Reviewed: December 12, 2006
Released: November 14, 2006
Many gamers – especially those of us in the “older set” – might not be all that familiar with the current Eragon book series being written by prodigy author Christopher Paolini. The storyline follows the fantastical adventures of 15 year old boy named Eragon who one day happens upon a glowing stone – a stone which actually turns out to be a dragon egg. The egg hatches, the boy names the dargon Saphira, the boy becomes the dragon’s master – and wallah, we have our dragon-riding hero.
One day, Eragon’s home is attacked by the army of the malevolent king Galbatorix. Eragon sets out with his brother Brom, as well as his massive dragon, to settle the score with the evil king and all of his men.
Borrowing heavily from the Tolkien’s masterworks, the Eragon books are widely considered to be Lord of the Rings-lite, and a perfect read for the younger set. And this is especially due to the fact that the author was only 15 at the time he wrote the book in the series (coincidentally, 15 was also the age that Paolini graduated from high school). The kids are digging Eragon, and the adults are starting to take notice.
It’s only natural that with the recent popularity of the Rings and Harry Potter movies, that Hollywood would pick up the series and crank out yet another attempt at a blockbuster film. Eragon – the movie – features the likes of Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle, and John Malkovich.
And where there’s a movie comes a game, and Vivendi and Sierra have teamed up with developers Amaze, to bring us Eragon on the DS. And while these movie-to-game transitions usually get immediate and deserving disregard, Eragon actually ends up being one of the better action-RPGs to hit the handheld by sporting very solid gameplay and impressive production value.
I briefly outlined the story of Eragon in the previous passage. But while the console versions trace the storyline of the movie quite close – featuring kick-ass tag team action of Eragon and older brother Brom – the DS version hosts a slightly alternate storyline featuring Eragon traveling alone across the land of Alagaësia on his quest to eradicate Galbatroix’s minions.
During the adventure, our hero finds himself faced up against a whole slew of different enemies – animal, human, and more. Combat is quick and exciting – featuring a constantly evolving system of button-based combo attacks, Eragon’s combat is a solid mix of swordplay and hand-to-hand moves.
There are moments where Eragon’s archery skills come into play, shifting from the third person over-the-shoulder view to a first person reticule. But whereas the console versions feature extremely forgiving lock-on technology, the DS version requires a bit more precision – which the handheld’s twitchy D-pad just does not seem to contain. Easily the most frustrating aspect of Eragon, most gamers will shy away from using archery in lieu of simply going berserker on the enemies with the visceral melee combat.
Along the way, Eragon is offered a number of leveling missions from the citizens of Alagaësia –which usually take the form of a timed race or a fetch quest. Few of these side missions seem to have any direct impact on the flow of the story, and most can be ignored altogether without penalty – but none are too difficult or time consuming to distract from the main objective, and often add a nice break in the sometime repetitive hack and slash gameplay of the main quest.
The 3D movement is entirely controlled by the left-side D-pad, and the overall level of control is passable. There were times where my behemoth left hand felt a but cramped on the small handheld – but that has more to do with the hardware than the software.
The DS’s touch screen serves as a multipurpose map, camera control, weapons select, and magical spell entry pad. The camera control and weapons select are fairly straightforward – it is in the spell entry where the touch screen really adds a unique gameplay twist. Throughout the course of the adventure Eragon learns a series of magic spells (healing, attacking, and manipulating the environment) which come in the form of Lost Magic rune-style symbols that must be traced on the touch screen. Once the DS registers which spell is being drawn on the touch screen, it drops the spell icon onto the touch screen and forces the gamer to flick it up to the top screen into the correct location. Sure, it’s a bit silly, but it does add an extra dose of stylus control to the game.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of Eragon would have to be the dragon flying missions, in which the gamer controls Eragon’s prized dragon Saphira through a series rings. While ring-flying missions usually elicit shudders from even the most hardened of gamers, the flying here is actually quite enjoyable on the handheld and really helps display the true power Nintendo’s hardware.
Really, the only knock on the controls is that the game is so combat-heavy, that the gamer will spend most of his (or her) time mashing the face button for melee attacks. However, should there be any call for a touch-screen entry (i.e. spells), and the gamer will suddenly find himself fumbling about, trying to ready his stylus in time to make the attack. It is cumbersome switching back and forth between buttons and stylus, and there’s no real way to get around it.
All-in-all, the gameplay is satisfying enough in the small doses that the handheld game machine was designed for. The missions are not too involved or stretched out that they can’t be completed in a quick sitting, and save spots are placed frequently enough to allow for a quick archive of game data while on the go.
Eragon looks surprisingly good on the DS, and does a nice job delivering an over-the-shoulder third person view rather than the standard isometric or overhead views generally offered on the handhelds. In fact, probably the only other DS game to do the third person view better than Eragon would have to be Nintendo’s own Mario 64 DS.
The characters are well-designed and are fairly recognizable on the small screen. The animations are solid, albeit a tad on the stiff side, and the movement looks and feels fairly natural.
Although the environments are quite large, they are not the most impressive offerings on the system. Background elements are repeated far too frequently, making things a bit confusing once Eragon has become turned around in battle and the gamer suddenly has to decide the next pathway. Thankfully the game features a real-time map on the touchscreen.
The sound quality is quite impressive, especially when listened to through headphones. I was amazed at how well the orchestral score featured in the console versions transferred over to the handheld. The music really help sets the mystical atmosphere of the game, and is the definite high point to the audio experience.
The sound effects are a tad generic, however. But hey, that is common fare for handheld games as such, and they do get the job done. Most of the effects take the form of clashing swords, characters grunting, and animals growling.
There is a bit of voice acting in some of the cutscenes, but the audio compression doesn’t do such a good job of keeping the characters’ words clear enough to understand. Still, the attempt is noble, and hopefully the will help open the doors to a future with more voice acting in our handheld games.
There is a heck of a lot of game in Eragon, and it’s the kind of stuff that will appeal to everyone from the hardcore RPG’er to the casual hack-and-slasher. The course of events is much more involved than most handheld games dare to venture, and the game will keep completists coming back for a half-dozen hours or more – which is impressive for a handheld game.
Sadly, the game doesn’t feature any multiplayer play. Co-op play would have been awesome, especially since the console versions feature both Eragon and his brother Brom making the quest. And think of how cool multiplayer swordplay could have been!
Much like the home consoles’ classics like Zelda and Fable, Eragon does an excellent job of combining solid RPG elements with user-friendly gameplay. Eragon might not be the best game to come along for the DS, but it definitely is enjoyable and rewarding for what it is worth.