[I ♥ The PC Engine] Dragon SpiritPosted on July 31st, 2009 8 comments
Release Date: 12/16/88
Price: 5900 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 23.71 / 30.00
Kōgien: “Your fighter has anti-air and anti-ground weapons, like in Xevious, and grows new heads when he powers up. The difficulty level is set so that even players not good at shooters can enjoy the game well enough. A port of Namco’s epic arcade shooter.”
This, along with Wonder Momo, is the StarTropics of the PC Engine. You could commonly find brand-new copies of this “Romancing Shooting Game” in shops for 100 or 200 yen well into the late ’90s, and even now it’s a functionally worthless card in terms of value. This shouldn’t be seen as a judgment on the game itself, though — it’s quite nice, though Namco didn’t try all that hard with the port job.
The second game to use Namco’s System 1 arcade platform, Dragon Spirit has more than a few interesting quirks. Anyone who’s toured MAME knows that the 1987 game has an “Old” and a “New” version; most of the changes made to the New version serve to make it easier, from a continue option that pre-equips you with power-ups to the removal of a bug where your max-power shots went right through enemies sitting in point-blank range. Hardcore gamers resisted these changes, of course, and arcade-game mag Gamest all but campaigned against them as it published a three-month-long Dragon Spirit “Old” strategy guide through the fall of ’87.
The shooter also marked the musical debut of Shinji Hosoe, a composer whose name is synonymous with Namco even though he left the company and went indie starting in the mid-90s. Following high school, Hosoe went to the Japanese equivalent of DeVry, wound up getting a part-time QA/graphician job at Namco in 1986, and somehow convinced the Dragon Spirit staff to let him do the music and SFX for their top-flight shooter project. Maybe nobody else was available. I don’t know. It turns out Hosoe was one of the first home-grown computer musicians in Japan, a guy who (like Martin Galway and a lot of other European SID musicians around this time) had no experience with actual music, but was a virtuoso with all-purpose sound chips. His work on Dragon Spirit earned him a full-time career at Namco, and I’d say his maiden soundtrack is the main reason the game is still relevant today.
I wouldn’t go quite that far when talking about the PC Engine port, though. Like Yōkai Dōchūki, this adaptation tries to act like a faithful port and somewhat looks the part, but lacks polish and suffers from the two-megabit HuCard size. The game doesn’t scroll horizontally at all, the smushed screen adds to the difficulty level, and Areas 7 and 8 from the arcade are gone entirely — Namco divided Area 9 into two parts and made that levels seven and eight instead. Wonder Momo was a fair bit different from the arcade version, too, although neither game is bad per se as a result. I don’t know if Namco was criticized for this style of porting back in the day, but the publisher tried noticeably harder with future PCE arcade titles — Ordyne, Splatterhouse and Genpei Tōmaden (which managed to simulate three-level parallax scrolling on the PCE entirely with sprites) are both incredible games and incredible ports.
Dragon Spirit ain’t disappointing — in particular, the music is very faithful to the arcade, a pretty decent achievement considering what Hosoe achieved with the ol’ YM2151 on his first try — but it was quickly overshadowed by the original shooters that dominated the PCE’s library in 1989 and ’90. Maybe that’s why it’s so cheap nowadays.
Here’s seven or minutes of Dragon Spirit action. Sounds great, yes, but compare Area 1 here to Area 1 of the arcade original and you’ll be pretty shocked at the difference in graphic detail.
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[…] Dragon Spirit and Yōkai Dōchūki before it, Wonder Momo is a port of a 1987 Namco arcade game, one that […]
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