The King of Dragons (Arcade) Review

After five weeks of raging on the streets we’re back to CAPCOM and back to medieval fantasy, so couldn’t be any more different if it tried! The King of Dragons is an odd one because it mixes an RPG levelling up system to the mix as well as classes having different strengths and weaknesses, so we’re going full on Dungeons and Dragons. Let’s take a look if this mix works, and whether it’s better than the extremely similar game “Knights of the Round” CAPCOM themselves released a few months later… (coming next week!)

Background:

You can’t go wrong with names like “Fighter” and “Cleric” if you’re hoping to be hired for a quest or two!

The King of Dragons was released in Arcades in August 91 in Japan and September 91 in the US. A SNES port was released in March and April 1994 respectively in Japan and the US (no idea if it ever got a European release, the first I heard of it was on a PS2 CAPCOM Classics Collection).

Although I’ve only played the Arcade version, the SNES port apparently has smaller sprites and only two player characters on screen at once, rather than the Arcade’s three.

Gameplay:

Ah, the old Cyclops at the top of bell tower. Classic mythology!

The gameplay is actually quite “back to basics”, even compared to its contemporaries (as in I’m not unfairly comparing it to Streets of Rage 4 that I just reviewed!), it has the “one attack button, one jump button and then pressing the two together for a health-draining special” set up, though it does have the rather unique addition of the ability to push back at exactly the right time to block incoming strikes if you’re playing as the Cleric, Fighter or Dwarf. The health-draining specials are magic-based and have a touch of the Golden Axe about them, often taking up a good portion of the screen.

There are few pick-ups (health restoring items and extra continues) and as mentioned in the opening paragraph there’s a levelling up system: the more enemies you kill and more money you pick up the stronger your character becomes, which like I said, combined with the different classes having different strengths and weaknesses (the Elf is great at long range and speed but has poor strength, the Wizard has great magic attacks but poor defence, that sort of thing) and this scrolling beat ‘em up has quite a unique spin on it, for its time (well, ignoring that River City Ransom had already done a lot of these things back at the start of this marathon!) There are also lots of levels, but some of them only last a few minutes and have no boss…

It’s safe to say King of Dragons doesn’t hit many, if any of the genre clichés thanks to being far more in the Dungeons and Dragons RPG side of things than the usual Scrolling Beat ‘Em Ups…

Graphics and Sound:

Okay, things are starting to look WAY too Golden Axe-y around here…

The graphics are quite basic and have a very muted colour palette, but they get the job done and allow quite a few characters / sprites on screen at once, so no real complaints. The HUD is pretty terrible though…

Sound-wise is decent, the music is fitting of the setting and the sound effects are nice and arcade-y sounding.

Story:

No, no, thank YOU… Not-so-great-Deku Tree?

A Fighter, a Mage, a Dwarf, an Elf and a Cleric walk into a bar… no, hang on, unite to travel across the monster-filled Kingdom of Malus and defeat the large red dragon known as Gildiss. That’s it… Well, apart from they do defeat the dragon and free the land, so long as you had enough coins back in the day! Gildiss for the record is clearly just Smaug from The Hobbit, complete with laying in a room full of gold…

Thoughts Then:

Hmmm… not sure where the Fighter has gone during this screenshot…?

When I got the two CAPCOM Classics Collections I really enjoyed playing this… until I played the next game in this marathon, Knights of the Round, which is very similar to King of Dragons but has better graphics and levelling up system. Still, it wasn’t bad, if KOTR wasn’t also in the collections I’d have had no issues continuing to play this for a while…

Thoughts Now:

“Oh, a Red Dragon in a pit of gold, REAL original”, says the Wizard called Wizard…

King of Dragons is still a fun game, I enjoyed playing through it with my friend for this marathon, but afterwards we played Knights of the Round (both we once again featured together on the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle!) and it once again became clear which of the two 1991 Capcom-created medieval/fantasy themed scrolling beat ‘em ups was better, and it made this come off worse. Not bad, but just not as good…

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