Dragons in Video Games 101

September 14, 2011


Photo by Popculturegeek.com via flickr

As we all know, dragons are pretty much the most badass thing humans ever hunted into extinction and then made awesome stories about centuries later. Who didn’t watch the final scene of the 2007 classic Beowulf starring Ray Winstone and think “man, literally the only thing saving this movie is this kickin’ rad dragon. So majestic.” So it should come as no surprise that in this field the video game community, famously the chief gatekeepers of highly fashionable and socially challenging cultural artefacts, should be once more at the vanguard. Here’s a quick run-down of the dos and do-not-dos of dragons in video games.

F - Drakengard (2005)

There is a perhaps unfair prejudice that Japanese RPGs are prone to narrative eccentricities and unsettling character design. Drakengard does not change this. There are exploding fairies, a fifty-storey little girl, a world map that is literally Europe flipped upside down, princesses continually being in other castles and more murder-grinding than is totally reasonable. So bad dragons couldn’t save it.

D – Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon (2003)

Fans of the adventure game pantheon will fondly remember the heady days of the late nineties, when games like Monkey Island and Sam & Max pointed-and-clicked into our hearts with snappy writing and obtuse problem-solving. I was a fanboy for the Broken Sword series, two games back in ’96 and ’97 I played over and over. The story, the puzzles, the pretty female lead with a exaggerated French accent – it was flawless. So when a new 3D installment of the series was announced in 2003, the stakes were perhaps unreasonably high. The way to combat this was not to make the previously-at-least-somewhat-realistic storyline propose the incontrovertible fact that dragons are real. Must try harder.

C – Spyro the Dragon (1998-present)

Another trip down memory lane to the sweet polygonal land of Spyro and his garish enemies. For a long while he carried the flag for upstart Sony console “The PlayStation” with clever level design, sheep genocide and a brutally simple interface. After the original trilogy the development team Insomniac headed for the blockily-rendered hills, and Spyro faded into relative obscurity, sipping brandy beside the fire in the Nigh-on-Forgotten Video Game Characters Club, reminiscing with Crash Bandicoot.

B – Dragon Age, Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II (2009-present)

Big points straight out of the block for pinning your franchise to a broad, scaly, incendiary back. Dragon Age is made by Bioware, the same company who caused a stir (read: unwarranted moralistic clucking) by featuring a completely optional subplot in which the player has the choice to take up a same-sex relationship with an alien, featuring one of gaming’s most awkward cut-scenes. Dragon Age swiftly took up the banner, where for ‘aliens’ read ‘elves’. One of the game’s outstanding features is its employment of constant moral decisions made by the player, which determine plot divergences later on. Plus the final boss fight with a BLOODY HUGE DRAGON. Top of the class but for…

A – Skyrim (2011)

Due for release in November of this year (11.11.11), the fifth instalment of the Elder Scrolls series features front-and-centre its unbelievably powerful processing chops in the form of our monstrous scaly friends. They swoop, they shoot fireballs, they pick up horses in their talons and throw them off into the horizon like an equine Team Rocket. There is twenty minutes worth of preview footage here for your viewing delight. Class dismissed.

This is by no means a comprehensive list! If anyone has been left off the register, let me know.

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  • http://twitter.com/elecmonk Iain Baird

    I’d like to put forward Trogdor The Burninator

    He’s been in two games that I know of – ‘Trogdor!’ and ‘Peasant Quest’ – and maintained a consistently single-minded peasant burning ethos throughout. There doesn’t seem to be a reason *why* he burns peasants, he just does. He’s a dragon, and that’s what dragons do.

    Also he has a big beefy arm, which most dragons do not.

    • Anonymous

      Iain, that is a massive oversight on my part. I can only hope he doesn’t hear of this and burninate my thatched-roof cottage.