What does a game need to contain to be classified as a “dragon game”? Does the protagonist need to be a dragon, or at least a dragon rider? Does the gameplay need to focus entirely on controlling a dragon? If so, does that require traditional mechanics like flight? What about if dragons are mainly a feature in the story or worldbuilding, but with limited actual dragon gameplay? What about games in which you just fight dragons?
These are all questions that flooded my head while doing initial research for this blog. I ended up with a list of possible dragon games that was longer than I expected, but I struggled with classifying them, or even deciding which ones I wanted to talk about. And dragon games run the gamut of genres, from flight sims to strategy games to platformers to visual novels. What games even belong on a blog like this?
To start, the primary focus of this blog is going to be to discuss games where dragons are central to the main gameplay mechanics. This means games where you are in control of a dragon, in some capacity, for all of (or at the very least, the vast majority of) the game. These are primarily games that satisfy that dragon power fantasy, where you can fly freely, fight with tooth, claw, and tail, and maybe cause some mayhem with fire or other breath attacks. In other words, the games that really make you feel like a dragon, if you’ll pardon the cliché.
Even with that parameter in mind, a lot of genre-spanning games can fall into this category. We have 2004’s I of the Dragon, a 3D roleplaying game where almost the entirety of the game is spent as a dragon. There’s the Panzer Dragoon series, where (with the exception of Panzer Dragoon Saga) you ride a dragon on-rails shooter style. Of course, there’s everyone’s favorite purple platformer mascot and his titular series, Spyro the Dragon. Some of his games vary in the amount of time you spend playing as side characters or doing non-dragon related activities like skateboarding, but I don’t think anyone would argue that Spyro isn’t through-and-through a dragon game. The Playstation 3 launch title Lair, despite its flaws, does a great job capturing the feeling of being a badass dragon rider in 3D aerial dogfighting action.
But then we get to games like Golden Treasure: The Great Green or Choice of the Dragon, a visual novel and text-based adventure game, respectively. These games have you playing as a dragon the entire time, but you don’t control a character in the traditional sense. Can these still make you feel like a dragon? Will these satisfy that itch for someone looking for a true “dragon game”?
This is the broader category of possible “dragon games”. Here I’m talking about games where you may get a taste of being a dragon, but those segments of the game are broken up by other gameplay mechanics of varying quality. These are the games where you get to feel like a total badass dragon sometimes, and are then met with immediate crushing disappointment when you are yanked out of the sky to control a clunky, awkward human on the ground.
Here we find games like the action-adventure Drakan: Order of the Flame and it’s sequal Drakan: The Ancients’ Gate. Or maybe Divnity: Dragon Commander, where the bulk of the game is spent managing strategy elements, with the chance to control a dragon during RTS battles. Certain JRPGs like the Breath of Fire series (image right) can be found here, with possibly some of the most gorgeous dragon designs in video games, which you only get to see occasionally in battle.
There’s plenty of great games I would place under this category, and plenty of stinkers, but the question still remains: are these really *dragon* games?
Games That Happen to Have Dragons in Them
My final category addresses those games that maybe have dragons as a theme or as NPCs. Maybe you have some sort of dragon companion, or maybe you just end up fighting dragons. I would even put games like War of the Monsters here, a Playstation 2 3D fighting game that has one dragon character (who is super fun to play as, but needs to be unlocked and is only one on a roster of about a dozen. I cover this a little more here.). Or even Monster Hunter Stories, where some of your monsties may be dragons. This is definitely the widest category, and the one I would say classifies a game as explicitly not a dragon game. But, they could still be fun to take a look at in the future!
So, maybe you’re hoping I’ll have an answer to the question of this article: what makes a game a dragon game? Unfortunately, I think the answer is going to vary from person to person. In my opinion, when I’ve got that itch for a dragon game, I want something where you get to control the dragon as much as you want, with unlimited free-flying, preferably 3D, and a with a mix of aerial and ground combat. Other people may find more satisfaction with cute 2D platformers, or visual novels. I’m looking forward to expanding my own dragon game horizons.
I think the perfect dragon game has yet to be made. But in the meantime, I’m hoping to find what comes close, and find what’s out there that really scratches that itch for us dragon nerds.