Platform: Mega Drive Other Platforms: Mega Drive Mini Developer: Game Arts Publisher: Sega / Game Arts Released: 1992 Genre: Platformer - Action Players: 1
Alisia Dragoon is a fantastic action-platformer with mechanics and aesthetics that give it its own identity, one that very much deserved its spot on the roster for Sega's Mega Drive Mini. After her father was tortured and killed by the wicked Baldour 13 years ago, Alisia has grown to become a powerful thunder-wielding sorceress, and when Baldour returns to her world, she sets out to avenge her father and save the world from Baldour and his followers.
The core mechanics of the combat sound like a problem, as you don't have direct control over them (Alisia's thunder magic locks on to enemies automatically with a limited, self-recahrging meter, and her monster friends have basic AI) but it works so much better than you'd think- homing is never a problem, and you learn how to utilise your buddies through practice. The focus is a little different from other action games, with an emphasis on positioning and the status of your thunder power as well as your chosen monster buddy, giving it a unique feel and it works incredibly well! It helps that most areas have their own specific enemies, and the areas do a good job of making them feel distinct from one another such as cramped caverns where animal friends are less useful, and more open ones where threats come from all angles. Beyond fighting, the exploration element is also done well- you can get along without combing every nook and cranny, but you can get helpful boosts by looking around, and alter the level of challenge accordingly. The only exception are the precious Alisia Dolls, with only one of them being in a really obvious place- these are the only way to continue, so not exploring does punish you a little in that sense. One of the few things I'd definitely change- give the player one continue at the start for a better fighting chance. Still, the more you play, explore and adapt to the game's mechanics, the better you'll get (handily charted by the game's unusual ranking system).
The game's visuals are also excellent- there's a consistent art style throughout and some fantastic environment and monster designs- and there's lots of little touches in both visuals and sound that add to the feeling that this was a game made with a lot of love put into it (in fact, in an interview for BEEP Megadrive magazine, Gainax staffer and contributor to the game said that they worked 'aggressively to remove any elements that would make it a bad game'). Some of these include the music completely changing mid-stage but waiting for an appropriate beat to do so, environmental details like the huge battleship being a living entity and Baldour & Ornah's acolytes having a consistent attire, unique audio cues for several bosses, and so on. There's even little world-building nuggets in the game, telling a lot about Alisia's world without a single bit of text beyond Ornah's taunting. That's not even mentioning the soundtrack by Mecanno Associates, which fits perfectly and has some searing-hot jams. This definitely feels like a game where a lot of thought was put into so many aspects of the game, and the game benefits greatly from it. Beyond the Alisia Doll issue mentioned above, the only two really shaky parts of the game are Stage 6 where there are some leaps-of-faith that you really need to know what's below you, and the boss of Stage 7 which goes on for a bit too long. Other than that, the game maintains its quality throughout.
Unique and engaging mechanics, great visual cohesion, a stompin' FM synth soundtrack, wonderful little details scattered throughout, yep, this game's a keeper. As a one-off effort from Game Arts- who'd go on to concentrate on the Lunar series a few years later- this is superb stuff, an excellent game that can hold its head high amongst other action game greats on the Mega Drive, and one that holds a special place in my heart. Please play it!
For being one of my favourite Mega Drives, Alisia Dragoon is awarded...
In a sentence, Alisia Dragoon is... A brilliant action game.