Archive

Dragonica Online: Side Scrolling Madness

Posted Thu, Nov 26, 2009 by Dalmarus

Overview


Side scrolling MMOGs aren't anything new in North America, but they're also not considered mainstream either. There have been others in the past such as Maple Story, but THQ*ICE is the first to release a 3D side scroller with Dragonica Online. It may have the look of a child's game but in actuality its depth goes farther than most gamers would suspect.

Dragonica has dungeons, PvP, crafting, and plenty of questing. Unfortunately, the game insists on using the same mobs and scenery over and over in each area. Going from one portion of a zone to another and another with the only discernable difference from one to the next being the level of the mob you’re attempting to kill, is not my idea of fun. In this day and age, this kind of repeatable gameplay just isn’t going to cut it.

I grew up in these mysterious hangouts called arcades when I was a kid. Back then, we lived by the quarter and died by the lack of continues, because back in my day they didn't exist. For any other arcade dweller of old, or even the modern gamer that may have parents who torture them with some of those ancient games, it's impossible to not feel like the combat in Dragonica Online is a cross between Street Fighter and Double Dragon.

Twenty years ago, I had hand eye coordination and reflexes that would make a Jedi knight or Sith warrior weep with envy. Needless to say, that is no longer the case. Even spending more time than I care to admit trying to set up the keyboard to my liking, I still spent an inordinate amount of time searching for the right key during combat. No matter how you break it down, that is simply *not* what you want players doing at any point in the game. That goes doubly for when they've just finished downloading the client, installing, patching, and then creating their character. As former Ten Ton Hammer staff member, Ralsu, once mentioned before he left, no game has the luxury of turning it's players off at the start of a game, but the danger for this with F2P titles is even more critical. Since there's no cost involved, players can be turned off by a major aspect and have the game uninstalled five minutes after logging in for a trial run.

Classes


The free-to-play genre has made the choice of four classes pretty standard fare, and Dragonica Online’s developers apparently didn’t feel any urge to mess with this magical rule. Initial class choices include the warrior, magician, archer, and thief. As characters level up though, they do eventually gain the ability to choose specializations. My magician, for example, will become a War Mage at level 20. All of the classes have a choice of two class specializations to choose from at level 20, 40, and 60. This means that even though you only start out with four classes, you have the opportunity to access many more throughout the course of your character's career.

To kick off my journey, I started a magician (to the surprise of no one.) I consider it my personal test for any impression piece. In most instances, no matter how new you are to a game, you can easily make your way through it with a fighter class of some sort. I like to do it with a mage instead to get a feel for a game from a different perspective because they tend to be a little more difficult to play. This helps highlight issues in a game that may need improvement.

In the case of Dragonica Online, there was little difference between the warrior and magician classes in the beginning of the game. No matter what you're wearing for armor, you never want to let the mobs stand there and beat on you. Damage was comparable as well. I know some Dragonica Online players are probably screaming at their screens right now. How can the two classes possibly play the same, or have the same numbers? Amazingly, there's a pretty simple explanation. Trying to utilize any skills in the heat of combat is beyond painful.

Controls


The control scheme for Dragonica Online is so confounding that eventually I lost patience and just started using one or two skills while relying on the normal attack key to get through the majority of my battles. I honestly can't think of any other game that tries to make you use the keyboard for everything. Using keys such as WASD for hot-keyed abilities instead of movement is just asinine. Taking keys that have been designated as movement keys for years goes against every rule for player accessibility.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but why in the hell would you purposely take away a gaming tool that is used by nearly everyone constantly? How many times have players quit a game because they were forced to use a mouse? I know there are some players that prefer to use their keyboard for the majority of their MMOG gaming tasks, but don't punish the rest of us because of it.

While I personally feel that this control scheme is extremely awkward, unintuitive, and frustrating to use, I will give the hard working development team at THQ*ICE a high five for the coolest key mapping system I've ever seen. Up until now, the only option I've seen for rearranging your key commands has consisted of the following steps:

Scroll through an ungodly long list of commands until finding whatever obscure function you're searching for.
Reset said key to one you think it should be and curse the development team with vigor for not already making it so.
Repeat steps one and two a billion times because every time you change one key, it screws another up, so you spend more time than you can stand in a vain attempt to have all the keys set to your liking.

What inevitably happens in these instances is that sooner or later you end up having to use odder and odder key combinations to get the results you want. Rather than put its players through more pain and suffering than should be legally allowed, Dragonica uses a different system altogether. When you select the key mapping selection in the main menu, a virtual keyboard appears with every single key labeled. If you want to change a key, simply move the key you wish it were to the new spot and they'll swap right before your eyes.

For example, if you were to change the "Move Left" key from the right arrow and dragged it to the "D" key, the ability key that "D" handled would now be sitting on the right arrow key, while "D" would now be "Move Left". It's an absolutely brilliant system and I'm looking forward to the day when the MMOG industry adopts this new method as a standard none of us will tolerate a game not shipping with. Enough with the controls though, eh? Back to Dragonica Online!

Conclusion


Back in the day, we didn't mind side scroller games because, for the most part, that's all we had. When Defender came out it was fresh, new, and more exciting than anyone in the modern world could believe. The only reason I would purposely choose to pursue a side scroller game now would be if it were on my phone, or if I was in the mood to fire up my old Nintendo. It certainly lends the game a nostalgic appeal, but Dragonica Online fails as a modern classic. 

Between the solid skill system tree, the added goal of gaining extra experience points for chaining multiple combos together, and an interestingly stylized look, there is some fun to be found within Dragonica Online somewhere. Unfortunately for me, the control system is so unnatural that I found it impossible to relax and enjoy the game. Instead, I found myself frustrated with it. Even so, the game is free to play and you’ve got nothing to lose by downloading it and giving it a whirl.

News from around the 'Net