By Marisa Alexander / October 9th, 2017
|Title||Hidden Dragon Legend|
|Release Date||September 19th. 2017|
I have always enjoyed my fair share of games based on historical settings, real or fictional. History is so rich with ideas for settings and characters, the possibilities are practically limitless. Hidden Dragon Legend is one such game inspired by a historical time period. Based shortly after Empress Wu’s abdication, China tried to recover from a brief interruption to the Tang dynasty. Empress Wu can provide fascinating political struggles or crucial viewpoints of the people of China. Does the game take advantage of that? Let’s find out.
The narrative immediately starts in a prison, with numerous corpses lying about. Our nameless protagonist wakes up with a crippling case of amnesia. Undisturbed by the massacre around him, he walks out to be greeted by two grunts of the mysterious Organization. A grunt flees, and the protagonist kills the other in defense. He then trails the fleeing grunt but falls unconscious after defeating numerous members. A girl named Fei then finds and saves him. She brings him to Doctor Shen, who heals his injuries completely.
The game then fast forwards a few days later, when everyone is captured by The Organization. Doctor Shen mentions The Organization by name on accident. Since The Organization wants nothing to expose them, they execute Doctor Shen and Fei. The protagonist then accidentally unleashes his powers and kills all of The Organization members around him. After that, he travels to Luoyang to get some answers.
To be blunt, the narrative is bare-bones and poorly told at that. The pacing is atrocious, with developments constantly showing up at a moment’s notice. The plot rarely slows down and allows the player to realize what happened. Context is easily lost in regards to the actions and motivations of each character. This applies to the setting as well. Empress Wu is the only context provided behind the time period. Otherwise, numerous other time periods could’ve been the setting.
Character development is very weak. The main character develops spontaneously throughout the story. He regains his memories but oddly enough they never push forward the plot or reveal new information. Due to the pacing, his only noticeable personality trait is being angry, which led to a hypocritical moment at the very end of the game. Side characters either die, or rarely appear after they make their introduction. The only character that makes any substantial presence is Dark Raven, as he both lives and speaks long enough to develop. There are biographies available in the menu, but it is important to show a story rather than tell it.
The story would be much less of an issue if it weren’t the focus to have one in the first place. Characters have detailed bios that show their relations to other characters, and the historical background is still important. In the chronicles of history, Empress Wu was thought to be cruel and conniving explaining her actions in the past game-wise. The Organization has a decent amount of thought behind them. They have an obvious hierarchy, specific goal, as well as a reason for their existence. It’s disappointing to see how much potential was lost.
Primarily, gameplay has the largest focus. You have light and heavy attacks with your sword. A chain of light attacks can lead to a chain of heavy attacks, and vice versa. The player can launch enemies to make them helpless and easy to combo. You have daggers to allow chip damage and the ability to safely approach. A grappling hook can also pull in enemies. As you attack, you fill up a rage gauge that allows the usage of skills. The most defining feature is evading attacks. Evading cancels out attacks, helps approach, gives invincibility frames, and assists in maintaining a combo. It consumes acrobatic points, however, so one can’t spam the ability.
Overall, this system feels closer to the Devil may Cry series instead of God of War. At its core, it’s a decent system. The only issue is the lack of variety and balance. There’s little in the way of specific combos and very few skills. Very few combos tend to be truly substantial and only a couple of the skills provide substantial benefits. The “rampage” skill might turn into the only skill one might use, as it slows down time and heals per hit. The game quickly becomes repetitive due to this issue.
Aesthetically, the game doesn’t do much to stand out. Truthfully, the backgrounds in the game are the best in regards to presentation. Backgrounds provide a lot of detail so the game is striking visually. A good example is in Luoyang where there is a statue in Empress Wu’s honor. Otherwise, the game looks dull. Characters look like they are puppets in cutscenes, as animations are very loose. This is odd, as in the gameplay most animations are very fluid.
Audio is overall fine as it is. Striking enemies give off a noticeable impact, so hearing attacks connect together sounds satisfying. However, enemies themselves need more or better audio cues before they attack. Most of the time they are on-screen but at points they can attack off-screen. The soundtrack is mostly ambiance so it’s not something I’ll come back to but it’s nice to have. Voice acting however is surprisingly dull. Emotion rarely carries through the voice acting unless a character is enraged; then it sounds forced. This becomes very distracting in cutscenes.
However, everything surrounding the system has numerous issues. The game strives to have platforming sequences, namely in the second half. Evading has a set distance and air control is finicky as a simple flick sends the player a good foot. Due to this, it becomes infuriating to hop on narrow platforms over bottomless pits. The player must rush certain segments as well, due to instances like the pathway collapsing. At certain moments, the game’s camera makes it difficult to judge distance. Yet, platforming is only the second most frustrating aspect of the game.
Most infuriating is that most enemies gain hyper armor after being combo-ed long enough. Due to this, it becomes increasingly difficult to handle multiple enemies at once. Combos with the Defiant upgrade can help circumvent this issue. Defiant goes through hyper armor and even breaks it. The three light and two heavy combo in particular is very effective. In retrospect however, it makes the game’s balance worse. The mentioned combo increasingly becomes the only safe and usable combo in the end. Due to the amount of enemies on screen, even evasion becomes unsafe despite invincibility frames. In a game about combos, I don’t think combos should effectively become useless.
Enemies themselves are not fun to fight at all once they appear in very large groups. When taken as a whole, they effectively counter most of your available tools, due to hyper armor or otherwise. The lack of proper audio cues causes numerous cheap shots to occur from off-screen. Certain enemies can break out of your attack string repeatedly so they are difficult to combo. Overall, the player is ill-equipped to deal with the majority of enemies. They will succeed, but not without the sinking feeling they should’ve had a better answer to each threat.
In the end, Hidden Dragon Legend was disappointing. A lot of potential was available from the start. The game could’ve had a very interesting story and fun gameplay. In fact, chapter one was actually extremely fun and highlighted the game’s strong points. Unfortunately, the game took a sharp turn in quality afterwards due to how prevalent the mentioned issues become. After the first playthrough, one can increase the difficulty and unlock other weapons and stats. Otherwise it’s the same experience. As such, the game’s twenty dollar price tag makes it difficult to recommend even for those curious. It might be fun for those who can overlook the game’s issues, however, as it still had some nice ideas in the combat system.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
action platformerDevil May CryGod of WarHidden Dragon LegendMegaFunoasis gamesPS4