Dragon Marked For Death is the latest title from Inti Creates, the developer/publisher of the Mega Man Zero titles among others. This action-RPG puts you in control of one of 4 Dragon Clan members and sends you on a journey to save the world. Unfortunately, the strong focus on grinding means you’ll be moving through this title like a Dragon Slug instead of a fierce and fast dragon warrior.
This 2-D side-scrolling RPG can be enjoyed solo or with up to 4 players. Each player can play as one of 4 Dragon Clan members who each utilize a unique type of dragon-like mutation or ability. Each character represents a specific class as well. Depending on which version of the game you buy will dictate which two characters you have access to. The other two can be bought separately as DLC. Those who purchase the “Advanced Attackers” version will have access to the Witch and the Shinobi classes while players that buy the “Frontline Fighters” edition will get the chance to use the Warrior or Empress classes.
While each character plays differently, the outcome is the same. You fight your way through a level, collecting loot and killing monsters. Finishing the level requires you to fight a boss who will most likely smoke you the first couple of times you try it and it is here where you’ll encounter the biggest issue with the game, the grind. To clarify, I’m a huge advocate for “the grind”. Games that have a solid progression system immediately appeal to me, so this one should have too right? Sadly, the balancing in this game feels way off.
Understandably, going through a level to gain experience to get stronger to fight the boss at the end is ultimately the goal here. Having to repeat a level a couple times to reach a level isn’t a huge deal. The problem comes from having to replay the levels SO many times, to get enough experience to level up just ONCE that brings the pacing of this game to an almost complete standstill.
The beginning zones all have recommended levels that they should be played on. A level 5 area, for example, won’t throw enemies at you that are higher than this. However, the boss will be at least 3 to 5 levels higher than the cap. Again, this should be fine, since it adds challenge to the level. What you learn the hard way is that if you’re playing solo, these bosses are not only spongy, but they hit like trucks too. Clearly, this game is meant to be fully enjoyed cooperatively. Running through a level with even one other player greatly reduces the difficulty of the final boss, but it felt to me like this game should be able to be enjoyed just as much when you’re flying solo.
Again, I’m a huge advocate for grindy games. Final Fantasy is one of the greatest series around and they’re well known for the grind. Dragon Marked for Death could benefit greatly from some re-balancing. It’s ok if the bosses are a few levels higher than you, they should be. To offset that though, you can’t make your character require 450-600 experience to level up once when most monsters only give you between 1-5 experience. The bosses obviously give you a bunch more experience than that, but again, you need to defeat them to reap those benefits. When there are only 30-50 enemies in a level, this drastically increases the number of time players will need to grind if they expect to take on this game on their own. If players were able to level up faster this action RPG would immediately be a hundred more times enjoyable. Tearing through levels with others can be extremely fun, but working through this title on your own gets old quick if all you’re doing is replaying the same level(s) over and over again.
All of that being said, if you’re fine with this type of commitment, then Dragon Marked for Death is ultimately an enjoyable experience. The “action” side of the game is fun. The controls aren’t anything new, but they’re tight enough to make platforming feel like it’s under your control. Chaining combos together make you feel like someone blessed with Dragon strength, and most enemies crumble beneath your might. The RPG elements are fine here as well.
Each time you level up you’re given the chance to allocate a point into a category of your choosing. I focused my Empress on strength and the power of her Dragon abilities; making her a force to be reckoned with. Each point you put into your character makes them feel noticeably stronger and enemies fall quicker as a direct result. This type of progression felt great. It was nice to see my leveling decisions carry weight with them. Seriously, if this game just re-balanced it’s progression it could be extremely fun.
The world of Dragon Marked for Death is beautiful as well. It’s clear this 16-bit world was created with a very passionate team. The environments range from snow-swept mountaintops to waterlogged ships. The map is huge and, thankfully, mission locations constantly change which is nice considering how often you need to replay levels. The characters of Dragon Marked for Death are super detailed as well.
Their animations and subtle changes in facial expressions lend themselves nicely to the highly detailed backgrounds they run across. The soundtrack is fine. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything, but the tracks add a nice extra level of immersion, especially when you’re playing in the handheld mode with a pair of headphones.
Dragon Marked for Death isn’t a terrible game. It’s gorgeous artwork and solid controls make it fun to play. It’s only when you’re trying to take this game on alone that things feel sluggish in terms of progression. Thankfully, matchmaking is a breeze and it only takes a minute or two to join up with others looking to make it through the game.
As things stand right now, this game is best experienced with others. That being said, it would be lovely if a patch would come out that makes the single player experience a bit more forgiving. With how detailed this game is, and how beautiful the sprites look, it’s a shame that some will most likely be turned off by the extreme gradient of the progression system.