Alisia Dragoon
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Game Arts
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • US 03/30/1992
    • UK 03/30/1992
    • JP 04/24/1992
Score: 75%

This review was published on 09/11/2015.

Alisia Dragoon is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Game Arts for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive. It was released in North America and Europe on March 30, 1992, and Japan on April 24, 1992. The game was published in North America and Europe by Sega and Game Arts in Japan. Gainax, a fairly reputable Japanese animation company, assisted in the development of Alisia Dragoon by doing the story and art. Just for reference, Gainax later went on to create the extremely popular Neon Genesis Evangelion anime in 1995. The Japanese box art depicted Alisia as a dainty sorceress in an anime style, but the North American and European localization changed her into a barbaric warrior with rippling muscles that was reminiscent of the Western style prevalent at the time. This was one of the few games to openly feature a female protagonist during the era, although Metroid certainly beat it to the punch in that regard. Despite attaining critical acclaim, Alisia Dragoon didn't sell very well in any of the territories it was available in. That's somewhat disheartening, because while Alisia Dragoon isn't the best thing ever, it's still a solid title for the Genesis.

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The plot to Alisia Dragoon differs depending on whether you're playing the Japanese or Western version of the game. This was a relatively common localization practice for the time. In the North American and European versions of the game, the plot is pretty simple: a strange object crashes into the Earth and starts producing ravenous monsters that begin to ravage the land, and the female gladiator, Alisia, must vanquish them all. Things get considerably more complex in the Japanese plot, most of which is described in the manual. In that version, Alisia is the daughter of a powerful sorcerer responsible for imprisoning the game's main antagonist, Baldour, inside of a cocoon. The cocoon prison was then launched into outer space to make sure that Baldour would never see the light of day again. Unfortunately, this caused the followers of Baldour to seek out Alisia's father and mercilessly torture him to death. After a time, Baldour crashes back onto the planet and awakens from his imprisonment, thrusting the world into peril. It now falls to Alisia to finish what her father started by terminating Baldour and his disciples. The Japanese got the better story by far, but that hardly matters for a game like this.

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For a simple action game, the mechanics are a bit on the complex side. You can do the usual walking, ducking, and jumping of a platform game, but there's a lot more to it than that. First of all, you'll notice very quickly that there are a ton of meters and bars all over the place. The most obvious one is your life bar, which starts out at a certain length, but can be permanently upgraded by acquiring certain power-ups. Everything else is considerably less obvious, however. The second most pertinent meter is the lightning bar that governs Alisia's primary means of offense; she can shoot lightning out of her fingertips. The bar drains whenever she does this, and when it's empty, she won't be able to attack. Fortunately, the bar slowly refills itself whenever Alisia isn't attacking, ensuring that she'll never run out of this peculiar ability. You can upgrade this attack by grabbing power-ups, just like the life meter. The most interesting thing about this lightning attack is that it automatically homes in on multiple nearby enemies, so you don't have to manually aim it. If you wait for the bar to completely max out, then Alisia will be able to use a super powered version of the attack that hits all enemies on the screen. It may feel overpowered, but the game is hard enough to balance things out.

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Assisting Alisia on her quest are her four creature companions. You start the game with all four of them right off the bat and can freely switch between them, though only one can be out at a time. Each one will float alongside Alisia while periodically attacking incoming enemies. Creature companions include a dragon that spits fireballs, a raven that zaps the whole screen with thunder, a lizard that throws boomerangs, and a flame entity that singes foes with its hot body. They all have separate attack bars that gradually fill over time; this determines how often they can attack, as they're only able to do so once the bar is full. The creatures each have their own life bars separate from Alisia, meaning they'll die if they sustain enough damage. Dead companions can only be revived if you pick up a certain item, so you need to cautiously watch over them. Both the life bar and attack power of every companion can be upgraded by collecting special power-ups, though they'll lose everything if they die. The companion system is neat, but due to the extremely poor AI, they'll frequently get into harm's way and die. As a result, trying to keep your companions alive is incredibly frustrating.

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Eight treacherous stages await you in the game of Alisia Dragoon. Well, it's more like seven, because the eighth one is merely the final boss. Anyway, all stages are linear affairs, tasking you with getting to the end while surviving attacks from countless fiendish foes. Every stage has pretty visuals and is usually accompanied by pleasant music. The stages in this game are more focused on dealing with enemies than with the environment, differentiating it from stuff like Mario. Some stages do still have cool designs despite the focus on enemies, though. For instance, there's an airship stage, and as Super Mario Bros. 3 has taught us, those are always good fun. Unlike Mario 3, however, the airship level in Alisia Dragoon has no bottomless pits whatsoever, which is quite nice. In fact, there are no bottomless pits in the game, period. The absence of bottomless pits and tricky jumps allows players to better focus their attention on the true star of the show; enemies. Constant swarms of enemies will approach you from all edges of the screen, forcing you to always be on the defensive. Because your lightning runs out after a while, you need to know when to attack and when to sit still to regenerate power, giving strategy to the hectic action. Mowing down countless creatures with your powerful lightning attack is an enjoyable way to pass the time.

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Bodacious bosses brazenly boast big bounties. The first boss battle starts small, consisting of a simple fight against two ninjas, but most of the rest increase in scale somewhat. They also increase in difficulty drastically. New players can expect to get a Game Over as soon as the second boss, which is a shambling swamp monster. The aforementioned boss can be totally trivialized by upgrading Alisia's attack power with power-ups, though. That makes the gathering of hidden lightning power-ups absolutely crucial to survival. Strangely, some of the later bosses are easier than the swamp beast, making the difficulty feel a tad imbalanced. Boss battles go back and forth between ridiculously hard and stupidly easy. Even though there's a big emphasis on enemy encounters, the bosses in this game aren't too great. For example, the boss of stage three is nothing more than a bunch of turret-like creatures that repeatedly shoot bullets at you. A few bosses are cool, though, such as a deadly tank-like machine that shoots lasers. If only more of them were good.

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A huge problem with the game is that you start with only one continue, resulting in a trip back to the title screen as soon as you die. You can earn some extra lives whilst playing the game, but they're exceedingly scarce. Not only that, but in the rare event that you die with some extra lives remaining, you'll be sent all the way back to the beginning of the current stage you were on. To make matters worse, the last couple of stages are insanely difficult, which is to be expected of a Genesis era action game. All this unusual cruelty makes beating the game a tall order. There's nothing wrong with challenge, but it would have been nice if Alisia Dragoon were a bit more forgiving. In case you're stark raving mad, there's a hard move available that makes things even more unforgiving. Alisia is a cruel mistress.

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All things considered, Alisia Dragoon is a pretty dandy game. The graphics are quite good, the music is nice, the controls are tight, and the game play is reasonable. As annoying as it is to have your creature companions die due to poor AI, the concept itself is very neat. The way Alisia's lightning attack bends to automatically zap nearby enemies is also impressive from a technological standpoint, as it must have been a programming nightmare to get it so accurate. That accuracy is greatly appreciated, because it makes the attack very satisfying to use. I also like how the game mixes medieval fantasy with science fiction. The only issues the game suffers from are poor boss fights and the fact that it's so hard and unforgiving, rendering it unbeatable for many people. Other than that, Alisia Dragoon is a fine game.

Word Count: 1,549

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