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Joystiq presents

DS Fanboy Review: Draglade

If you've heard of Draglade, one word that may have come to mind is, "What?" On the surface, you might expect another anime-like fighter akin to Bleach: The Blade of Fate. Then, upon further reading, you might see bizarre words like "Grapping," "Glade," and "G-con," with claims that the game is a rhythm-based fighter. Whether such strange details send you running to the hills or make you want to learn more, it's important to the video game industry that unique titles like Draglade don't slip through the cracks.

Draglade, in its essence, is a 2D fighter that introduces you to the world of Grapping. Combining elements of martial arts and music, Grapping is a new sport that seems to have taken the game's world by storm. The characters you can choose for the story mode all have the same ultimate goal: to become a Major Grapper. Each character has a different motive for wanting to do so, but each must go through a series of tournament-style exams to earn the coveted title. The weapons used in the game are called Glades, which can emit sounds when they strike (this is where the musical element comes in).

As far as the musical aspect goes, though, something must be clarified first: Draglade is not a rhythm game in any way, shape, or form. For someone looking for an absolute fighter and rhythm game hybrid, Draglade is not it. Instead, this game can better be described as a fighter meets beat 'em up platformer, with some RPG and music-infused elements. While that may sound ridiculously complicated, Atlus has somehow managed to make it all work in one simple package.

In terms of 2D fighters, Draglade has a lot of depth. First off, the story mode allows you to choose from four characters, with each having different Glades, strengths, and weaknesses. Speed, power, reach, Glade affinity, and other aspects change depending on which character you choose. Aside from that, the game also includes a "Bullet" system. Bullets can be either offensive or supportive, and you can carry up to six in your DS-looking "Dragon Sequencer." There are also some Bullets, like "Taunt," which have no real use for battle, but are still fun to use on occasion.

The game has a total of 100 Bullets, leaving the player with a lot of options when figuring out the style of play best suited for them. All these Bullets aren't just given out at the start of the game, though; that would be too easy. Rather, the player has to either collect them through quests or buy them at a town's Bullet shop. Also, Bullets require "BP" to use, with more powerful ones needing more BP. A player's BP gauge refills with time and from hitting an opponent, but its existence prevents players from relying on Bullets completely to win battles.

As for the musical element of the game, the player also has the option of using "Beat Combos" while fighting. When these combos are utilized, a musical beat score will play during attacks. Beat Combos (which also drain one's BP gauge) are activated by pressing the "L" button, at which point the player has to press the "Y" button in time with the beat shown in one's rhythm gauge. Syncing up button presses with the rhythm gauge will deal out more damage, but most Beat Combos can be pulled off by rapidly pressing the "Y" button.

While even the most basic of rhythm games put the Beat Combo system in Draglade to shame, it still has some redeeming qualities. For one, Beat Combos can be customized, meaning that players can create their own beat scores. Not only can the player change the rhythm and notes in a beat score, but there is also a choice of eight different tones to use. Hearing your customized tune during battle is enough of a reason alone to want to use them, but they can also be powerful attacks and earn a player more money during fights. The player also has the option to purchase pre-made beat scores in different towns.

Rather than be a run-of-the-mill fighter, the game is also a side-scrolling adventure with some added RPG elements. Some side quests and portions of the main story utilize a platformer format, during which the player must kill all enemies in order to advance to the next screen. Defeating foes will earn you experience, which then leads to level-ups, which in turn increases your character's total hit points. You also earn money through fighting, which you can use to buy better Bullets or beat scores.

Besides having a deep fighting structure, Draglade boasts some nice multiplayer features. For one, versus and co-op play are available via a local wireless connection. The versus mode only requires one copy of the game to play, but co-op and trading features require carts from both players. Moreover, by using Wi-Fi, a player can fight against a friend or random fighter to increase their world rank.

It's of note, too, that a lot of factors in the game add replayability. Although a character's story mode will probably only take you two to five hours to complete, depending on whether or not you embark on all the side quests, the fact that there's four different stories to play through will add to your play time. There's also five unlockable characters (which can only be used for training or multiplayer battles, not in story mode), and the temptation to collect all the Bullets and Grapping medals.

The basics:

Controls: The fighting controls are relatively simple and intuitive, which is all that really matters, but the menu controls can be a little confusing. Some illogical interfaces also add to menu annoyances, making the controls that much more frustrating. After spending sometime with the game, however, you'll get used to the weird menu quirks.

Visuals: The 2D graphics aren't bad, but there's definitely nothing impressive about them. The settings are nice but a little bland, although the game does utilize a lot of bright colors. The biggest downfall in terms of visuals is the recycling of sprites for NPCs and enemies, as it can get a little tiring to fight the same enemies over and over.

Sound: Like the visuals, the music in the game is neither hit nor miss, but rather middle of the line. Only one town in the game had an interesting theme, while the rest were easily forgettable. Still, the addition of customizable midi sequences during battle makes sound in Draglade worthwhile.

Story: While the stories are pretty generic, the fact that each character runs into different enemies and they all have their own reason for wanting to be a Major Grapper helps keep things fresh . Don't expect epic or mind-blowing stories like you'll find in most RPGs, but rather simple characters with simple motives for doing what they're doing.

Difficulty: For the most part, the game isn't too challenging. An occasional side quest might be hard, and the boss battles toward the end might prove difficult, but a forgiving leveling-up system (when you die, you keep your levels even if you haven't had a chance to save) will prevent things from being hard for too long.

Final Score: 8.0/10 -- Some aspects of the game leave more to be desired, and at times the game can feel a little repetitive, but the good features of the game outweigh the bad. The unique combination of genres and addition of musical elements will make this game unlike anything you have played before. Also, unlockable characters, multiple story modes, and fun multiplayer battles ensure that you'll be spending many hours playing Draglade. All in all, fans of 2D fighters will find a lot to appreciate in this game.

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