The branching family tree adds a measure of replay value, but the game is average enough that few will want to play it through more than once.
Blending different genres into a single title often results in a refreshing game experience. In an industry where it sometimes seems like everything has been done, drawing from multiple established formulas is an easy way to provide something new. This is unfortunately not the case with Dragon Valor, the new role-playing-game-cum-street-brawler-cum-Zelda clone from Namco. Although it takes ideas from all of these genres and is indeed a solid game, Dragon Valor lacks the imaginative spark that sets games like Zelda apart from the teeming masses of unoriginality.
Ostensibly, Dragon Valor is an adventure game, but playing it is like playing several games at once. Imagine putting Final Fight, Lunar, Crash Bandicoot and Zelda in a blender and hitting the puree button. The game presents a static overworld map that is navigated by selecting the move command and picking from a few preset locations (rarely more than two, often only one); this might give the impression of freedom, but the lack of choices really makes the game's progression very linear. When you arrive at each location, you begin a side-scrolling action sequence. Although the strikingly average graphics in these levels are 3D, the game allows only the slightest movement into the back- and foregrounds. Your character will encounter a number of enemies in these action scenes, and the combat is accomplished like a typical street-fighting game such as Final Fight or, more recently, Fighting Force. Always armed with the same mystical sword (we'll get to that later), your character bashes enemy after enemy using several different special attacks. Attacking an enemy with several button presses results in a combination of slashes and thrusts, just as in the typical street brawler. Dragon Valor extends the concept by giving you a variety of other moves to perform, such as aerial attacks and acrobatic evasions. Using these moves in the combat scenes is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the game, but the moves can't manage to relieve the tedium of most of the battle sequences.
Dragon Valor provides you not only with a big sword and plenty of attacks but also with an RPG-style inventory and status screen in which you can manage the magic and items that you have acquired. The game's RPG elements are incredibly basic, however. The only stats represented numerically are strength and defense, and these are increased not by gaining experience (indeed, enemies provide no experience points when killed), but by picking up power-ups. The status screen also lets you select from a list of magic spells, which are gained by defeating certain boss-like enemies. These spells run the typical RPG gamut, from the elemental triumvirate fire/ice/lightning to the mainstay heal spell. Although the in-battle magic is a nice addition, it certainly doesn't add anything groundbreaking to the combat.The action in Dragon Valor is complemented by a variety of puzzles. The game could have really shined in this area, but the puzzles are generally uninspired rehashes of those seen in past Zelda games, from pushing boxes over switches to lighting torches for the purpose of illuminating an area. The game deserves small credit for including the magic spells in the puzzles' solutions, but the difficulty in finding the solutions doesn't match the brain-twisting complexity of Zelda 64, the game from which Dragon Valor seems to have drawn the majority of its inspiration.
Dragon Valor's banal gameplay could be forgiven if its story were fresh and interesting, but alas, it suffers from the same unoriginality. You begin the game as the average boy (in this case Clovis), whose town is attacked by a rampaging dragon. After Clovis watches his sister die, the fallen hero bequeaths the sword to Clovis, who then embarks on a quest for revenge. Perhaps the only interesting part of Dragon Valor's story is that Clovis can meet more than one girl during this first chapter of his adventure (maybe dating simulation should be added to the list of genres the game draws from), and the offspring from this apparently random coupling will be the hero for Chapter 2. That child then begets the hero of Chapter 3, and so on. This makes little more than graphical and narrative difference, however, as each hero wields the same sword and uses the same moves as Clovis. Even stats and items are carried over from one chapter to the next, despite the supposedly lengthy progression of time. Different heroes experience different levels, however.
Although Dragon Valor stands on its own as a fairly solid game, and there's nothing necessarily bad about it, the game just isn't particularly noteworthy. The average graphics, sound, and play mechanics contribute to the feeling that all this has been done before, and the uninspired storyline and lack of real plot twists really doesn't give you much motivation to keep playing. The branching family tree adds a measure of replay value, but the game is average enough that few will want to play it through more than once.