There are two paths for an ambitious game developer to follow: make something original, or make the best possible version of something derivative.
Dragon Raja definitely falls into the second camp. Pretty much everything about it will be familiar to fans of free-to-play multiplayer action-RPGs, from the setting to the gameplay, but you’ll struggle to find a more polished example of the genre on mobile.
Here’s the essential info. Based on a popular series of Korean fantasy novels, Dragon Raja sees you playing as various heroes blessed with impressive fighting ability, resilience, and magical powers.
At first, you only have one hero to control – series protagonist Hutch Nedval – but very soon another one is added to your party, and then another, and so on until you’ve unlocked all 20. Each of them has his or her own unique abilities.
Dragon Raja brouhaha
You can choose three heroes to take into battle at a time, and manually switch between them at will. Whereas other games in this genre like to limit how often you can make substitutions, Dragon Raja seems to actively encourage you to do it as often as possible, even going so far as to give you a temporary boost when you change.
The story battles themselves take the form of short, 1-2 minute forays into enemy territory to kill a few waves of fantasy baddies and then a hulking fantasy boss. Movement is straightforward, with a virtual controller on the left and an array of attack, dodge, and recharging special attack buttons on the right.
The combat works well, especially once you master the dodge ability, but if you don’t feel like rolling up your sleeves you can press the auto button and let the battles play out automatically, leaving the expert AI to collect loot and level-up as skilfully as you could ever hope to do it yourself.
The story stages are short, but there are plenty of them. Dragon Raja contains 17 chapters, each with ten Normal stages, followed by a further five Elite stages, and yet more Hell stages after that. Working your way through them all will take a while.
But, as ever with games like this, the campaign is just a small part of the overall experience – a ladder you climb to obtain the powers you need to make it in the multiplayer.
Making sure things don’t dragon
Obtaining these powers is a game in itself. Every day when you login, every time you finish a stage (or Instant Clear it, once you’ve completed it once), every time you finish a quest, every time you earn an achievement, and in numerous other ways besides you’ll collect gold, gems, experience, puzzle pieces, and so on.
WIth these you can go into your inventory and enhance or level-up your heroes’ items, weapons, skills, and characters, ensuring they’re in prime condition for the next round of fighting.
Once you reach level 15 you’ll get access to a few more areas of Dragon Raja’s world, accessible via a gorgeous 3D interactive menu. First to open up are the Great Labyrinth, which is a multi-level dungeon, and Altar of Dimensions, which you can visit to roll a die sporadically.
Lenus Arena also becomes available, where you can be matched against other human players in action-packed battles. Other areas open up at higher levels, along with the Guild, and still more icons are just placeholders for content that will be added in future updates. All in all, there’s enough in Dragon Raja to keep you busy for a long time.
Far from scale-d back
Everything we’ve written will sound very familiar to experienced mobile ARPG players, but Dragon Raja may be the most polished example of the genre we’ve come across.
Not only are the visuals technically impressive and beautifully designed, but the game is filled with smart little aesthetic touches like the way heroes fly dramatically out of the screen whenever you swap them. The booming orchestral score is equally impressive.
And, as you would expect from a game based on a book, the story and dialogue sparkle. The localisation isn’t always perfect, but we enjoyed the snappy exchanges between the characters, which breathe life into the whole thing.
You can download Dragon Raja on Google Play (and the App Store) now.