Set your enemies ablaze in Drakan: The Ancients' Gates
by Jonathan David Pearce, Contributing Editor
Despite having run into RPG Cliches numbers 2, 12, 54, 73, and 111 (courtesy of The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Cliches) in just the first half of this game, I rather liked Drakan: The Ancients' Gates. The action is snappy and the combat system intriguing. Be prepared to clear some space on your memory card, though, because you'll need the storage for this fun, yet difficult game. Drakan is a 3D roleplaying game with a third-person view detailing the continuing adventures of a girl and her dragon. The Ancients' Gates is a sequel to the original Drakan, a well-intended but poorly executed game in which Rynn forms a bond with dragon Arokh. Together they refound the Order of the Flame, a warrior society of human knights and elder dragons.
The Ancients’ Gates is Surreal’s opportunity to make good on the promise of the original. In The Ancients’ Gates, a group of evil beings from another dimension is attempting to conquer the world and Rynn and Arokh must restore the Rune Gates to awake the Dragon Mother. Same old, same old.
Rynn has a ridiculous chest, as do the rest of the female characters in Drakan. Her head is roughly as big as her waist, and she wears armor that would be rather revealing if worn as, say, a clubbing outfit. This is fairly normal for video game women (see Lara Croft), but playing Final Fantasy X has shown me that I needn’t put up with this any longer. Somebody call the gazomba police.
During the course of the game, the player gets to control both Rynn and Arokh. Few things are as satisfying as watching the Wartoks — who gave you so much trouble when fighting as Rynn — fleeing like rabbits as you roast them with dragonfire. I could strafe monsters and bandits with Arokh all day long. Rynn’s combat is a bit more involved, as she has quite a few options. Rynn wields swords, clubs, and axes, fires long and short bows, and casts ten different magic spells.
Weapon fighting is thoroughly enjoyable and the best part of Drakan. A simple tap of a button will cause Rynn to slash with her sword. Another button makes Rynn attempt to parry. Furthermore, using the directional pad, Rynn can execute a variety of combo attacks, as well as roll and leap out of the way. The combat is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, as Drakan incorporates elements from Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Diablo, and fighting games like Mortal Kombat. Still, the combination is a great idea and Surreal scores massive points for making random encounters fun and challenging. The depth of the system means you won’t find a single best strategy for attacking. The game keeps your attention and forces you to use your wits.
Drakan uses voice acting for every interaction in the game. The player needn’t read dialogue, even just once. I highly recommend turning off the captions, as the voice acting is quite superb. Rynn’s voice and lines are low grade irritants, but the cast of bit characters and supporting characters are all well-voiced. The player encounters a variety of accents from places all over the British Isles and Scandinavia, depending on which region Rynn is in. All cutscenes are rendered on the fly and the lip synching is passable, though not up to Final Fantasy X standards.
Sound effects are used quite well. Peering around corners for more monsters to slay is always accompanied by straining to hear their characteristic mutters and grunts. I wouldn’t dream of turning off the sound while playing Drakan, especially if the special of the day is screaming barbecued Wartok.
I encountered a few minor technical glitches during the course of the game, but nothing so serious as to detract from my experience. The engine suffers from some clipping issues; I was able to maneuver Rynn into a few places where her foot or head got stuck, but patiently turning and rolling always freed her after a bit. Occasionally the AI will run into similar problems, which generally means one more dead Groll to add to Rynn’s tally. The original Drakan was a PC game, and Drakan: The Ancients’ Gates bears marks of that legacy. A single save game will cost you a cool 1500K on your 8 MB PS2 memory card. A second save commits a big hunk of your card to this one game, especially if you have a sizable PS2 game library, but ultimately is worth the storage.
Like most console RPGs, Drakan is fairly linear. Having the dragon almost from the beginning to cruise around the countryside does open things up a bit, but unfortunately Drakan is so chock full of those pesky impassable (to a dragon!) mountain ranges that you’re mostly forced to go to the places the plot leads you. Drakan features optional side quests in the manner of Baldur’s Gate or Fallout, some of which are fairly challenging themselves. A handy journal system keeps track of the different quests you have before you and the game is good about giving the player voice prompts so you don’t forget what is going on.
Drakan is a well-balanced and rewarding game, if a bit predictable. It’s full of little touches, like the potion-drinking animation, that let you know the developers care. I would have liked to stay at the inn, but I guess inns were one RPG convention Surreal decided to do without. The combat system gives the game some depth and replay value that it wouldn’t have otherwise; and the wry writing for the bit characters will keep you entertained during the lulls. If I had time, I’d play through the game again just to have a chance to make different specialization choices when it comes to weapons and magic. I recommend Drakan to any RPG fan or action gamer who likes 3D battles, but casual gamers may be turned off by the so-so plot.
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