Awhile back I alluded to the desire for more dragons in my reviews. Well, I, for one, am not about to let random, barely-known, non-readers down! It just so happens that I stumbled upon a little game that is both about dragons and related to something I’ve written about in the past. Also I actually like dragons, so perhaps I have an ulterior motive. Well, no matter! The reasoning doesn’t mean much in the long run. So perhaps I’ll quit kidnapping your time and just move onto the meat of the matter. Today’s pick from my hoard is a game I picked up on my cell phone. It’s another choose-your-own adventure style game called Choice of the Dragon.
Since I already discussed my feelings on video games and story in this vein, let’s get down to brass tacks. Choice of the Dragon is another game in a rather long line of offerings from choiceofgames.com, perhaps even one of the first. In it you play as a young dragon setting out on its own in search of a lair, riches, power, love… Whatever you want! Pillage villages, anger gods, fight wizards, and ultimately become the best dragon you can. Choose to engage the medieval fantasy world with brutality or finesse, honor or cunning, disdain or vigilance… Depending on how your actions, and therefore your stats, balance out, you may find yourself capable of certain feats and falling short of others.
As I stated this appears to be a much older game in the “Choice of” series and, honestly, it shows. Now I could be unfairly comparing this game to Choice of Robots, which had a finesse and style so solid that it really set my expectations high, but I’m fairly certain that Choice of the Dragon falls short on its own, a result perhaps of trying to fine-tune the game mechanics and nail down the writing. Whatever the case, the truth is that those elements are lacking. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad game. In fact, I quite enjoyed it, which may be why I find myself stuck on the parts that could’ve been better.
Choice of the Dragon, despite its grandiose focal point, is really limited in its choices and story expansion. Playing through the game once, of course, you likely wouldn’t notice, but this sort of adventure game’s biggest strength is the potential for replayability using simple methods. Unfortunately, a second playthrough of Choice of the Dragon reveals the futility of several choices. Though many are thoroughly written out, several pivotal points of the game either give you red herring options that just lead back to the same question or involve some level of stat that is unclear. You want to brazenly challenge the elder dragon (and surely die)? Too bad! You get the same reaction no matter which of the six options you choose. Seeking a mate? Well, they have very high standards and there’s no telling which courtship practice will woo which dragon. Trial and error are about the only way to get it down, and if you built up the wrong stat, you have to start again and hope you impress them. Oh, and a little bit of advice, don’t move in with them. It ends your story.
The limitations given to you are not the only let down. As I mentioned, the writing is also hit-and-miss. Though it starts pretty strong, keeping a bit of humor while setting up the fantasy setting, your narrator will switch characterization from sycophantic adviser to goofy meme-machine. Perhaps I’m too critical when it comes to this sort of thing, but when references to Trogdor the Burninator come out of left field, I only really want to roll my eyes and move on. I touched on this in my Undertale review, but I’ll expand on it here. In-jokes and referential humor are great. They compose about 80% of the conversations I have with my friends. But we find that stuff funny and relatable because the source was strong enough to make itself worthy of referral. Furthermore, the majority of their humor comes out of a shared notion of humor held between me and my friends. It’s not something that easily translates to a more massively consumed product. Undertale, I felt, had slipped a “tsundere” joke in far too early, smacking a bit too much of pandering to an anime geek crowd. Later on, however, Undertale revisited the joke with what I felt was a much better, much more involved delivery. There are certainly ways to put referential material into your video game, such as Biggs and Wedge in the Final Fantasy series. But the reference should be subtle and, preferably, seemlessly blended into the world. Those who would get the reference will be delighted and those who wouldn’t don’t feel confused or left out. (Or possibly even annoyed, if the references are pushed on them so fervently they reject the product in its entirety due to not being allowed to interpret it themselves.) However, I’m not saying that Choice of the Dragons alienated me with its Trogdor joke, but it certainly didn’t do itself any favors by throwing me out of my immersion.
Returning to choice, there are a few times where you can potentially pursue more options that branch off the main plot. Unfortunately, they always return you to the main path and leave your ultimate fate up to attribute checks. Can you beat the evil wizard? Yes? Go hibernate! No? Kill yourself. They aren’t necessarily badly written options on their own, but their limited nature in a setup so rife with potential provides less and less reason to replay it with each new game. You could try playing differently, but the story will still funnel you to the end with little to be gained for it.
Despite dwelling mostly on negative bits, I do actually think Choice of the Dragon is a decent game. It is relatively cheap (free with ads on the Google Play store, $4.99 without. Or you can just go to their website.) and provides a nice, mobile diversion when you’re killing time waiting for the bus or zoning out on the couch. You won’t be blown away by attention to detail, but you can pretend to be a dragon for a little while, and who doesn’t want to do that from time to time? However, if you are looking for a choose-your-own-adventure game with a bit more substance, I would definitely reconsider Choice of Robots. Overall, I enjoy what “Choice of” games is putting out there, and if indeed Choice of the Dragon is and older game and Choice of Robots is an example of their growth, then I can only imagine anything they produce after will be at the very least satisfying.