The Fair Shake

The King of Dragons: SNES

Greetings Readers! Carl has ditched the mechanized vehicles typically covered in The Fair Shake this week, in favor of some role playing hacking and slashing. Are you a Fighter? Elf? Wizard? Cleric? Dwarf? Choose your class. Leave your gaming dice at home. We’ll be defending the Malus kingdom, and defeating the red dragon, Gildiss. Will you take your place as the King of Dragons (not to be confused with “The Dragon King”)?

Not this guy, I promise.

The King of Dragons is a side scrolling hack and slash video game released in 1991 by Capcom. Taking influence from earlier games like Golden Axe, but allowing up to three players simultaneously, it could be seen as precursor of sorts to the later D&D (That’s Dungeons and Dragons, not Dunkin Donuts) licensed games, Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara. A few years later in 1994, it was ported to the Super Nintendo as a home release, with a few minor changes, which will be this week’s focus.

Swing that morning star…

King of Dragons starts with you choosing your class. Each class has its own strengths and weaknesses, and anyone familiar with AD&D, Lord of the Rings, or any such fantasy would be able to guess at the abilities. Elves can shoot arrows as a distance attack and move quickly, but cannot use a shield. Fighters are strong both offensively and defensively, but have awful magic skills. The Dwarf is small, aiding his ability to avoid ranged weapon attacks, but he has the slowest attack speed, and so on. The game’s story slowly unfolds before you as you complete each level.

Oh thanks buddy, make like a tree and leave.

You’ll fight your way through hordes of various enemies based on fantasy elements, such as skeletons, orcs, imps, werewolves with crossbows, slimes, dragons, evil knights and much more. Each class can attack, jump, and cast magic. Magic varies in strength to each player, and unfortunately, every use reduces your health by a set amount of points, meaning you can cast spells until your health is down to ‘1’. Assuming you defeat them, you’ll earn either weapons or armor to increase your attack and defense. Your character goes up in level as you acquire points, either from attacking and dispatching enemies or finding treasure on screen in the form of jewels, gems, and chalices. At the end of each level is a boss of some sort, be it a charging cyclops, a three headed dragon, a mystical knight, or any other assortment of evil creatures. Some stages end with a short scripted conversation on screen, to further the plot.

I hope it has a bathroom.

Play control is great for both novices and experts. Movement is via the directional pad. You can assign buttons in this game via the options menu on the title screen, which is nice. By default, you ‘defend’ with your shield automatically, and it usually works, however it is possible to assign a specific button to defend, thus allowing a skillful player to fend off attacks with a higher probability of success. (Note: this author has yet to master this skill with any sort of precision). You can fight in mid-air and hit detection is really well executed in this game.

Burninating a Fighter

Graphics are outstanding! The bright colors, enemies of various sizes large and small, wonderfully illustrated backgrounds, weapon ‘attack marks’ and amazing stage map all combine to make a really eye-catching SNES game. Unfortunately, this game suffers from some massive amounts of slowdown, simply due to the sheer amount of action occuring on screen. Take it for what it is, and do what every good gamer does in times like this… use it to your advantage.

Begin Slowdown!

Sound is great. From the “HOO!!” when leveling, to the amazing music that is CD worthy. If the music sounds a little ‘Street Fighter II’ like, it should, it was composed by the same person. Each character has a different attack noise. Two players really make this game to shine, as you’ll literally be clanking weapons against creatures and feel as though you’re in the game.

I’ll close with this. King of Dragons is HARD. Like, in this author’s opinion, impossible-to-beat-unless-you-know-where-the-hidden-continue-credits-are-hard. You’ll scream at the screen as the flying dragon cooks you with a fireball (WTF! I DODGED THAT!) You’ll want to toss the controller as you wiggle quickly back and forth to escape the slime’s sticky grasp. (Hint: rapidly pressing left and right will set you free.) I don’t think this is a game you play to ‘beat’. This game, in this author’s opinion, is more about the journey than the destination. Not that it’s unbeatable, but it’s damn hard. For years my father and I would attempt to slay the dragon. Later, in my own house, I enjoy this game with my girlfriend. It usually ends in a shouting match at the screen, and I mean that in a positive way. Give the King of Dragons The Fair Shake.