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Custom Beat Battle: Draglade 2

It’s sad, if you think about it. Disturbing, actually. Kids are being paid to wield weapons and beat each other into submission. Oh, it seems innocent; the only thing that really gets injured in these fights is pride. There are even musical sound effects when a hit, cut, slash, and jab successfully connect. Grapping is supposedly an innocent pastime, a sport made accessible through the miracles of modern technology. But that’s what they want you to think. There’s no way of knowing that all those young warriors make it out of their battles unscathed. Not to mention the fact that its basic premise is even more barbaric than that of the Pokémon series. Yet the decadent masses eat it all up, packing into stadiums to cheer on a couple of kids pretending to murder each other. What’s even worse are the contenders themselves; they honestly believe that if they fight hard enough, they’ll be crowned Major Grapper and be celebrated throughout the land.

What a wonderful, terrible delusion.

At least Draglade 2 doesn’t shove the utterly clichéd story down your throat. Yes, there are plenty of cut scenes and dialogue to sift through – all of which are skippable, by the way – but it’s not like there’s anything particularly important for you to understand what’s going on. That’s a good thing, considering that the game doesn’t offer an English translation option. Instead, you’ll end up wandering from one stadium to the next, dashing down a bunch of interconnected sidescrolling rooms and striking up conversations with random NPCs in the hope that it’ll trigger the next plot point. It’s not as bad as it sounds, though; most of the areas are small and the majority of the gameplay progression involves fighting a few challengers and going to the right arena. Some of the necessary areas are even highlighted on the map display on the touch screen. Just fight a bunch of throwaway villains, find the right person to talk with, go to the correct stadium, and participate in the next round of the tournament. Rinse and repeat several more times, and you’ll be crowned Major Grapper. Simple and straightforward, if not a little tedious.

“At least Draglade 2 doesn’t shove the utterly clichéd story down your throat”Your efforts pay off, though. Once you’ve finally figured out how to access the actual battles, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best-designed fighting game mechanics on the DS. Grappers are renowned for their ability to wield Glades, weapons that emit musical sounds when they make contact with something. That unique power makes Grapping far less of a gruesome spectacle than it could have been; Glades take on the form of swords, axes, spears, gauntlets, hooks, hammers, and a few other potential murder weapons. Wielding these things doesn’t require nearly as much finesse, either. All you have to do is tap the appropriate buttons to string together light or strong attack combos. Simple directional pad inputs offer uppercuts, forward tackles, dashes, and throws. Since the game balances out your weapons based on its size, weight, and range, a bit of practice will be needed in order to learn how to use the effectively. You’ll have to practice, too; the AI is more than capable enough to slaughter you. Considering how easy it is to pick up the controls, you’ll be a serious contender in no time. With a bit of platforming and intense pacing, the combat put most other real-time gameplay on the DS to shame.

Too bad hacking and slashing won’t be enough to keep you alive. Each fighter also comes packing a customizable collection of elemental projectiles and powers that can be summoned almost infinitely. These “bullets” come in several forms be it fireballs, electrical currents, geysers, ice missiles, flamethrowers, energy beams, and several other devastating attacks. Other work in a more supportive role; you’ll come across foes who can render themselves invisible or temporarily boost their attack strength. Using them is as simple as entering a set button command, or merely tapping their corresponding icons on the touch screen. What keeps this system from being completely broken is its limited timing system. Whenever you use a bullet, it’ll be taken out of an energy meter at the bottom of the screen, thus forcing you to wait until it recharges before firing off another one. Figuring out the best opportunities to use these in battle is a strategy in itself; is it worth unleashing your most powerful move if you risk having the target block it or leaving yourself defenseless? But if you spend the energy using the Custom Beat Combo system (which creates several clones of your character a la V-ism in Street Fighter Alpha 3), you’ll be able to dish out tons of damage while enjoying the little musical jingle your weapon emits.

It’s not like you’re limited to just the Grapping tournament, either. You can always challenge the AI in some extra rounds, which nets you the much-needed prize money for all the bullets and music track available for purchase in each stadium. Once you’ve gotten sick of fighting all the generic combatants and unmemorable bosses, you’ll fall back on the game’s extensive multiplayer options. Not only Draglade 2 allow you to go mano a stylus-wielding mano with your friends, but it supports Wi-fi competition as well. You don’t need any friend codes or any of that unnecessary stuff; just get connected, do a search, and pray that you find someone else that actually owns this and plays it online. Should that miracle occur, you’ll be in for a surprisingly fun experience; the gameplay rarely suffers from any slowdown or lag. That’s a blessing, considering how much emphasis is placed on good timing and fluid combat mechanics.

Such emphasis is also shown through each of the challengers you’ll come across. These fighters are some of the most boring, run-of-the-mill animé stock characters you’ll ever see. There’s the overly confident protagonist with the spiky yellow hair, dual-wielding lightsabers. Or the morbidly obese guy, complete with the ridiculously oversized sledgehammer. But what makes them so appealing are the details to their designs; the sprites are animated right down to their dotted, blinking eyes. They look good even when they’re just standing around; you’ll see sleeves flapping, hair flowing, and legs moving to the rhythm of the background music. The attack animations flow smoothly together, despite fact that you’re not really pulling off any insane or over-the-top moves. There’s nothing quite as stylish as dishing out a string of hits, then following it up with a forward mid-air somersault and forward rush to finish things off. Though the bullet maneuvers don’t look quite as spiffy – most of your little tricks are pixilated beyond belief – the game still presents all the necessary stuff with impressive clarity.

You know what the sad thing is? Draglade 2 will never get the recognition or following that it deserves. Since it hasn’t gotten a stateside release, non-importers are going to be missing out. A shame, considering how fun it is. Yes, the story and characters are pathetic. Sure, the language barrier can make progression occasionally annoying. But the sheer quality of its gameplay mechanics make up for it. This game boasts some of the most lively, fast-paced 2D combat on the DS. Not only will you get to tear into your foes with simple and easily learned movesets, but you’ll be able to customize your fighter with several projectiles and other abilities. More importantly, this is one of the rare examples of a handheld title doing online competitive multiplayer well; assuming that you manage to find someone else with this game, you’ll be set for quite a while. Draglade fans, don’t miss out on this unfortunately obscure sequel. Everyone else, give it a shot; it may not be the most extensive or long-lasting title on the DS, but it’s got it where it counts.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

Gentle persuasion

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