It's not been a good year for dragons in games. Case in point: Dragoneer's Aria. There are lumbering lizards in it, but the game itself is as dull as a bread knife. And don't expect to find out what arias have to do with anything, either. This turn-based role-playing game tells a nondescript story, features unbearably slow battles, and misses the mark in almost every facet that makes RPGs fun to play. In fact, Dragoneer's Aria is the opposite of fun, and it's a game you'll do best to avoid.
You play as Valen, an academy student whose graduation is cut short by the attack of a mean black dragon. Seems the same dragon once hurled the world into chaos centuries before, and now he's back to destroy the friendly dragons that keep the world in balance. So Valen and his ultrafeminine braided pigtail depart from the city of Granadis to save the good dragons, though as is standard for this type of game, he gathers a few friends along the way. The naÃ¯ve healer Euphe is so sweet she might as well have been dipped in sugar, while Ruslan's sarcastic attitude gives him the typical bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold role. The most interesting character is Mary, a pirate who breathes occasional life into the mundane dialogue but still can't save the plot from mediocrity. Even the twists don't make things interesting, since you can see them coming from a mile away.
Almost every aspect of Dragoneer's Aria, including its title, is pulled from the Standard Book of Japanese RPG ClichÃ¯s, and then saddled with elements that slow it down to the speed of an adamantoise on downers. Even spell names sound as if developer Hit Maker fed a bunch of violent-sounding nouns and adjectives into a slot machine. Cutting Tornado? Song of Confusion? It doesn't get more generic than this. Then, throw in multiple enemies that share the same ugly character model--except maybe one has green feet and the other has yellow. What else makes them different? Well, in battle, one's called a raven, and one's called an eagle. How does the Granadis Endangered Species Committee tell them apart?
Perhaps they simply take the poor birds into battle. The raven is a weakling compared to the eagle, yet for some reason, the creatures live two feet from each other. As you wander through one drab dungeon after another, you'll bump into enemies that are a cakewalk to beat--one step away from another encounter that will destroy you in no time flat. You can try to escape from battle, but it rarely works. When you are able to escape, the winged eye that represents the encounter will still be floating there, and may very well fly right back into you, forcing you back into the battle you wanted to escape from in the first place. It's insanely imbalanced and forces you to grind, grind, grind until you are sure you can move on without fear of having your foes wipe the floor with you. But as if the standard grind isn't enough, each area features creatures called avatars, and if you earn 10 of them, you can summon the avatar's soul in battle. But avatars only show up every 15 battles or so, so if you want to earn a soul, expect to spend a very, very long time in a single dungeon. The ridiculously low item-drop rate just makes matters worse.
And be sure to grab a book. Battles take forever, because you have to sit through one long, unskippable animation after another. Even the menus take their time, so a single battle might take 10 to 15 minutes, yet requires precious little input. Eventually, you'll be pounding on the X button, wishing you could skip through every plodding animation. But don't bother--trying is as futile as trying to skip past any of the pokey cutscenes. All told, the excruciatingly creeping pace turns what would probably have been a mildly boring 35-hour game into 50 hours of mind-numbing monotony.