Capcom's the King of Dragons Brings the Fire With Classic Beat 'Em up Fantasy Action
Ah...Capcom. Back in the day they used to hammer out hit after hit and now...well that's debatable. But back in the day Capcom was quite the powerhouse, and today's game, their 1991 fantasy hack 'n' slash The King of Dragons, is a testament to that. Running off of Capcom's famous Capcom Play System (Commonly referred to as CPS) hardware The King of Dragons offered three player co-op and the choice of playing between five different adventurers, each with their own unique abilities and stats. Players pick their adventurer, with the chance to change them at multiple points in the game, and take the fight to the red dragon Glidiss, overcoming an army of evil fantasy creatures and liberating a kingdom along the way. With that out of the way, let's get right into The King of Dragons!
Calling All Heroes!
All is not well in the Kingdom of Malus. The evil red dragon Gildiss had terrorized the kingdom for over a hundred years, and by using the spell of a great wizard, the king was able to put the fearsome beast to sleep for one year. Using this short time to temporarily stop the suffering of his people the king sent fourth hundreds of warriors to find and kill Gildiss in his sleep, but none prevailed. The time is nigh for Gildiss to reawaken, and now darkness falls upon Malus once again and in the wake of this monsters and evil besiege the kingdom... but there is hope as five adventurers rise up to challenge Gildiss and set the Kingdom of Malus free.
The game can be played by up to three players, each choosing their own character to quest with, though as mentioned before there are various opportunities to choose a different character at different points in the game. I personally think it would've been awesome if they could've did what the X-Men arcade game by Konami did, where there was a special deluxe six player version where you could have all six X-Men playable in the game on screen at once. Controls-wise, it's pretty standard issue with eight-way movement, an attack and jump button, and the classic Desperation Move in the form of what I call the Magic Attack; by pressing Attack + Jump your character will send a blast of magic throughout the field, damaging all opponents but costing some of your HP. Your character's magical abilities determine the strength of this too. In addition, characters with a shield (so Cleric, Fighter, and Dwarf) can block by motioning away from the attacker right before the attack hits. It's a little tricky to learn how to pull off, but it's a useful ability.
Each character is of course a different fantasy class, and so comes with their own advantages and disadvantages like with any fantasy game, or any beat 'em up for that matter. Before pressing on, I'd like to quickly go over these characters and their attributes.
Derek the Fighter
Like most fantasy game fighters, Derek has a strong attack power, the second strongest in the game in fact, but suffers from a low magic power which affects the strength of used magical spheres or the Magic Attack. Derek also gains the most HP out of the others. A favorite of those who like to be very aggressive and fast with the option to be defensive via use of Derek's speed.
Aldo the Cleric
Aldo is the biggest character in the game, and also the slowest, and can only jump in slow hops. However, he's got the best defense that's complemented with the quickest recovery from the shield block and rather decent attack and magic power. Aldo also levels up faster than the others. He's a good pick if you want someone who's a little bit more balanced with some good defense, especially if you don't mind playing a mighty glacier type (That is, a slow but strong character).
Leger the Wizard
Leger is a prime example of the investment that is hard in the beginning, but pays off later big time. While he has low HP and defense, his magic is the highest and in the later levels his magic becomes so powerful that it packs even more punch than Derek's blade and even has multiple hits worked into it, making up for how his upgrades do not make him attack faster like with the other characters. If you don't mind starting out a little weak but eventually becoming a powerhouse with the ability to deal serious damage with Magic Attacks Leger is the man for you.
Ravel the Elf
This elven archer comes packed with the best speed and the largest range, but the worst defense in the game which never increases. A fragile speedster by every definition of the trope; that is, he's quick but goes down fairly easy after a few hits. However, this speed and his jumping can be used to gain the advantage, as you can keep yourself running circles around foes. Plus the equipment he gains in the game increases both his attack power and attack speed. Give this Elf a try if you're fine with being on the move and want to attack foes from afar and is good with moving around quickly.
Vargas the Dwarf
The smallest adventurer of the five, this fierce little warrior comes packed with the quickest meele speed, the second best defense, and the longest jump. But the tradeoff for this is a character with weak magic and the worst range; see the Cleric and Fighter have a short ranged attack that comes out with every other swipe, while Vargas' short range attack comes out with every third strike. He seems to be a good character for those who want to get in and get their strikes in more up close and personal than with the others.
Out of these five adventurers, which one do you like?
A Classic Cast of Fantasy Villains
One of the elements that makes The King of Dragons so much fun the assortment of various brightly colored baddies you'll be hacking, shooting, or blasting away in your quest to defeat Gildiss. They've got everything from Orcs to Skeletons, Wolfmen, Minotaurs, Harpies, Mermen - they even have the Evil Wizard and a Dragon Knight! Though Glidiss seems to have taken a note from Sauron, as he seems to be very partial to using Orcs as his basic foot soldiers, though in later levels there's what I assume are evil humans who ride miniature dragons, shoot a volley of arrows at you, and Black and Royal Knights who challenge you to a duel.
That's what's nice about this game. The high volume of bad guys to fight helps give a good variety and due to the generic design of said characters it doesn't feel at all odd when you hack down your fiftieth Green Orc; contrast with games like Final Fight where you can beat down fifty or more punks who all seem to shop at the same store. It doesn't make Final Fight any less fun, but it still leaves one wondering where the Mad Gear Gang gets all these similarly dressed guys from. How do they tell each other apart? It's also nice as each bad guy tends to stick to certain areas. Okay, the Orcs will hound you throughout your adventures but for example the Skeletons tend to haunt abandoned towers and caves and underground passages, and Mermen only show up where there's water, and at one point early in the game attacks the players as they sail to an abandoned tower by boat.
The boss monsters are of course a repertoire of larger and big name monsters. You've got the first stage's fearsome Orc King, a Minotaur that guards an old castle, a Wyvern in a mountain passage, and a Dragon Knight leading a siege on Malus, just to name a few. Some bosses even include multiple monsters, such as the Royal Knights, the Wraiths that haunt a secret passage, and Giant Spiders infesting and infecting a magical tree.
The Adventure Itself
Your quest will take you throughout all kinds of token fantasy settings, from a small forest village beset by Orcs to caves where Hydras live to castles and forts taken over by monsters. Much like with the fantasy monsters, the game hits pretty much all of the typical fantasy settings as well. And in bright vibrant color too; even the dark forests and secret passageways and caves have these lively colors about them.
The question of how hard the game is depends on what character you're playing, or at least that's what I've found. And this makes sense, considering characters like Ravel the Elf go down with two to three hits...but man is it fun to run circles around opponents and peg them with arrows. As with most beat 'em ups, death is something to be expected to happen. A lot. Though I found myself dying mostly on boss monsters and never really felt too overwhelmed by the forces set upon me, which is nice as some beat 'em ups just throw hordes of bad guys at you that mercilessly pound you to death if you so much as step in the wrong direction.
A nice touch to the whole fantasy element also comes in the form of your score; in fact you don't even have a score but instead experience points (curiously abbreviated as EP instead of the more common EXP) which are gained from of course killing monsters and picking up treasures. Every so often, and the length varies depending on your chosen character, you will "LEVEL UP!" and gain more HP to keep the fight going longer. Other attributes such as defense, attack speed and attack strength are gathered through special treasures usually found after slaying a boss monster, and of course are tailored to each characters' class; the Elf gathers Bows and Arrows, the Warrior gathers Shields and Swords, the Dwarf Axes and Shields, the Cleric Clubs/Hammers and Shields, and the Wizard Amulets and Staves. Another nice touch is that your characters will actually be shown with these new equipped items when you get them, instead of some RPG-like games I've seen where you just pick up/equip the item and nothing changes outside of some stats.
One thing I also must mention is the music. The music is amazing and very well done and epic, and like pretty much everything else lends itself to the great classic fantasy look and feel. Yoko Shimomura of Kingdom Hearts fame provided the music for The King of Dragons, and I must admit this is one of my more favorite arcade tracks. I personally like the starting levels' theme and the theme that plays when you're out in the battlefields.
A Mighty Quest for All Heroes
So The King of Dragons...definitely a recommended game for all players. Come ye beat 'em up fans, hack 'n' slash fans, or fans just looking for a simple action packed game! There are plenty of monsters to slay and more than enough treasures to go around. Let us journey forward and slay all evil that dares to disrupt peace and tranquility! As a follow up to Knights of the Round its pretty sweet, and it even gets improved upon, and dare I say made better in Capcom's Dungeons & Dragons games that came out after this one, continuing the ideas of leveling up characters and gathering gear and equipment. But ah...that is another adventure for another time.
And as usual, we've got a playthrough of the game all ready for your viewing pleasure brought to you by yours truly. I give commentary as I attempt to defeat Gildiss myself while playing all of the classes at various points to give you all a chance to see them all in action.
Thank you for reading, and I'll see you all in the next level! Take care!
Other Hubs in The Arcade Appreciation Series
1. The King of Dragons (You are here!)
2. The House of the Dead