Hidden Dragon Legend is a 2.5D action game developed by Chinese indie developer MegaFun Games and published by Oasis Games for the PS4, with lovely graphics and an action-packed trailer. But how does the game itself stack up? Let’s find out.
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The story is rather basic. Player character wakes up, can’t remember who he is, and fights his way through a pack of gleefully monologuing villains to discover how he’s the only successful survivor of their hideous experiments to grant unimaginable power. If it were told well it could be a compelling story about the discovery of self and lashing out at the monsters who killed hundreds to create you.
Unfortunately, it’s not told well. Characters are introduced and killed off far too fast to really get to know any of them, and every new thing that gets introduced has almost no foreshadowing, making every new ally or power feel like a deus ex machina. It sits right in the middle of a valley, where less plot would make it obviously just an excuse to justify slicing up bad guys, and more plot would tell a decent story. As it is, it sits in the middle ground of unpolished writing that overstays its welcome.
By far the most disappointing aspect was the gameplay. The trailers made it appear to be a thrilling 2.5D action game with inventive combo variation and special moves, and the game information I was given promised an extensive skill tree.
In reality, most of these fall short. The extensive skill tree is just three different menus to unlock more combos, special moves, or special traits. The special moves are fairly lackluster, requiring a resource that slowly builds up over fights such that you’ll only ever really see one every few battles, and easily maxed out with low costs.
The traits are just a set of different “sutras” that grant more HP and attack power as you pour XP into them, and a special capstone ability once it’s fully upgraded. Because that ability kicks in only when fully upgraded, however, this usually means pouring XP into the latest sutra you’ve unlocked (They’re the main collectible, with pieces for each scattered through their levels), but it’s not worth using until you’ve finished it. Oh, and you can only equip one at a time, so if the ability doesn’t sound enticing there’s little reason to upgrade it at all.
Lastly, the combo moves. Small warning, I actually got most of the way through the game and was content to sit down and write this review before finally realizing this was actually HERE. It’s inside what seemed to just be a combo list, until you hit X on an ability to expand purchasable upgrades for it. On the one hand, there are some legitimately good upgrades here like a counter-attack and a backstep dagger move that can change up gameplay. On the other hand, I was able to get through the vast majority of the game without any of these and reaching the upgrades wasn’t very intuitive at all.
As for the combat itself, it’s frustrating. While there are multiple combos to choose from, you can’t really mix and match. You have your light and heavy ground combo, light and heavy air combo, and light and heavy launcher combo. Once you start a combo it has only one path to the end. The only real variation you have is stopping a combo short to start a different one from the beginning. In addition, the heavy attacks deal more damage, lack a noticeable speed decrease, and the heavy launcher actually follows them up into the air for an aerial combo, all of which make the quick combos feel lonely and forgotten. Lastly, there’s the daggers which are a ranged projectile and deal laughably small amounts of damage. Their only real use seems to be turning difficult boss fights into long and tedious ones instead by playing like a total coward.
Finally on the combat rant, hyper armor and enemy attacks. Most enemies have a series of basic attacks you can interrupt with normal moves, and then a few major attacks that are more impressive, deal more damage, and grant them hyper armor, which is indicated by them flashing yellow when struck and just not being interrupted. For the earlier portions of the game this works fine, allowing you to jump in and get a few hits when they’re vulnerable, before running off once the hyper armor indication occurs. Later in the game however, bosses and large enemies begin throwing out moves with little to no telegraphing, including the hyper armor warning. Worse still, many of these attacks have a longer range than your dash, so even dodging out of your combo won’t save you at melee range. All of these combine to make bosses feel unfair; getting smacked by a major attack feels less like I should have seen it coming and more like I’m punished for being anywhere near them.
The One Section Where I’ll Say Anything Good
The game’s graphics are perhaps its greatest asset. While not quite modern AAA levels of resolution and realism, for an indie game they are quite impressive. The battle effects in particular do a great job of highlighting your attack range, enemy hyper armor, and other important details while still looking great. There’s also liberal use of special screen wipes and other effects to add a more cinematic feel to the cutscenes.
The team also did a great job with the music and sound design. While not quite the “stuck in your head” quality of certain games, the music helps set the tone for the classical chinese theme they’re going for.
That all said, the voice acting is…legitimately awful. I’m usually the sort to prefer dubs over subs, but even I would rather play through with Chinese dialogue and subtitles. Though, I suppose if you’re trying to go for that authentic old kung-fu movie style it might fit, but I somehow get the impression that wasn’t their intention.
In short, Hidden Dragon Legend requires a lot more polish. The basics are all there, but just about everything is implemented poorly and makes for a frustrating experience. The storytelling is lackluster and it manages to make combat, what should be the core of an action game, into something that toes the line between tedious and unfair. The game’s sole saving graces are the aesthetics and the early portions of the game when the combat still resembles a decent action game.
~Final Score: 4/10~
Review copy and screenshots supplied by Oasis Games.