Does anyone remember Dragon Force on the Sega Saturn? If you’re lucky enough to do so, you’ll be remembering one of the best strategy RPG titles of it’s generation.
At the beginning of the game you get to pick one of seven nations to play as (after you finish the game, you can play as the bad-guys too). Each nation has it’s own storyline and it’s a lot of fun to see a bunch of different takes on the same plot. Speaking of plot, the main thrust of the story centers around the reawakening of a long dormant dark god and an antagonistic nation stirring the pot and starting wars on purpose. Despite it’s ‘rent-a-fantasy-plot’ lack of originality, it’s decently scripted and is told via amazing anime-style artwork.
The game starts you off with a couple of castles in your home nation and a core staff of loyal generals to do your bidding. Your task is to conquer the entire continent thus bringing peace by unification. The player sends their armies (each led by a general) to the surrounding castles on the map and does battle with it’s inhabitants. If you win, you get control of said castle and have a chance to convert the enemy leaders to your cause, lending another army to your overall force in the process.
The armies you send out can contain up to five generals. Each general can have up to 100 troops under his command (you start with only 10 troops but 10 more get awarded every time you win a battle with that general). This means that a full scale battle could have 1000 units duking it out, with a maximum of 202 sprites sharing the screen at the same time! That’s some impressive shit, let me tell you. The battles are relatively simple. You choose a formation and tactic (march, defend, flank…etc) and then just watch the resulting scuffle. There’s little interaction after the initial menus except to fire off your general’s special attack move (tornadoes / fireballs / insert generic JRPG move here) or to issue simple orders like retreat, separate or melee. If all 200 troops are killed before either general is defeated, the two generals then enter into a one-on-one sword duel to settle matters.
Dragon Force was and is a great game. Aside from the beginning (lack of troops) and the ending (dragons!) the game has very little in the way of challenge. Even the battles, as busy as they look, are extremely simple and not particularly exciting (in the best possible way).
What the game DOES have is a deep sense of relaxation. It’s one of those games that you can put on after work or before bed and totally unwind in. The graphics are beautiful, the soundtrack is phenomenal and the gameplay is so atmospheric and serene that you’ll be lucky not to fall asleep just glancing at it. And it’s somewhere in that relinquishing of stress that Dragon Force’s true beauty becomes apparent; it has sleepy catharsis stitched into every pixel.
So there you are; Dragon Force, the video game equivalent of popping sleeping pills (non suicide style).