Review by xenodolf
Another Capcom beat 'em up classic. The King of Dragons features five diverse playable characters and a nicely implemented RPG aspect.
A couple of years after Final Fight rejuvenated the beat 'em up scene, Capcom came out with another scrolling brawler - The King of Dragons. Although it had many superficial shared traits with Final Fight, it played very differently - due to the medieval fantasy theme and RPG elements. It wasn't as huge of a hit as Final Fight, and although it never spawned any sequels there was a SNES port and a couple of similar games created later. Onto the review..
Capcom showed no sign of slowing down its apparent signature of making its beat 'em ups visually stunning. Although the character sprites were smaller and less detailed than Final Fight's, the background environments were much more detailed and often had animated segments. The enemies had about as much of a visual lure as the heroes, but the bosses were very large most of the time and seemed to have been given most of the graphical attention. People raised playing the SNES version were missing out on a lot of minor but atmospheric details like animals frolicking in the forest and corpses in the dank caverns.
The soundtrack isn't quite as invigorating as Final Fight, but the melodies are quite memorable and fitting for the setting. The sound effects are milder, featuring orcs grunts and dragons shrieking instead of punks retching and mayors roaring. There isn't as much going on, so you won't be hearing crunching bones and the slapping of fists on the other side of the arcade. This is partly due to the fact that The King of Dragons features less enemies on the screen at once since the combat is somewhat tactical relies less on brute force. Not perfect, but well deserved and better than what a lot of arcade games sounded like in those days.
The controls are perfect. There is no response lag or crummy button placement to hinder all the fun to be had. As I mentioned in my review of the SNES port - the battles are very cerebral. You can't just wade into the enemy mass and spam the special attack or hit a single button and keep the opponents at bay. You'll have to dodge many projectile attacks, face against baddies with decent artificial intelligence, and try to gather all the treasure before it disappears.
Yes, the game-play featured here is even superior to that of the legendary Final Fight. You have 5 characters to choose from, and up to three people can play together at once. Each of these heroes play much differently, some of them able to get up close and personal while other attack from a distance. You'll need solid team-work if playing with partners, making sure everyone is battling with the characters being used to the highest potential and the spoils of victory being dispensed fairly. Even playing by yourself is a blast, as you'll be dealing with all the enemies yourself and able to reap the health and points at your leisure. There are 16 stages, some longer than others, but almost all of them ending against a fearsome boss. The heroes start out weak, but will level up and grow into killing machines if they make sure to collect the treasure and defeat enough opponents. Even though there aren't a ton of combat technique assigned to each character, you have the basic fighting moves and two method of magic. The first is the typical one, sacrificing your life-bar for screen-clearing blast that decimates cannon fodder and whittle down the energy of bosses. It all boils down to a side-scrolling brawler where you'll trying to kill as many enemies as possible while soaking up enough treasure to upgrade your character's offensive and defensive traits. I am very proud of what this game has managed to accomplish.
Replay value 9/10
The draw to the gaming audience is a very powerful presence here. Even if someone has just beaten the final boss, there is a possibility they'll wanna swap characters classes and go at it again. The choices of heroes are that different, and the levels will feel very different as you change your style of warrior around. The only thing missing from this game are alternate routes and level choices, like Golden Axe III, Final Fight III, and Rushing Beat Shura offered.
The King of Dragons featured the same feel of frantic melee combat as Final Fight, but offers a larger and more diverse cast and wonderful RPG aspects. It proves that Capcom is quite capable of improving on a successful formula, at least when it came to beat 'em ups. The SNES port was pretty good, considering the hardware limitations, and the arcade version is included in Capcom Classics Collection II. Pick up one of them - if not both, to satisfy your cravings for a beat 'em up not reeking of stale execution.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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