30 Days of Dreamcast: Day 5 – Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm

Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm
Publisher: Crave
Developer: Treyarch
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 02/28/2000

Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm is an action RPG made by Treyarch, who is better known for their trilogy of Spider-Man games. You know, the one where you die if you touch the ground? That was one of them. They also made Call of Duty 2 and 3. Long before those days, Treyarch made this little game that people either seemed to love or loathe. As one of my stipulations for the 30 Days of Dreamcast feature was to look at lesser known titles, both good and bad, I decided to pick this up and see which side of the fence I would be on. Hey, why not; it’s new to me!

Was Draconus worthy of my time, or was this another Silver experience?

Let’s Review

1. Story

To begin the game, you are given a choice of two characters: one a man, the other a woman. There are slight differences between the two, such as the female have access to more powerful magic and the male has better weapons and armour. The story stays the same though, so it’s just a matter of whether you prefer sword or sorcery.

The story is a bit pants, as it’s a cliched bit about a a nation of elves being assaulted and conquered by a dragon named X’Calith and his horde of goblins and dwarves . After the first introductory level, you then get branching paths allowing you to pick your brand of vigilante terrorism against the invading hordes all while searching for “wisps” which are the equivalent of experience points. Five wisps nets you either an advancement in your rank or a power/equipment. It’s not that exciting, but at least it’s different.

The story is just window dressing for the rest of the game, which in itself isn’t that great, but we’ll get to it. There are a lot of cut scenes and plenty of dialogue between hack and slash sequences, but at no point does the game ever go above or beyond the usual trappings of a fantasy RPG.

Story Rating: Mediocre

2. Graphics

Nearly a decade ago the one thing I heard about this game was that the visuals were fantastic. To be honest, this game looks like a late gen PSX title, NOT a late gen Dreamcast title. Hell, I don’t know how people found this game pretty back in the day. The sky is one giant haze, outside forest and grass areas are laughably bad, even for the turn of the century. Interior locations are noticeably, better but when there is no lighting, things get ugly (and confusing as where to go) FAST. Yes, these were the early days of 3-D games, but I can name numerous PS2, Dreamcast, and even PSX titles that look better than this.

This game is poorly animated, with characters (both protagonist and antagonist) moving in ways that the human body simply can’t. If you want to just sit back and laugh, watch the character doing jumps or flips. There is nothing like it in gaming. It’s that hilariously awful.

Character designs are hit or miss with the emphasis usually being on miss. There are some interesting ones, like the insect queen or the dragon knights, but for the most part, your character and everything you encounter is pretty ugly. How this game got a reputation for being even remotely attractive compared to other games that came out around the same time like Touken Retsuden IV, Sakura Taisen 3 or Typing of the Dead is beyond me. Ugly, ugly game.

Graphics Rating: Bad

3. Sound

The score for Draconus is neither offensive nor particularly good. It’s a fairly generic collection of music that is easily forgettable. The individual pieces fit the theme of the levels and work as acceptable background music. It just means that no one is going to spend time on a message board going, “WOW! Why didn’t they ever release a soundtrack?”

The voice acting is slightly better. By 2009’s standards, the acting is sub-par. However for the year 2000, it’s actually not that bad. The actors enunciate, add emotion to their delivery and although some are wooden and monotone, these are the exception rather than the rule. Again in 2000, the reverse was common place, so in this regard (and this regard only), Draconus was truly ahead of its time.

Nothing here stands out as memorable, but at least you won’t be muting the game, putting on your headphones or cringing every time a character talks.

Sound Rating: Decent

4. Control and Gameplay

I’ve read that Draconus uses the old Tony Hawk Pro Skater engine, which seems like an odd choice for an action RPG game. However, the only Tony Hawk game I’ve ever played is the fourth one for the Game Cube, so I can’t comment on the transition. What I can comment on is how the game plays and well, rather crappy.

Here’s the thing. This is an early 3-D game. Early 3-D games have some of the worst camera controls ever. At least Draconus gives you control of the camera (A nice accomplishment for a game back then), but it doesn’t matter as no matter what, the camera is horrible, especially when in tight corridors, or when you are navigating in a poorly dim area. Part of this is because the only way to control your cameras is to hold down both triggers at once and then you use the analog stick to look around.

However to do this, your weapon is sheathed. So good luck with that whole, “trying to improve your line of vision” thing in a battle. Another issue is that if you don’t push the triggers at the same exact time, your character will do a little sidestep shuffle. This is an amusing accidental dance routine that would have surely been put on YouTube had it existed back when this game first came out.

The actual in-game controls are interesting. A is your shield or activation of strange items buttons. B is your jump/midair flip button, Y is for casting spells and using items in conjunction with the left and right buttons on the D pad, and X is your attack button. What is interesting with the attack button is that you have four different attack options. Pressing the X button in time with an analog stick direction triggers a different move. However, this only works about half the time as if you press Up and X, the computer will make you move forward and swing instead of quick thrusting attack you tried to do. This isn’t that bad of an issue if you’re just here to button mash. Let’s be honest this IS an action RPG after all, and that’s how many people get through these games. However, Treyarch had also implemented a combo that they admit in the manual isn’t needed to beat or even master the game, but it’s really cool and you should try it as you will then, “kick monster tail.”

Of course then the manual gives you an example of a combo to try out with the following lines of text:

“A combo is done by performing three specific moves in succession. For example, if you swing to the left, swing to the right, and then swing to the left again, your character will perform a combo move as the fourth swing.”

Well, this would be great except than on the next page of the manual, it gives you a list of all possible combos and R-L-R is not one of them. Whoops. There is right, left, down if you are using an axe though…

Once you get using to the specific timing of the combo system, you’ll find it works…okay. It’s not really that impressive and there are some obviously downsides to an automated fourth swing that you don’t want to take but have to (Such as those times when you’re on a cliff), but at least Treyarch was trying something new, and you can’t fault them for that, especially as it has no true bearing on the actual game.

Other than an unusual but inoffensive control scheme, Draconus is your standard generic hack and slash title. I like that you get a choice of two levels to go to next rather than making the game completely linear like so many others, but it really doesn’t stand out from the dozens of similar titles I’ve played over the years. Occasionally there is some slowdown and the camera angles (along with trying to control said camera) are awful, but it’s about what you’d expect from a generic title from around this era of gaming.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent

5. Replayability
You have two playable characters and you have the ability to choose between slightly different paths at times. For example, after the first level, you’ll be given a choice of which adventure to go on next, each with different backgrounds and enemies. Then you’ll move on to the next. I know that on paper this doesn’t sound like a lot, but as most hack and slash games are quite linear, this was a welcome touch.

Still, the story doesn’t change and the game is 85% the same regardless of how you go about playing it. It’s just mixing up the order of the levels, changing which character you play as and building them differently XP wise. So there’s SOME replay value, but not much. This could have been helped greatly with a co-op mode, but what can you do?

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

Draconus is a pretty easy game. In fact, it’s almost too easy. There’s no real AI to speak up in any of your opponents and mindless button mashing can win you the game. It’s almost appalling how easy the game can be. How you build your character has no real effect on what happens either. Sure Aeowyn is more fun to play as, but that’s only because of the spell effects.

Actually, the hardest thing in the game is that you will die from falling a lot. Because the graphics are so terrible, there are times when you won’t realize that you are on the edge of a cliff. You’ll just be walking and then…plunge to your doom. Whoops. The only time I died in the entire game was from accidental falls. How lame is that?

What IS nice however is the ability to do a quicksave. This was almost unheard of in 2000 for a console game, but Draconus lets you save the game at any point without a save spot by setting a marker. Then if you ever die, you will be right there at the mark rather than a checkpoint or the beginning of the level. Turning the power to your DC off however, deletes the quicksave entirely, so it’s not as nice as modern games. This function does however show a nice timeline of evolution.

In all, you have an easy game where it is also easy to fall to your death because it’s so bloody ugly. The quicksave function is a nice touch, but you have to actively keep setting it, which can be annoying as it takes you out of the game to do so.

Balance Rating: Decent

7. Originality

Draconus is one of the most generic action RPG’s out there. Only two things really keep Draconus from being lost in the tidal wave of like-minded games: the faulty combo system and the early attempt at a quick-save feature. Even then Draconus is a footnote rather than a piece of innovation.

Move on to the next action RPG if you’re looking for something that helps redefine the genre. Trust me when I say there are plenty more on the DC.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

Because Draconus was so painfully generic, I had a really hard time continuing to play this game. There are so many better games for the Dreamcast that I strongly considered scrapping my review of this and moving on to something actually…fun. However, part of the 30 Days of Dreamcast is to look at thirty titles that are less known, be they good or bad, and Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm certainly fits that bill.

As the game is ugly, boring, easy, and quite shallow, it’s going to be hard for any gamer, be they casual or a retrogamer like myself, to play thing and enjoy it. Draconus was a chore and less than an hour into the game< i found continuing on took vast quantities of willpower. Addictiveness Rating: Bad

9. Appeal Factor

Really, if you’re going to go buy an old action RPG for the Dreamcast, what would you consider? Record of Lodoss War? Most likely. Phantasy Star Online? If you have knowledge of how to get on to fan servers. Draconus? Not bloody likely. Even if some gamers somehow managed to find Draconus good when it was released, it’s aged horribly. VERY horribly. I can’t imagine too many gamers except long time fans or Dreamcast completists wanting to slog through this thing.

The game was a niche cult title when it came out and I’m sure ardent fans will come out of the woodwork to decry my claims of mediocrity, but really, the game isn’t even worth the eight dollars I paid for it. This is collection padding at best; wasted money at worst.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

10. Miscellaneous

There are no bonus features, unlockables, reasons to replay the game or any real substance to Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm. It’s aged horribly, if it was ever good to begin with (which I strongly suspect was the usual reviewer hubabaloo of rating games on a scale from good to excellent) and if offers nothing that was available in bigger and better forms during the same era of gaming. There’s nothing here that makes the game worth its original 2000 price tag of $49.99 and even worse, nothing worse the fraction of that sum you can now pick the game up for.

Miscellaneous Rating: Worthless

The Scores
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Decent
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: POOR GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
If there was ever a time Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm was considered a good game, those days are as forgotten as the game itself. It certainly hasn’t aged well and is a perfect example of many of the issues that plagued 3-D games a decade ago. It’s pretty ugly, generic, and there is little here to reward a gamer if this is their first time playing it. It has a few neat ideas, like the combo system and the precursor to quick-saving, but this is more of interesting to gaming historians than anyone else. There are far better games for the Dreamcast out there, so look elsewhere.

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