Rise of the Dragon

Sierra’s mainstays (Larry, Space Quest, King’s Quest) are well known, but they weren’t short on other games in 90’s. Manhunter, Willy Beamish, and this very game represent a few more “un-pursued” franchises. Appearing first on the PC, Rise saw an enhanced CD port back when the Sega CD was suffering a dearth of quality adventures. The addition of full voice acting is an improvement, but the port also lapses in areas where the original shined.

Rise of the Dragon takes place in a futuristic Los Angeles reminiscent of Blade Runner. In fact, your character’s name is William “Blade” Hunter, and the subtitle “A Blade Hunter Mystery” makes my skin crawl every time I read it – it’s not as clever as I suspect they thought it was. Blade is a former cop turned private dick, trying to make his way through the urban decay of an overpopulated megapolis. In this harrowing episode, a new street drug causes the mayor’s junkie daughter to mutate into a leathery ghoul in a public alleyway. The political fallout is obvious, so the mayor quietly hires good ol’ Blade Hunter to peep her death, hit him back with the 411, and keep it all on the D/L.

Rise’s future city hits all the right cyberpunk notes.

The game’s PC origins are quickly betrayed as you must navigate a cursor around with the direction pad – the entire game is point and click. Everything is conveyed visually, with icons changing to represent actions you can take. Be aware that some interactions do not have an icon, so you’ll be wise to click the cursor on anything that looks interesting. You can pick up items and place them into a temporary storage on the side of the screen. You can then place them over an icon of yourself to carry them in your inventory, or place them on an object or person on-screen to use or show them. Intra-inventory combining will not occur, so finding, collecting, and properly dispensing items makes up the essence of your investigation.

Generally, using the control pad as a mouse works well. Some arcade shooting sequences will test this, and your patience, but overall it’s not a terrible inconvenience. The additional control pad buttons give you a few expanded options – A instantly accesses your inventory and load/save options, C triggers any activity, and B acts as a “look” command, triggering dialogue and observations of the item if available.

This version contains excellent CD music and is fully voiced, doing away with those pesky dialogue windows and instead giving you gruff commentary from Cam Clarke as Blade Hunter (Cam, by the way, is actually required by federal law to be in every 90s animated movie, TV show, or video game). He tries to do an accent that doesn’t quite fit him and that I cannot place; some kind of Brooklyn/Aussie tough guy. It’s at least different than Liquid Snake or Leonardo, but you can’t help feeling the role was miscast. Cam’s Blade is a little greasier and sleazier than I took from the PC’s text and the images, and more like a man superficially projecting charm and grit than an actual hard-boiled detective. It makes for a different perspective on the character, I suppose, as Blade comes off like a rat at home hiding with the other rats, but far out of place as a leader or hero.

The cyberpunk future of video-phones!

You’ll get a few chuckleworthy lines as well. Since Dynamix was part of the “Sierra family,” the adventure isn’t taken entirely seriously at all times. Click around with the B button, because Cam/Blade has some amusing things to say about a number of items, and pressing B on items in your inventory will display useful, and often satirical, information about that item.

The plot is mostly average future noir, but one of the game’s strengths is in making it seem that there have been more Blade Hunter stories before this one. Blade’s character is already pretty well established, his relationship with his girl in the records office is both useful for the investigation and seems to have some life to it (the game starts with it on the rocks, and you can see why), and the city seems fairly set as well.

Unfortunately, it’s also all mood without substance. Every single place, character, or item has some use in the plot. There are no extra locations, no history you can read up on, and no dialogue choices that give you a richer backstory. It’s all business. The game basically works because it’s like walking into the middle of a conversation, and then listening and using references to figure out what’s going on before and ahead. The sequel would have definitely benefited from the setup here, giving it more opportunities to refine the world, but this game is still quite good for an initial foray into a new realm.

These gentlemen would like to have a word with you.
These gentlemen would like to have a word with you.

The entire game is made up of hand-drawn, graphic novel stills. The first thing you will notice is how green they are. Oh man, is this version green, which you will not see in the PC original. Online reading informs that the reason for this is converting the VGA graphics to the Sega CD’s limited available colors. This sounds like shady reasoning, considering the EGA version actually looks pretty damn awesome. But I could understand how limiting the colors that much could be equally undesirable. So I suspect that after Dynamix did their conversion, saw the results, and realized they’d be faced with recoloring all the frames if they wanted it to look right, they started convincing themselves how cool and stylish the green effect looked.

Aside from that, which is distracting enough to note, the art is pretty solid in conveying the mood and look of the city and the seedy locales you will visit. Characters look distinct and stylish, architecture makes for memorable areas, and technology looks convincing enough to be an offshoot of reality, or a possibility for the near future (simple, brutalist buildings and no flying cars). As far as giving cyberpunk fans another run-down urban future to travel through, this one does deliver, though Snatcher still offers a richer world with finer details.

As I already said, the plot is average, focusing narrowly on drugs and a broader plot to exploit them. The ultimate plan is on the level of a James Bond film, without the multiple layers of information and investigation to lead up to it. In fact, your ability to unravel much of anything is limited by the plot’s hard cap of three days. If you don’t have all the pieces by the end of Day 3, you’ll need to start over. While this would be fine in theory, there still aren’t too many dots to connect, and a perfect playthrough will still leave you with large blocks of hours at the end of the game’s day that you’ll need to sleep off to trigger the next event. The fact that you only have three days for your investigation makes the game short, the fact that you don’t have much to do during those days makes it shorter.

The green tint doesn’t look great.

There are a few interesting additions though. You have a clock that runs in real time, with minutes added automatically for travel. You’ll have events that occur at specific times, or goals you must accomplish before a specific deadline. There are multiple paths, with help you can take or shun, items you can collect or miss, and information that will ultimately decide whether you’re prepared on Day 3, or just get slain.

You also have a few different ways to solve puzzles, most especially through the use of explosives. You can get four mini-bombs from your apartment that are good for blowing locks or popping safes. You can use them as you see fit. For example, you come across a broken door with the cops on their way to investigate. You can find the key for the door inside, allowing you to come back if you miss the other items. If you miss the key, you can return later and blow the lock with one of your bombs. This is a great way to keep you from being stuck, while still putting a realistic limit on your investigation. Use up too many of your bombs unnecessarily, and you won’t have enough for when they really count.

If you’re looking for a futuristic detective story in the vein of Snatcher, Rise of the Dragon won’t disappoint. It’s not amazing in any sense of the word. It’s also short, not particularly challenging, and fairly undistinguished. But starving adventurers will be glad to know that it’s a competent adventure with enjoyable gameplay, not just a new plot and different setting. The Sega CD’s “talkie” version is pretty well-acted, but the reduced colors and green tint certainly diminish the value of this port.


The Good:

Short and easy, but a pretty good run for the time you have. World set up is worthy of a sequel.

The Bad:

Green tint to all images in this version, some censorship (less blood, no sex), lack of a mouse can lead to some fumbling.


“Now, please take these ancient talismans of protection and good fortune. Also, if all else fails, this bulletproof vest. Kevlar. Made by DuPont.” –Wise Old Man


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