’s enough venting for the time being as we should probably take a bit of a look at the title that has lured in many a hopeful gamer with promises of being ‘A bit like Panzer Dragoon and Zone of the Enders, but by Treasure’.
As you’d expect from any tie-in game, it’s littered with various direct-from-the-show clips between stages for that authentic ‘It’s like one of my Japanese animes!’ feel, with voiced talking heads of various sizes used during the bits where you’re supposed to be having fun playing a ‘Dramatic 3D Shooting’ game. The action itself is split into the Zone of the Enders/Panzer Dragoon styles I mentioned before, with the latter appearing to be in the minority if the chapters I’ve been able to stomach playing are anything to go by. It doesn’t really matter because regardless of the level type you end up in it will definitely be another bland location with low-poly landscapes fading into the fog (!!) and brainless adversaries that neither challenge nor excite.
There are, if you scrape the barrel to it’s very bottom, some ghosts of good ideas in here though – as the game unfolds you gain access to new dragon forms with their own particular strengths and weaknesses that instantly make you wish you were playing Panzer Dragoon Orta (released the year before this) instead. And there’s the collectable card powerups stored and used at the player’s discretion, which could possibly allow for some tactical play if the game showed even a sliver of the finesse shown in any other Treasure title. That’s about it as far as nice things I can say about this game go other than… um… the package includes a bonus anime disc with a special episode on (for the GC, not a DVD) if you just can’t get enough Dragon Drive, I guess? Oh and there’s a two player versus mode if there’s a particular friendship you’d like to end. Yay.
'But it’s meant to be for kids, Kimimi!’, is something you might be shouting at your monitor right now, and you’d be right. But there are a lot of other games intended primarily for a younger audience – Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Pokemon [colour of your choice here], Sonic Colours – that are capable of entertaining gamers not already ravaged by the passing of time without being vapid fun-free experiences. Treasure can’t even argue that the hardware wasn’t powerful enough to realise their vision of ‘Dramatic 3D shooting’ action, as Star Fox, Panzer Dragoon, Galaxy Force II, Omega Boost and plenty more all came out on vastly inferior formats and they all show more flair and style in their opening levels than Dragon Drive manages to muster in an entire day’s play.
Of course not every game Treasure put out is going to be an all-time classic or push the boundaries of a particular genre and it would be unreasonable to expect otherwise, so it’s important that I emphasise here that I’m not annoyed with Dragon Drive because it tried and failed to be a good game, I’m annoyed because it never tried at all. I am happy to play and even recommend flawed titles if I feel there’s some clever idea or nifty twist in there, and even so-bad-they’re-good kusoge can be a fun way to spend a weekend if you’re in the right sort of mood, but Dragon Drive possesses not one of those qualities.
If you’re a fan of the anime then this is not the enthralling interactive take on the show that it could have been, if you’re a fan of Treasure this will knock your faith in their abilities, and if you happen to love Zone of the Enders or Panzer Dragoon and would like more of the same then you will only come away disappointed. Avoid this game even if it’s cheap, a gift, or you think ‘It can’t be that bad, can it?’ – it is.