Turn based RPG’s are hit and miss affairs and you can often tell right from the outset of the first pitched battle whether a game in the genre is going to be either. Dragoneer’s Aria falls into the latter category. The story revolves around young Valen who is about to graduate from the Dragoon Academy, an academy that trains the best of the best into the defenders of the land. On the day of the graduation ceremony the city is attacked and a black dragon destroys the city’s palace instead of the six elemental dragons born from the shattering of Grin’lek, the original holy dragon who usually show to give their blessings to the new Dragoons. During these events, the water dragon is injured. As Valen you are tasked to find out exactly what is going on and to find out the status of the other dragons. So the journey begins and along the way you make some interesting discoveries about the fate of the dragons and picking up new friends and party members along the way.
The game world itself is rather disappointing, recent titles have shown us exactly what the PSP is capable of in terms of visual quality yet none of that comes across in Dragoneer’s Aria. The textures are bland and uninteresting, the areas and cities are incredibly sparse, with the occasional character popping up now and then falling to give any kind of impression of a living world. Instead what we get is one without a pulse. The character designs are unimaginative and clichéd drawing from every turn based RPG made in the last ten years. Gameplay is slow and just generally tedious, necessary characters such as shopkeepers spout needless amounts of information before actually allowing you to buy anything. The world is so expansive compared to the amount of content in it that getting from one place to another feels like a struggle in itself. Add to this a camera that refuses to cooperate even in the slightest and you have a recipe for frustration.
Combat is typical of any turn based RPG with no innovations save for attacks called ‘Dragon Skills’ that can be linked together in various combos to inflict extra damage. There is hardly anything new or groundbreaking and everything appears slow and repetitive. Item customisation is done with magical jewels called Lusces which can be attached to various rings and trinkets to bestow magical abilities upon the wielder. These skills improve over time and with repetitive use. Dialog is boring and bland and none of the characters have a shred of unique personality. Each character feels like they have been ripped wholesale out of various other games and the plot progression seems very slow. There is no real payoff at the end for those that actually muster the patience to soldier on through the entire title.
The multiplayer is perhaps the only thing that Dragoneer’s Aria has going for it. Dubbed ‘Dragoneer mode’, the multiplayer pits up to four players over the PSP’s wireless against a series of dragons and their lairs. Instead of controlling a party of characters like in the single player game, each player controls one character as part of the larger party and serves a specific role. It almost feels like the simplified turn based cousin of World of Warcraft’s raiding encounters except not nearly as exciting. With Dragoneer’s Aria you can see what the developers were trying to achieve, the problem is they didn’t try anything new. They didn’t add any interesting features unique to the title nor did they put the work into individualising the characters past the point of other generic RPG’s. What you end up with is a game which lacks distinctive style, original storytelling, user-friendly design and ends up being utterly mediocre.