Cancelled Dragon Games: Dragons that never were

It’s no secret that games get cancelled all the time. In the indie development scene especially, it’s likely that more games never see the light of day than get released. And who knows how many games are started by AAA developers that we never hear anything about?

Our little niche of dragon-centric games is no exception to this, and since most new dragon titles are tackled by indie devs, we’re even less likely to see finished products. Steam is too full to count of dragon games that have been abandoned by their devs, but today I’m focusing on just a handful of the most interesting or high-profile games that have been thrown in the bin.

Emberfall

Our first entry is a weird one. The first mention of Emberfall I had seen was from Youtuber Velocci’s 2021 Upcoming Dragon Games video, though he only shows a tiny bit of development footage. Emberfall was apparently supposed to be some sort of multiplayer action-adventure RPG where humans and dragons were pitted against each other. It sounds like the game was to have crafting and survival mechanics, all set in a typical medieval fantasy setting.

Emberfall concept art. Courtesy of steam-games.org.

The one dragon model I’ve seen looks great. A couple of artists‘ Artstation pages still have some models up, and judging from the rest of their portfolios, we may have seen some more dinosaur-inspired dragons had the game been finished. I don’t know how far in development this game got before its cancellation, but, at least at the time of Velocci’s aforementioned video, it was not yet in a playable state.

Sometime around late 2020 or early 2021, however, nearly all mention of Emberfall disappeared from the web. Their website, Discord server, and social media pages were all wiped from existence, and all that remains appears to be some bits of concept art and game models scattered around the internet.

Emberfall dragon concept art. Courtesy of steam-games.org.

So what happened? The consensus seems to be problems with the team’s lead developer, according to user Sound on the Draconia discord:

In regards to Emberfall, what actually happened that the lead dev was admittedly fairly absent most of the time and not too great at giving us direction (The artists at least) so their second in command ended up filling that role and helping out the artists, giving pointers and helping us make better end products. Lead dev turned on this guy out of the blue, near christmas might I add, and nuked from from the discord and blocked them everywhere.

From there they got really scary, coming at us with ndas and essentially demanding invoices for all our work. Might I add for the entirety of our time there we were all unpaid ūüôÉ With promises of payment once the game started selling. Honestly it was bad enough to nearly give me an anxiety attack with how stressful that day was lmao

And get this, when they asked for the invoice regarding George, one of the designers and environmental artists the Lead accused them of their prices being too high (Despite him giving her lowered rates which they agreed on to begin with). So yes, the artists, including myself did leave with all our work

But it was because the lead dev wouldn’t pay the guy who arguably deserved it the most.

With so little info to go on, it’s hard to say how good or bad this game could have been, especially when the multiplayer survival genre is already so saturated. It’s always sad to see an indie game fall prey to development and personnel issues, but maybe some of the remaining artists and developers will take up Emberfall‘s mantle someday.

Monster Hunter Dreams

Entry two is a bit less of a game and more of an individual’s passion project. Twitter/Reddit user Bluerith was using the Playstation 4 game Dreams to develop a game set in the world of Monster Hunter, but using the monsters themselves as playable characters. The project was planned as a sort of PvE survival RPG type game, though it was obviously in its early stages and limited by the Dreams platform. The plan was to be able to fight both hunters and other monsters, with survival as a primary focus.

The models and animations were looking fantastic. The world of Monster Hunter contains a huge variety of monsters besides dragon-types, but we did get to see a playable Rathalos (a classic wyvern-looking monster) in addition to a Velocidrome (a smaller raptor-like monster). I personally would have bought a copy of Dreams just to mess around as some of my favorite Monster Hunter creatures.

Flying around a map as a Rathalos looks like so much fun!

Sadly, in May 2021, Bluerith announced on their Reddit profile that they had been contacted by Capcom to discontinue work on the project. It’s a shame, but always a risk that’s run when working on fan projects for existing IPs. Bluerith seemed to be making great use of the Dreams game development tools, and it sounds like they’ve moved on to developing in Unreal for future projects. I hope to see more dragon-centric games from them in the future!

Scalebound

Probably the most widely-known dragon game casualty is Scalebound, developed by Platinum Games (of Bayonetta fame) and published by Microsoft. Scalebound was going to be an action RPG focused on a young male protagonist named Drew, apparently somehow transported from our modern world to the world of Draconis (enter cliché dragon-themed world name), where he fights alongside his bonded dragon companion, Thuban.

Moment-to-moment gameplay focused on Drew, who used weapons and abilities to fight. He also had a weird dragon arm — a visualization of his bond to Thuban — which granted him additional abilities like scanning enemies for information, healing his dragon friend, or allowing him to transform into a humanoid dragon form for greater fighting abilities. Thuban himself was AI controlled, though Drew could issue him commands such as where to attack and move. Drew could also enter a “Dragon Link” mode where he could directly control Thuban from Drew’s first-person perspective, but which left him vulnerable to enemy attacks. You could ride Thuban to some degree, but that appears to have been the extent of player control over him. The bond between the characters meant that if one was killed, the other would die as well. Some sort of four-player cooperative online multiplayer was planned, though we unfortunately never got the full details on how that was to be implemented.

Drew could issue commands to Thuban, but he would act on his own as well. Courtesy of IGN.

What I found most interesting about Scalebound as I researched the game was how much the deeper gameplay systems focused on your dragon companion. The story focused on Drew, but he was meant to be a fairly static character gameplay-wise, outside of leveling up, getting new weapons, and so on. But the player didn’t really get many customization options for him. Most of that was left for your dragon. There were three types of dragons: “rex,” which was Thuban’s default mode; a quick-maneuvering aerial “wyvern;” and a four-legged, slower and stronger “tank” dragon. Throughout the game, you could upgrade and shift your dragon between these types, which would influence his growth and attributes. This was meant to allow you to create an entirely unique dragon, built around your own gameplay and aesthetic preferences, and one that could be continually adjusted as you played. Additionally, you could purchase armor to augment your dragon’s offensive and defensive capabilities. Hideki Kamiya, the game’s director, really wanted these mechanics to emphasize your growing bond with Thuban, saying: “…The more you invest in that dragon and in your relationship with that dragon, the more that dragon becomes yours.”

Dragon customization was meant to be robust and a major focus of the game. Courtesy of IGN.

This focus on the bond with your dragon got me more and more excited as I read about it. I didn’t follow Scalebound closely when it was originally shown off; the goofy, kind of cringey protagonist turned me off of it and I assumed the dragons were just an afterthought. But throughout the game, your bond with your dragon companion was meant to grow and change, and that would reflect in the gameplay. You could unlock joint attacks, and Thuban would become more friendly and helpful. You weren’t meant to even be able to ride him at the beginning; you needed to grow closer before he would let you on his back. You could gain additional skill points to level him up by healing him or assisting him in battle. Much like Trico in The Last Guardian, Thuban was supposed to be a truly independent character, one that might not always respond perfectly to your commands. In the bit of gameplay we got to see, Thuban would fight alongside you, but he would also venture ahead sometimes as you traversed the world, making him feel more like an independent companion in the world, as opposed to some mindless NPC trailing along behind you awaiting your every command.

While I paid no mind to Scalebound‘s cancellation at the time, now I feel mournful for what could have been. It definitely didn’t look perfect: most people didn’t like the protagonist, the little bit of dragon riding we saw looked rather slow and not very interesting, and I can’t see how multiplayer makes any sense given the focus of the story on this particular human character. But it may have brought a new perspective on dragons in games, and it seemed like Kamiya was intent on that result.

Microsoft canned the project in early 2017, with the reasoning later being stated that it may not deliver on players’ expectations. Platinum Games has said that the blame falls on both sides, and that they weren’t experienced enough to produce what they had envisioned. Maybe Microsoft demanded too much, or Platinum just had too broad of a scope. Either way, fans were furious at the time, and Kamiya has continued bringing the game up over the years. He said that he had always wanted to make a game with dragons as companions instead of enemies, and that Scalebound is the title in which I can finally realize my dream.” I hope that he can still achieve that dream one day, so that all of us dragon-loving gamers can experience it.

“It Came From The Skies” – Examining Raptros in War of the Monsters

Would it surprise you to hear that one of my favorite playable video game dragons can be found in a game that otherwise has nothing to do with them? It surprises me that so many dragon-centric games released since have failed to surpass this personal benchmark I’ve apparently set as to what makes a dragon enjoyable to play as. What did developer Incognito Entertainment (whose previous credentials only included a few PS2 titles in the Twisted Metal series) do right in their 2003 PlayStation 2 release of War of the Monsters that keeps me coming back years later?

Original PS2 cover (source)
Every level has a loading screen with a monster movie poster.

War of the Monsters is a 3D brawler love letter to mid-century monster flicks. In the aftermath of an alien invasion, radioactive green ooze seeps out of crashed flying saucers, mutating humans and animals into giant monsters. You take control of these monsters (or in some cases, colossal robots created by the government) to brawl it out in a series of open city environments, destroying whatever buildings or vehicles might be in your way. The game’s story mode culminates in a battle against the alien leader in the United States Capitol. All-in-all, it’s an incredibly enjoyable fighting game that leans hard into the campiness of 1950’s sci-fi films, to great effect.

Gameplay consists of several modes, including the story Adventure mode, single-player quick play, multiplayer, and unlockable minigames. You can fight with up to four monsters in a map, and multiplayer is two-person splitscreen. Minigames include a city destruction competition, dodgeball, and one where you launch your monsters off the tops of buildings to land on distant targets (the most fun part of this one being the King of the Hill mode in the case of a tie, where your goal is to be the last one standing on top of a towering skyscraper).

Disturbingly, humans on the ground end up as little blood splatters when stepped on or hit by attacks.

The ten playable monsters have mostly the same basic mechanics: a light and heavy attack, two special attacks (short and long-range), some sort of small-damage ranged attack, block, jump, climb, pickup/throw objects, etc. Each monster plays significantly differently, however. Some are faster climbers, some hit harder, some have a quicker rate of projectile firing. Even attacks and specials vary greatly between monsters; for example, Robo-47’s long range special is a homing missile, while Agamo rips off his own head to use as a melee or thrown weapon. Attacks can be chained together into different combos that are unique to each monster.

You have a stamina bar that is spent to perform attacks and specials, fire ranged attacks, and in a couple of special cases, fly (we’ll get to this shortly). Stamina can be refilled by hitting monsters with thrown objects, grabbing pickup orbs, or by just waiting a few seconds for it to recharge to the halfway point. Each time you fill your stamina bar fully (indicated by a second pink bar over the blue one) you’re granted another special attack chit. The stamina systems works well, forcing players to balance attacking with running away to gather energy refills or debris to throw, which encourages more interaction with the stages themselves instead of simply whaling on each other.

There’s 10 playable characters in the game with four skins each.

Extra characters and skins can be unlocked after earning tokens in Adventure mode, with each character having four skins to choose from. You can also unlock minigames this way. Adventure mode isn’t just good for getting tokens, however. Once Adventure mode is completed with a specific character, you’re treated to a short clip of that monster’s origin story, which feel straight out of a 50s monster movie. Preytor the giant mantis was the result of a science experiment gone wrong, and Kineticlops (a floating eyeball suspended in electricity) was a poor security guard mutated when an alien ship crashed into a power plant. Godzilla Togera the dinosaur rose irradiated from the sea as a result of another crashed ship. Although usually less than 30 seconds long, these clips add a nice extra sprinkling of creature feature flair.

One of the unique highlights of this game, especially when playing splitscreen multiplayer with friends, is the sheer amount of environmental interactions there are within each arena. There’s a total of 13 stages to fight in, ranging from an island airport to a nuclear power plant. Almost every building can be leveled (which will immediately kill any monster that happens to get caught underneath), debris can be picked up and thrown at enemies (often impaling them and stopping them in their tracks if it’s a sharp object), and most levels have some sort of unique set pieces that can be destroyed and used. One of my personal favorites is the flaming dragon head found in Gambler’s Gulch that will explode when it hits a monster.

Several levels can also be interacted with in more extreme ways. You can cause a nuclear meltdown at Atomic Island power plant, leveling most of the stage. There’s a volcano in Club Caldera that will send flaming rocks hurtling towards enemy monsters when someone triggers it. Tsunopolis has a flying saucer that causes a tsunami to flood the entire level when hit with a thrown object. And in a couple of levels, after enough destruction is wrought, earthquakes will trigger and leave gaping holes throughout most of the arena. The amount of environmental desecration one can cause provided endless hours of enjoyment when playing this game growing up.

War of the Monsters ranks as one of my favorite games to this day, and I’ll still pull it out from time to time. Usually, that desire to play is triggered by an urge to rain fire and destruction from the skies as a dragon, which brings us to the star of this article: Raptros.

IT CAME FROM THE SKIES

Hands-down number one character in War of the Monsters for me is this bad boy: Raptros the dragon. One of only two monsters in the game capable of limited flight (the other being Preytor the mantis), playing as Raptros meant most friends I played against weren’t fully prepared for what was about to come.

Raptros skins
Raptros’ four available skins (source).

Raptros is one of the few characters not available to play as right off the bat and must be unlocked via tokens. His default skin is a reddish-brown, and other skins include a purple-and-green dragon, a fully green dragon, and a completely skeletal dragon. Raptros is also the only character without a clear origin story, as he has no origin video unlocked after beating Adventure mode, and no backstory is explained during the rest of the game (except for the implication on his level poster that he has prehistoric roots). Interestingly, according to The Cutting Room Floor, a placeholder video for the dragon character exists, but a finished origin clip was sadly never added. Raptros appears in Adventure mode when you’re pitted against a pair of them in the stage Century Airfield, an airport located somewhere in the Pacific.

In terms of basic mechanics, Raptros is pretty middle-of-the-pack, with medium damage and medium firing speed projectiles, and moderate pace climbing. He doesn’t hit especially hard, but you don’t pick him to play as a tanky character or a heavy hitter. As mentioned before, Raptros’ unique characteristic is his ability to take flight. Jumping with X, then pressing X again causes him to flap his wings and climb upwards. This requires a little bit of timing to keep him in the air, as another button press is required to for each flap, or you can hold X to glide. Each stroke of his wings drains his stamina bar slightly (you get approximately 20 wingbeats on a full bar, according to the War of the Monsters wiki), but sustained gliding doesn’t take any extra stamina.

With a bit of practice and enough height, Raptros can usually glide around an entire level. Each button press feels satisfyingly weighty, like you get a sense of each heavy wingbeat to keep your dragon airborne. He maneuvers quickly and easily when gliding, and I always get a slight giddy feeling whenever I bank sharply upwards to land after a dive.

One thing I really love about Raptros in this game is how he gets his entire body involved in most of his animations. His body undulates with every wingbeat, with his arms clawing the air. He smacks enemies with his wings, uses them to shield himself when blocking, and they even help him climb up the sides of buildings. He’s a well thought-out character that doesn’t just feel like a dragon skin slapped on another monster. His flight mechanics even differ from Preytor’s, as Raptros uses less stamina to flap and is capable of gliding farther. He spews a cone of fire from his mouth as a long-range breath attack, which sets enemies alight so they damage for several seconds afterwards.

While a bit of a cheese mechanic, Raptros’ fire breath combined with gliding is extremely effective.

Design-wise, Raptros is well executed. Pulling off a bipedal dragon successfully, without just making it look like Godzilla with wings, seems to be difficult in games. Like his name implies, he’s almost raptor-like, with a slightly hunched posture, making him feel more like a beast. His tail swings about as he moves, but not in a floppy, ragdolly, afterthought way that many video game dragons suffer from. Even his running animation has a bit of a dinosaur-esque strut.

I’m happy to see his wings extending from his shoulders and not further up the neck or down the sides. This helps to make his movements seem more realistic; you can feel the effort his wings exert on those shoulder muscles. You can see that the devs clearly thought about how the wings would be attached when looking at the bone connections on the skeletal skin. If I had to be nitpicky, I think the general modern consensus on dragon wings has the membranes to attach lower on the body, closer to the hips, instead of at the wing joints like we see in Raptros’ case. In theory, this gives the wing more surface area and makes flight a little more believable, but we see this slimmer style of wings in a lot of older games. Apart from being an aesthetic choice, I have to think that it’s just easier to implement in terms of animations and gameplay.

I’m impressed that Incognito Entertainment came out with such a great playable dragon on the PS2 and in a game like this. They really nailed Raptros’ design, animations, and fighting style to make him feel satisfying and totally unique to play as.


Overall, I think War of the Monsters holds up well today and is worth a visit if you haven’t played it before. It has aged a bit, and the controls and camera can feel a little on the clunky side. As fun as Raptros is to play, he does introduce a bit of a cheese element that can be frustrating to play against. But the game is especially enjoyable with friends, even just to stomp around a city destroying buildings and just generally causing mayhem. Or, if you’re just looking for a new dragon gameplay experience, checking out Raptros in War of the Monsters is well worth your time.

War of the Monsters was originally released on Playstation 2, but it has since become available digitally for Playstation 4.

Upcoming Dragon Games in 2022 and Beyond – Part I

I was actually pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of in-development games that feature dragons I found while doing my initial research for this blog. Over the next couple of years, we can look forward to sandbox survival games, a 2D metroidvania, a 3D action platformer, and more. Everything on this list (that has been officially announced, at least) is being developed by indie creators: small teams or even solo devs. I’m sad to see a such a dearth of triple-A titles on the horizon (but maybe they’ll announce Spyro 4 soon, right guys…?), but indie devs hopefully have us in good hands for the meantime.

Part I of this article will focus on games that are, at the time of writing, available as Early Access titles. In Part II, I’ll take a brief look at other upcoming games that have been announced or are in Kickstarter status. I hope to give a more in-depth look into all of these as they reach a fully released state.

Part I – Early Access Games

Chronicles of Galdurvale

“Guide Amelia Moonglow, a wide-eyed hunter with incredible power, as she journeys from Middleland to the floating isles of Sky World. Explore the lands of Galdurvale, utilizing her mystical power to harness the elements and decimate her foes. Adventure and excitement await!

Chronicles of Galdurvale Steam page

Chronicles of Galdurvale is an upcoming third-person action adventure game being created by a solo dev under the name Luminous Games. The game promises dragon riding, difficult combat, puzzles, and crafting in a biome-diverse open world. Sounds like a lot coming from one person, doesn’t it? But with 15+ years of programming experience, developer Jen Huei Lee appears to be making steady progress. Development started back in 2018, and Chronicles was released into Early Access on Steam in September 2021. Things appear to have gone silent on Luminous Games’ social media pages since then, but according to a January 2022 post on their Discord channel, the dev relocated internationally after the EA launch and is back to working on the game full time. They seem to be responsive on Discord, which gives me hope that this project won’t be abandoned. The dev is still promising quarterly updates and aims for a full release sometime in 2022.

Combat involves a mix of melee and ranged fighting.

Currently, the EA demo starts from the beginning of the game’s storyline, with no access to your dragon mount. There is also a short free demo available that focuses solely on the dragonriding aspect of the game. Gameplay appears to be fairly standard third-person action adventure RPG fare, with action apparently focused on ground combat and exploration, and a smattering of environmental puzzles and sidequests. The dev claims inspirations such as the Legend of Zelda, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy and Diablo. Surprisingly, despite the similarities, the Drakan series appears to have not been on their radar prior to development beginning.

Looks like we can expect to see other dragons besides just the main character’s mount.

I like the design they’ve gone with for their dragon, but would have liked to see a unique model instead of a purchased asset. Maybe this will change before the full release. The blue and black color scheme is a nice change from the typical reddish browns we get with many playable dragons. The dragon gameplay at the moment, however, seems a bit floaty and unsatisfying, even when compared to something like Drakan. Much like in Drakan, I have my doubts as to how much gameplay time will be spent on dragonback. I hope that dragonriding makes its way into a large portion of the final game, with weighty animations and satisfying aerial combat, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Love the animation when flying straight, but turning looks odd when your dragon just pivots left and right with no banking or anything.

You can follow progress of the game on Luminous Games’ Twitter or Facebook.

Day of Dragons

To be honest, I debated a while on whether to put this game on this list, given its controversial history (which I won’t be delving into here as it has been covered many places). I am also coming into Day of Dragons with an outsider’s perspective, having not followed the original Kickstarter or the ensuing drama. So, before I get to talking about this game, I would just like to preface that you may want to do some research to know what to expect from this game in the future.

Day of Dragons is an online creature survival game set in a large, beautiful, sandbox open world with multiple biomes and distinct creatures. Rule the world as one of several dragon species, or play as an elemental.

-Day of Dragons Steam Page
Currently you can play as the flightless Acid Spitter drake, or the winged Shadow Scale.

Day of Dragons has been in Early Access on Steam since December 2019. It appears to have been in active development since then, but only two playable species are currently available (and only one of those is a flying dragon). This is the first venture by small indie developer Beawesome Games. The game’s Steam page FAQ states that they anticipated Day of Dragons being in Early Access for at least a year after its initial launch, and since it’s been a little over two years since then, with a relatively small amount of progress made, I don’t hold high hopes for this one reaching a full release anytime soon.

The Inferno Ravager, one of the upcoming playable species.

You start as a hatchling and grow over time, seeking resources to keep yourself alive. Current and planned features include a clan system, nesting, and further end-game content after growing to maturation. Overall, Day of Dragons seems to lean heavy on the sandbox side, except for the potential of deeper end-game content. I fear this one will perpetually end up in the same place most open-world multiplayer games developed by small indie studios end up: devoid of content and never finished.

The in-flight animations are gorgeous and well-executed.

On the good side of things, the flight mechanics are visually some of the best I’ve seen out of any of these Early Access games. The animations and designs of the current models are very pleasing, for the most part. However, I feel the need to point out something mentioned in several Steam reviews. Many of the current and planned models bear strong resemblances to several TV/movie dragons. The Shadow Scale has a striking similarity to the Night Fury from the How to Train Your Dragon series, and the upcoming Inferno Ravager appears very similar to the Game of Thrones dragons. And these are only a couple of examples. It’s disappointing to see such a lack of creative, unique designs in one of the few modern dragon games currently available.

I want to give Beawesome Games the benefit of the doubt that they are putting their all into developing Day of Dragons, but the consensus of the dragon game community seems to be against them on this. Only time will tell, but at the current rate of development, they have a lot of work ahead of them. Day of Dragons is available in Early Access for $19.99 USD.

Draconia

“Create your dragon, customize it, level it. Explore the world of Draconia and unravel its story. Draconia is an MORPG where YOU play as the dragon!”

-Draconia Steam Page

The Draconia dev team describe their game as an “open-world dragon survival game with RPG elements,” and, so far, it looks pretty great. In active development since 2019, Draconia launched into Early Access on Steam in January 2022. Draconia already includes features such as character customization, hunting (with an interesting scent mechanic to find food and resources), hoard crafting, optional PvP, and more. Additional features like dens and nesting, as well as a clan system, are planned for the future.

The dragon models can look absolutely beautiful, with a wide array of customization options.

One of the most unique aspects of Draconia is the ability to play as one of six drastically different species of dragons (or a griffon). I can’t recall any other Eastern style dragons in video game outside of the Monster Hunter franchise, but you’ll be able to be one in this world. Each dragon species has a specific element (Eastern dragons are water, the Quetzalcoatl is light, etc.) and each has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to survival and combat. Currently, only two of these dragon species (the European Dragon and Lindworm) are available to play as, but the devs share frequent updates on their social media.

WIP Eastern Dragon flight animation as of March 2022.
You can get some gorgeous screenshots.

Once you have selected your species and customized your dragon, you start the game as a young dragon. The main gameplay loop is centered around leveling up your dragon, which is done through quests. Your dragon grows physically larger as your level increases. You’ll also need to hunt for resources like food and water to survive. Overall, the amount of content currently seems low for the asking price of $34.99 USD, and you have the typical EA issues like floaty controls and some rough animations. But the devs are actively churning out more content, and what is there is visually the best of these Early Access titles so far. If anything, it’s great for getting screenshots of your custom-designed dragons (and I highly recommend checking out the game’s Discord channel for examples). I look forward to watching this one develop further.

Draconia is aiming for a 2022 release date. Check out the game’s website for links to all their social media profiles.


My biggest concern after digging into these titles is that these are all fairly large-scale, ambitious projects for first time indie developers to take on. Are Day of Dragons and Draconia going to give us more interesting content than just a dragon-sized sandbox to play in? Honestly, I’m content to have that as a minimum for a modern-day dragon game, but I can’t help but to hope for more from a studio with more time and resources. But I’m still very excited to see what kind of state these games end up in when they fully release.

You can read Part II of this article here.

What Makes a Game a “Dragon Game”?

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?

Dragon-Centric Games

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 clich√©.

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.

In “I of the Dragonyou play as a dragon for the majority of the game.

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”?

“Golden Treasure: The Great Green” features beautifully painted art in a visual novel style.

Dragon-Adjacent Games

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.

Both games in the “Drakan” series mix aerial dragon segments with on-the-ground human-centric action.

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!

The “Monster Hunter” series has you fighting quite a few different dragons.
In “Little Dragons Caf√©,” you raise a dragon and manage a caf√©.
In “Rune Factory 4,” the dragon Ventuswill is a key NPC.
“Legend of Dragoon” has unique, insect-like dragon designs that are a central focus of the game’s worldbuilding.

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.