2017 has certainly been an interesting year for Eastern-themed titles. With the release of Team Ninja's exceptional Souls-inspired game, Nioh earlier this year, and Mimimi's phenomenal strategy-RPG Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, the indie developers at Megafun Games tried at an Eastern-influenced title wrapped in a 2.5D action-platformer. Hidden Dragon: Legend has released on the PS4 and PC for $19.99. Unfortunately, the game itself does not come close to the same pedigree as the aforementioned titles, despite offering some okay hack-n-slash gameplay mechanics.
The game does not do an admirable job in establishing the plot or driving the story. Instead, it throws you into a series of events and expects you to follow along. I had to do a bit of digging outside of the game to realize the story actually takes place roughly around the time of Wu Zetian's rise as Empress Regent during the Zhou Dynasty, which was otherwise completely left out of our knowledge during the opening acts of the game. Adding to the confusion, we assume the identity of amnesiac protagonist, Lu - who stumbles about a prison, not fully aware of how he ended up there - and is a plot device that is haphazardly explained through various dream sequenced cutscenes throughout the game.
Shortly after the prison tutorial, we are shown an extremely brief cutscene with an elder doctor and his daughter, who seemed to have nurtured Lu back to health. Both are immediately killed by a criminal organization, known simply as The Organization. The rest of the game followed this fragmented trend of lazily peppered story elements, lacking any genuine character development with our hero - which is one of the worst ways to handle the Amnesia Plot Device. It only works when there's a greater effort in building the world and surrounding characters for you to learn, discover and explore as the protagonist does - that's why the device is used. Having an amnesiac in a game that doesn't do a decent job in explaining much of anything only harms the narrative even more. Successful uses of amnesia can be found in games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Final Fantasy VII.
It is very clear that Hidden Dragon wasn't trying to offer a sensible narrative, and was more focused on the core action/platforming elements. Which is absolutely fine to a certain degree; in fact I'm far more forgiving of games that know they aren't offering the next greatest stories and are more upfront about it - especially if they want to focus on the core gameplay. Double Dragon Neon is a perfect example of this; the story is deliberately rudimentary and reuses the same trope of rescuing a girlfriend as a means to an end, but it worked. But trying at a story and offering minimal effort as far as the actual quality of said story is going to get noticed more than a deliberate lack of a story altogether.
Regarding the actual gameplay itself, Hidden Dragon: Legend is a 2.5D action platformer; you traverse the sidescrolling maps, fighting waves of enemies before encountering a mini-boss or stage boss. There's minimal exploration in the levels themselves outside of the occasional path that leads to chests that give you potions or whatnot. As a platformer, Hidden Dragon comes off as a very mediocre one. There's no grabbing onto ledges, wall-running or parkouring, and Lu's animation remains stiff and rigid throughout the jump animation.
Thankfully the combat system does have some strong elements to it. There are red orbs you acquire that act as your currency to level up various things, like increasing the number of combos you can do, and even improving the potency of existing ones. There was a lot of thought and time that actually went into the core combo mechanics and for the most part it works.
The combos themselves are a mixture of light/heavy attacks, similar to the combos found in something like God of War. On top of that there are quite a few different weapons you acquire as you complete the game, each with their own attributes and detriments; some are larger and heavier offering more power at the cost of speed. Where the gameplay starts to fumble a bit is how 'loose' everything feels. There's a latency in each swing, and some attacks do not register with enemies' frames leaving you open and vulnerable; early or late inputs can still lock you into the nearest combo of whatever string of inputs you have done, leaving you painfully open to a counterattack without a way to cancel. There's also no true sense of challenge or difficulty with the game as you progress, just enemies that can soak up more damage.
There are odd collectibles scattered as you go, which essentially amount to nothing of substance. Your first item is a mask of one of the thousands of enemies you'll face from the organization, and a scrap of paper that has nothing of value written on it so it really comes off as a confusing thing to include. If it were to help explain the story, or offer context - which it doesn't - that's one thing. But these are just things, that ultimately amount to nothing outside of giving you things to collect. It's not like Uncharted, where there are treasures to find, where each treasure has some historical significance to the period that game is covering. Again, this seems to be another victim of adding elements that other games have done successfully in hopes that it will get the same recognition, but falls flat.
This game has some visual highs and a lot of lows. The highest points are some of the background environments. There was a lot of care into some of the architecture and sculptures with the game that show off a great sense of care. The characters, on the other hand are all incredibly bland. Everyone is a carbon copy, outside of the mini-bosses and stage bosses. Lu is a very stereotypical swordsmen, and remains that way throughout the entire game. The voice acting is comically bad. I cannot exactly say this is at the same level as PSOne titles, because then I would be doing a great disservice to games like The Legacy of Kain and Metal Gear Solid. Everyone sounds tonally flat, and the enemies of the Organization are all deliberately muffled because they're wearing masks.
I'm one for cheesy B-movie level action romps, but I can't even call Hidden Dragon: Legend that. It was never trying to be a simplistic story with cheesy one-liners, and it never strove for quirky characters like Deadly Premonition, with deliberately weird animations. It just genuinely tried at a story that unfortunately ended up being very forgettable thanks to its misuse of the Amnesiac Hero device. It had poor animations with either the platforming or the combat itself that weren't quirky, but irksome. It had cheesy dialogue, but I doubt that was deliberate either; it was just bad writing, and poor delivery. And at $19.99, the game because even harder to recommend since there are a ton of tremendous titles on the PS Store right now at a fraction of its cost, let alone comparing it to other $19.99 titles.Hidden Dragon: Legend was reviewed using a PS4 Digital Copy provided by Oasis Games. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Upgrading combos offered a bit of depth to the core gameplay.|
|Adding a variety of weapons was nice and offered different styles of combat.|
|Tonally Flat voice actors, muffled enemies, and poor dialogue throughout.|
|Using Amnesia as a plot device only works if you're willing to do a better job in building a world and having characters interesting enough to explore.|
|Combat mechanics feel loose, have a slight latency to them, and can lock you into a combo with early or late inputs.|