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Rise of the Dragon Slayers vs. Pepsi Ranger
Rise of the Dragon Slayers
Stargames Software
Download: 394 KB
Pepsi Ranger
Review # 19 for Pepsi Ranger
Them's Fightin' Words
    Normally I might start my review with some catchy phrase like "darkness falls over the world, light becomes a commodity of value, and only the legendary dragons can revive the sun," but I'm not going to. The truth is that there isn't much to develop here in the way of review padding. I guess that's probably because there isn't a whole lot to evaluate in the way of story padding. But, I'll do my best to summarize what I think the story is about.

Since the world is forever without light, Grandpa asks Raynio and Caya to fetch him some fireflies. According to the game's narration, the firefly is the poor man's method of simulating light. So, as obedient as they are, Raynio and Caya trek to the firefly mating nest just outside of town to maim and slaughter as many male fireflies as they can so that they can effectively catch the female ones. By this point the game teaches us the laws of the jungle. Not a terrible start.

Unfortunately, Raynio and Caya have to return to Grandpa once the fireflies are in their possession, and that's precisely where the game's storyline takes an unnecessary downward spiral. But, let's be realistic. It can't be bad, right? After all, it's a game about dragons. Let's take this further, shall we? On their way back to the village, our two heroes hear some noise. Naturally, the noise belongs to a group of thieves (or bad people as I like to think of them), so the duo is forced to hide. Still not bad, but then it happens. After the thieves talk among themselves, explaining their desire to kill a dragon for a gazillion dollars or so, they leave...the same way they just came in.

And the weirdness just continues from there.

I won't spoil the rest of the story; but then again, I don't know what I'd be spoiling, so I guess I have nothing to worry about.

Before I continue on about the story, let me just get the good parts written down, so that there's no confusion to the fact that there are some decent qualities to offer here. And make no mistake that this game does have its upside.

And, what are its upsides? Well, let's think about this for a moment. If a game suffers in its story development, where is it more likely to succeed? In its ability to swindle the player's time away? Um…not quite what I was thinking. Let's try its graphics. Yes, I'll say it again. This game has good graphics. In fact I'll go so far as to say that the graphics are of high quality. Granted, the walkabouts are about as stiff as a popsickle on a tree trunk, but the attention to details in everything else pays off in the long run. All in all I think the graphics put up a good front. I also think the concept behind the fireflies is creative, but unfortunately the story isn't about that, so...

That's about all I can say in favor of this game. To get back to its problems, I'll start by quoting, to the best of my memory, two lines of dialogue that best describe the nature of the story. Let's start with Grandpa and his wonderful words of wisdom.

"But outside the town is gangsters and thieves," he said. "Well, good luck." Okay, for those who just walked in, this line of dialogue is taken from the scene when Raynio and Caya decide they want to catch a dragon for the obscene amount of money that's offered as the reward. See, they don't really want to upset their grandfather by blatantly telling him why they want to go outside of town, so they kinda sorta make something up. The line of dialogue mentioned above starts us on his reasons for not wanting the two heroes to leave, but never really drives the conflict. And that's the HUGE problem with this game's story. No conflict is really contested. Everything is taken as is, and the responses are just flat out dry. Let's look at my other example.

This next excerpt comes from the second town when a character named Vinyai approaches the heroes for some reason or another and tells them some benign story about the dragon slayers. He finishes his speech by subtly explaining that he shouldn't say anything else until the three of them go to his private hole in the wall (literal) where they can be out of the listening range of the "ears that hear." The following lines of dialogue are more or less the entire conversation that they have once they enter his place of dwelling:

"Will you help us through the mountain?" asked Caya.

"Yes, but we must go now," said Vinyai.

I would've added some action or substance to buffer the blandness of dialogue, but the game doesn't do it, so I'm not sure why I should.

And that's a basic synopsis of how the story flows in this game. It's not that there isn't potential with what it sets up, but rather it's that every plot detail gets lost in a rush of meaningless conversation. There is no better way for me to describe this but to take every line of "important" dialogue and post it here for everyone to see. When broken down, we'll find that the characters essentially speak in Cliff's Notes, rather than in true book form.

And sorry to say that the story is not this game's only problem. There are consistency flaws as well. Example one is piddly, but distracting. In the second town, there are some trees by the rich man's house that do not have wallmaps. This isn't such a big deal, I know, but I think the author should at least be aware of it. On the same token, I find that the wallmapped nature of the other trees is nothing short of awkward. For example, when I walk behind a tree, I should be able to pass by it effortlessly. I shouldn't be stopped by the top of the trunk, or by the lower section of the leaf canopy. I find the best way to fix this problem is to close off the single tile that makes up the tree base and overhead tile the rest of the tree. This makes walking around forests a little more friendly. Another problem I had with consistency is the craziness I mentioned toward the end of the story's description. To put it bluntly, why would a group of thieves walk all the way up north toward a firefly haven, just to mention a couple things to each other, and then turn back around and head out of the town's south gate? Couldn't they just have the conversation in a place that would be in their path anyway? I think that would make more sense. Also, the way that the heroes "hid" from the thieves made little to no sense. First of all, let's remember that there are two of them. So, what good is it to have them hide behind one small rock? The way it looks in the game, the second hero sticks butt first out in the open where the thieves can see him/her. I should think that since they are surrounded by foliage, it would be better to hide them in there. This way things won't look so awkward. Just a thought.

I could probably mention some other problems like the fact that some NPCs don't talk, which is something that always bothers me in a game, but I'm not sure why I should. I think that maybe this is plenty to start on. But, if there is one other pressing thing I must get off my chest, it's this. If character dialogue is supposed to advance the story by explaining which direction the player must go in order to get to the next destination, then please make sure the map design reflects this. I remember the first time I played this game, I kept going back to the firefly mating ground because some character said that the thieves went north, and that's where I had to go. Naturally I got irritated when I searched all around the nest to figure out later that north meant leaving town by going south first. I remember having almost given up because of that oversight.

Oh well, let's see what tale the scores will tell.
Final Scores
Graphics: 8.5/10.0
The graphics certainly have a distinct appeal to them, that to which I will say is admirable. They're not the best I've seen, but there's something about them that I find pleasing to the eye. Perhaps it's the delicate balance of lights shining in absolute darkness, or the shadows that cast off the larger objects in a world already infested with night, or maybe it's the rich textures of floors and windows and all that other good stuff that I like the most. Whatever I think is best, all the map graphics are good for the most part. The enemies are also nicely rendered, and the backgrounds are acceptable. Nice job I think.
Storyline: 1.5/10.0 there really anything else I can say about the storyline? If there was a substantial amount of effort put into adding conflict in the dialogue, as well as some natural and sensible dialogue, then I might think the story has potential. But as of right now, I think claiming it has potential would be giving it too much credit. The best I can say is that the whole fireflies as a light source thing is neat, but that's not really enough to go on. A better organization of the little plots will help the direction of the overall plot. For now, I don't think it works.
Gameplay: 1.5/10.0
The only other area that can possibly compete with the story as its weakest feature would have to be the gameplay. For starters, battles are next to worthless. Even though a couple battles are placed creatively to serve the "plot," they are just so darn easy that to claim there's any degree of challenge would be like saying the president is a genius. In other words, the challenge may exist, but it's currently latent. The whole travel plan and directional scheme are also severely screwed up. And this is even before you realize that the pivotal forest where you follow the thieves doesn't have a marked entrance. So, needless to say, the gameplay is below honorable mention.
Music: 3.5/10.0
There isn't a large music selection to speak of, since many of the fields are silent, but there is at least one melody I found pleasing to the ear. Unfortunately one nice sound isn't enough to earn a high score, but it is enough to give it some kind of score, so I shall score it accordingly. If I had to choose though, I'd recommend music over silence in a game that doesn't have a whole lot else going for it.
Overall Grade: F+
Final Thoughts
    For those who love great graphics, this game is a great choice to add to your collection. But, for anyone who cares about substance, then maybe it would be better to pass this one by. But, then again, this is the summer, so if Hollywood can pass off eye glitter and shallow plots as entertainment, then maybe the OHR can do it too.  

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