Crimson Dragon is a spiritual successor to Panzer Dragoon, an insanely awesome rail shooter where you fly dragons and shoot other dragons. Originally released on Sega Saturn back in 1996, I spent countless hours playing Panzer Dragoon and it was one of my favorite games ever released on the console. Crimson Dragon is essentially Panzer Dragoon with a different name, as it looks and feels just like its predecessor.
I was extremely excited when I heard that Crimson Dragon was coming exclusively to Xbox One, but was a little unsure of how the game would turn out. It was originally intended to be a Kinect game for Xbox 360, but somewhere along the line, Yukio Futatsugi and his team decided to drop Kinect for a traditional gamepad and make the jump to Xbox One. This turned out to be a great decision, as the game just feels right with an Xbox controller and looks beautiful in a way that is hard to describe with words.
You play as a rookie dragon rider working for Icarus Division, a squad of riders that work to eradicate any problems that may arise on planet Draco. As it turns out, an enormous (and hideous) dragon known as the White Phantom is spreading some kind of unknown disease and infecting all other creatures that inhabit the planet. Along the way, you will uncover more about the history of humans and dragons on Draco, while also discovering long forgotten locations like the Lost Colony.
Controlling your dragon is fairly simple. You move your dragon around the screen with the left thumbstick and target enemies with the right. Dragons also feature a barrel roll that can be performed with the left or right bumpers, depending on which direction you want to roll. To lock on to an enemy, just move your reticule over them and the game will automatically target any vulnerable spots on the creature. Once you have targeted an enemy, use the right trigger to fire your current weapon. You can equip a secondary weapon in addition to your primary, and can switch between these two weapons on the fly with the left trigger. While many secondary weapons are simply meant to deal damage, others can create force fields to repel enemy attacks or replenish your dragon’s health with every kill achieved.
Crimson Dragon is visually resplendent. Draco is an amazingly vibrant planet, bursting with vivid greens, reds, and blues. The game will take players through gleaming crystal lakes, damp underground caverns, tropical rainforests, and forgotten colonies. While there are only a handful of locations, you will be tasked to complete multiple missions at each one. Even so, these locations continue to feel different whenever you are tasked to revisit them, as each mission will take you through a completely new path. The overall theme will remain the same, but set pieces and enemies are always being mixed up to keep things fresh.
Since pretty much all of the creatures on planet Draco are infected, players are almost constantly surrounded by enemies. You will face everything from other dragons, to deformed bats, exotics wasps, or flying jellyfish and sharks. Bosses will range from giant eels that can only be targeted when jumping out of water, to a certain giant purple dragon with eyes on his wings and a giant eye in the middle of his back. Yes, all of the creatures on Draco look immensely strange, yet beautiful in their own way.
During boss battles and other situations, riders will occasionally journey into free fly zones. In these areas your dragon is taken off the rails and you are given full control over where to fly and who to target. Other times, you might be tasked with killing enemies in a certain time limit. Also, there are usually a number of beacons to be collected on each mission and collecting these will net players some sweet XP or money bonuses. No matter what you are doing in Crimson Dragon, you are always being graded. The rewards you receive will depend on how well you play.
Before every mission, you can equip an Ampoule. These will increase certain things for your dragon, like attack or defense power, and will last for the duration of the level. You can also hire a Wingman to help you on the current mission. Hiring a Wingman will allow you to perform a certain number of special attacks, depending on who you have chosen. These special attacks can deal devastating amounts of damage. Smart riders will save them for boss battles or overwhelmingly tight situations. You can hire on people from your Xbox Live friends list to accompany you as a Wingman too. A small, but welcome addition.
As you play through the game, you will unlock more dragons. When you aren’t on a mission, you will be spending your time in the Dragon Roost. This can be found in the main menu and it is where you will handle all of your dragons. After selecting which dragon you want to modify, there are a number of different things that can be done to improve your scaled ally. During missions, you will acquire XP pills and other items that can be fed to your dragon. These items can level up your dragon, or teach them new skills to help you in battle. Occasionally, you will acquire rare items that can be used to Evolve your dragon or change their Attribute. For example, the Bloodskin Blaze dragon can be upgraded to a Bloodskin Breeze. It is essentially the same dragon stats wise, but will change their powers from fire to wind in addition to giving your dragon a new color. Each dragon caps at a level of 10, but once this is reached you can Evolve your dragon for further improvement if you have gathered the required items.
The Shop is also accessed in the main menu and is where you purchase items with credits you have earned in the game. Each day you play Crimson Dragon, you will be rewarded with a daily bonus. This often ends up being gems, which are a second form of in-game currency that can also be purchased with real money. Every item can be purchased with credits or gems, and there is nothing in the Shop that requires players to spend real cash. I’ve spent countless hours with Crimson Dragon and never once felt like I needed to shell out actual dollars. The main attractions in the shop are new dragons, but there are two other items you will want to spend your credits on. We are already familiar with Item Packs from games like Mass Effect 3 and Dead Space 2. There are 3 types of item packs in Crimson Dragon, and purchasing these will reward you with random Ampoules and Skills for your dragons. You can also purchase revival gems, which allow you to carry on a mission without having to restart if your dragon falls in battle.
Overall, Crimson Dragon is a true successor to Panzer Dragoon and is a ton of fun to play. It doesn’t revolutionize gaming or set a new standard, but it plays to its strengths and does them well. It’s a beautiful game, with awesome dragons and breathtaking locations. It might take a couple missions before you get used to flying your dragon and aiming at the same time, but the controls are tight and responsive. My only real complaint about Crimson Dragon is that camera angles can be disorientating at times. They occasionally change in a completely different direction and can throw you off balance. Crimson Dragon is a single player experience for now, but co-op is being added for free in a future update so you can tackle your favorite missions with friends. If you are a fan of dragons or fun that comes with a challenge, then Crimson Dragon is definitely worth a look. If you are a fan of Panzer Dragoon, then Crimson Dragon is a must buy.
This review is based on a digital copy of Crimson Dragon for Xbox One, provided to Frag Tag Radio by Microsoft Studios.