Let’s talk about Street Fighter II.
It’s a technically excellent fighter, but there’s more to it than that. Capcom built an entire cast and storyline around the tale of two rivals and their quest for self-validation. It’s a simple story, but for an audience that grew up rooting for Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport, it’s an effective one. Ryu seeks to develop his technique by taking on stronger opponents than he faced in the original Street Fighter. Meanwhile, Ryu’s American equivalent — a showy sort named Ken Masters — strives to prove himself superior. The game is loaded with memorable characters, and Capcom deserves a lot of credit for daring to put all their creative eggs into one basket. Street Fighter’s third chapter was a long time coming, in large part because II’s cast was so thematically broad.
Legend of the Dragon has a similar story structure, but I can’t give the developers any credit, because they stole all of their characters from a cartoon that no one cares about anymore . . . and few cared even when the game was new. Heck, most countries didn’t even air the full series.
Let’s talk about Virtua Fighter 2. After the original’s lukewarm reception, Sega’s follow-up proved that the world was ready for 3D gaming. The visuals stunned viewers, the difficulty taxed players, and the subtleties inspired an underground culture dedicated to martial mastery. Virtua Fighter 2 established a legacy that lives on to this day; across the ocean, Yu Suzuki’s masterpiece still commands enormous respect.
Legend of the Dragon also has 3D graphics. The official Game Factory website calls them “grafics”.
Now let’s talk about Soul Calibur. With its still-gorgeous graphics and engrossing mission mode, this stellar sequel singlehandedly sold the Dreamcast to the American public. After selecting a memorable fighter from a diverse pool, you’ll travel across an ancient kingdom, dueling elaborately-animated opponents through slimy underground rivers, wind-swept palaces, and dimly-lit, rat-infested pits. Some missions simply require you to defeat the opponent; others have an intriguing and often challenging goal (such as defeating the foe with throws alone). Before entering any mission, you can view the goal and choose to either fight or flee.
Legend of the Dragon also has a mission mode. After selecting a forgettable fighter from the clone pits (since they basically share the same moves), you’ll travel across an ancient kingdom, randomly finding shrines where you’re forced into battle with an innocuous goal such as “finish your opponent off with an energy blast”. Here’s the problem: not only is it hard to overcome the slow button-to-action response time and defeat the opponent by any method, but if you accidentally knock him out with anything other than an energy blast, YOU LOSE. I accidentally knocked him out with a kick.
Other fighting games with quest modes at least have the decency to make the opponents invincible so that you don’t accidentally “kill” them in the wrong way. In any case, after enough losses (it’s very strange to see the words “YOU LOSE” while standing over the opponent’s crumpled body), I eventually gave up and returned to the world map.
You can no doubt imagine how tickled I was to encounter a “survival” match against two opponents… and I had to defeat both of them with energy waves. I accidentally knocked the first guy out with a punch.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but a lifetime spent playing Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, Soul Calibur, Dead or Alive, Samurai Shodown, Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, Asuka 120%, and Melty Blood clearly wasn’t ample preparation for Legend of the Dragon.
Finally, let’s talk about Bloody Roar. When the PlayStation was young, Bloody Roar was pretty hot stuff. It had sweet music, colorful graphics, a decent assortment of combination attacks, and the ability to transform into bloodthirsty beasts. Unfortunately, the game balance wasn’t so hot. If badly injured while in beast form, you’d transform back into a human and helplessly stand there while a giant, sharp-clawed mole burrowed bloody holes into your chest.
Legend of the Dragon also has characters that transform mid-battle and, as in Bloody Roar, you’re doomed if you get knocked back into your wimpy “regular” form. However, unlike Bloody Roar, you don’t transform into a bloodthirsty beast; that snake in the above screenshot is just part of the background. No, you transform into a slightly bigger human who wears a silly mask, reminiscent of Robin the Boy Wonder. Except not as funny. Not intentionally, anyway.
The game also has a multiplayer mode. Thanks to the PSP’s wi-fi capability, you can play with a friend. Of course, this requires two copies of the game. As luck would have it, I actually had two copies of the game. In all likelihood, I am the only person in the world who was actually able to ever play Legend of the Dragon with a friend.
I played with a friend. Once.
In the end, Legend of the Dragon is a forgettable fighting game based on a forgettable cartoon. I could tell you all about the first time I played Fatal Fury Special or my memories of Melty Blood, but in a few months all I’ll remember about this one is that I hated it. That’s what happens when a company cares more about cashing in than about designing a good game.