With the kind of punctuality that a Swiss railway could only dream of, yet another KEMCO title has heaved into view over the gaming horizon. As you’d probably expect by now, the game in question isn’t a first-person shooter, or even a cute kart-based racer, but a retro-styled JRPG. Taking inspiration this time around from properly retro games, like the seminal Final Fantasy 6, the graphics on display here are blocky piles of pixels, yet all seem to have personality; as we’ve come to expect from KEMCO. So, come with me to an 8-bit world of peril, dragons, and jobs.
The story of Dragon Lapis is a corker. 1000 years ago, two dragons – one Gold, one Silver – fought and fought until the world was a ruin. A hero, Alaric, arose to take the fight to the dragons, and by sealing away their power inside jewels known as Dragon Lapis, he was able to imprison the beasties and a new dawn of peace and prosperity came over the land. However, this peace was to be short-lived, lasting only 1000 years before someone decided it was about time to revive the dragons. We play as a bloke called Lucas, who, as luck would have it, is a descendant of the fabled Alaric. We meet a girl called Iria, who is the Golden Dragon in human form, and when the two meet, the seals that kept them from tapping their true powers begins to break, and the story is set in motion. Of course, the Silver Dragon, Ishtar, isn’t sitting around twiddling her thumbs; she has found a descendant of Alaric to help her. Can Lucas, Iria, and the two other heroes they meet along the way, Melvin and Elodie, save the world again?
The game is pretty much business as usual – a large world map with multiple dungeons and towns to visit, with exploration bringing its own reward, as the merchants in the towns you visit have stronger and stronger gear to buy as you go through the game. You’ll need it too, as every five steps, seemingly, the game will trigger a battle, and the view will shift from the side as a turn-based battle, instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played a JRPG before, unfolds.
Choosing to attack, use items or skills, guard or even running away are all actions that are available, but every fight just degenerates into a slug-fest to see who falls over first. Thankfully, it’s rarely your characters. As you battle, you gain EXP points, leveling up, and becoming stronger. However, there is a twist in this leveling up mechanic in the shape of growth plates. Now, what growth plates do is allow your character to learn a job, and then level that job up. For instance, Lucas starts off as a warrior, and as you gain and complete warrior-type job plates, every fifth level, the job changes. He can become a Berserker, and then five levels later a Chevalier. Once you reach level 15 (in effect), the rank of the job won’t rise any more, but the benefits of completing a plate will still accrue – for example, completing a warrior plate gives you 20 more base HP.
To finish these plates a different type of point is used, that of EP. Now, there are only three ways to gain EP and make yourself stronger: one is to use various items that bestow EP upon the party or a single member, the next is to defeat metal monsters that appear in certain areas in the game, and the last is by completing missions that appear before a random fight. These can vary from “Use an item to restore HP” right up to “Do 1000 damage in a single attack” and award differing amounts of EP for each one.
These jobs are great, and there is a good variety of them to go at, but to be honest for the most part I have maxed out my four character’s starting jobs and just left it at that; I haven’t felt the need to change. If you do change, for instance switching Iria from a Sage to a Neo-Dragonite, they do get a cool different look in the battle screens, and the equipment that they can use also changes. So bear in mind that if you only have low level gear for a particular job, if you change to said job you could well make the team less efficient.
This shouldn’t be too much of an issue however, as the difficulty level in Dragon Lapis is best described as “dumbed down”. I have, without a word of a lie, gone through 95% of this game, including boss fights, by pressing the “auto battle” button and leaving them to it. I have never died, I haven’t lost a fight, and it all seems very straightforward, disappointingly so. What is also disappointing is the return of the traditional KEMCO control issues, where a mobile gaming experience has been mapped, very badly, to an analogue stick. Walking diagonally is completely impossible, and trying to line up for a small gap is an exercise in frustration. It is more noticeable this time around, for some reason, and you can never quite forget it’s there.
The game looks good though, with characterful sprites expressing emotions through the medium of almost emoji-like symbols that appear above their heads, and the music is stirring and fits the game perfectly. The only issue I have with the audio is the tune that accompanies a decision to stay at an inn – something you’ll need to do as health isn’t recovered between fights. The tunes in these types of games are generally soothing, implying a restful night; except here it is jarring and discordant, and sounds to me like the shower scene in Psycho. It just doesn’t fit.
So, a conclusion is required, and here we go. Dragon Lapis on Xbox One is easy, but fun. The story is pretty good, however the controls are annoying and the whole thing does seem a little bloated, forcing us to go to places that we really don’t need to. Aside from that though, all in all it’s a pretty good little playthrough. If you like a retro JRPG, but aren’t very good at them, this could well be the game for you!