What happens when you mix a fighting game with a music game?
Fighting games and music games, as different as they may appear on the surface, actually require similar skills to play. Timing, anticipation, and a sense of rhythm are all necessary skills when playing a game from either genre. Draglade is a fighter with elements of a music game. Combined, they produce something that is extremely fun to play.
As a fighting game alone, Draglade is very strong. It's a two-player 2D arena fighter where combatants can move freely and can jump onto platforms, sort of like Super Smash Bros. You can equip your characters with up to six special moves, called bullets, which can do a variety of things. They can attack with a single fireball, a wave across the ground, a column of air, a cloud of poison, or any other element-based attack you can think of. Some can even heal you. There are 100 bullets to collect in the game, although since some are upgrades and variants of others, there aren't that many unique moves. Still, there are quite a lot of potential combinations you could take into battle.
Bullets can be used for zoning and distance purposes, but the main action will be taking place in close quarters. Each character has a different weapon and a unique style of combat. You can attack with a light or heavy strike, or in directional variants of either. There are moves that can trip opponents or launch them into the air, creating pop-up combo opportunities. There is strategy involved during battle, since each character is aligned with the properties of one of the elements. The character who uses earth-based attacks will be weak against wind, and players using water attacks will be at an advantage against a fire-using character. Bullets can equalize any natural disadvantage characters would have against one another.
Of the six bullets you can carry into battle, three bullets can be active at any one time. If you want to change one of your bullets, you must tap the bullet you want to activate on the touch screen to swap it with an active one. Bullets are activated with button presses, so there isn't any forced usage of the touch screen. Activating a bullet will also zap some juice from the special move meter. Each bullet has a value assigned to it, with higher values requiring more meter to use. The meter fills constantly throughout battle, and it fills even faster if you go on the offensive. The meter is also used to induce a beat combo, where the musical portion of the game kicks in.
Hitting the L Button will put your character into beat combo mode. Once activated, you can unleash a string of rapid attacks. The reason it's called a beat combo is that the pattern in which you attack with it is customizable in both cadence and sound. That is, as you hit each beat of the combo, you'll play notes from a musical number of your own composition. If you want to get maximum damage out of it, you must press the attack button (the Y Button) in time with a second meter that displays the "notes" of your beat combo. The combo will continue until you successfully land the final hit or you run out of special meter.
The best part of Draglade is creating your own beat combo. The game has a music sequencer that makes it easy to throw together a little jingle. The touch screen displays a graph that resembles an equalizer graph, and on it you can tap one of its twelve columns to produce a note. The higher up on the graph you place a note, the higher its pitch. Stringing together notes will make your musical beat combo. You can also make notes that are twice or three times as wide as the standard note. The cool thing about this is that the longer notes become stronger (and slower) attacks in your beat combo. What this does is make the rhythm of the attacks and the rhythm of the music match up in a way that amplifies both. You'll spend a lot of time in the sequencer getting the perfect little ditty, and once you get it just right you'll have it stuck in your head for a while. You can also select from eight different tones to give your beat combo the right personality.
Inevitably, you will tire of your beat combo. You'll be hearing it a lot during the game's single-player side-scrolling adventure mode, especially because a lot of the enemies are more like punching bags that you can easily get huge combos on. However, the great thing about the game is that a refresh is only a trip to the sequencer away. During your adventure you'll find new beat combo songs to listen to, use in battle, or draw creativity from in making your own new creations. I realized that if I stalled before hitting the final note of a combo, the note chart will reset. This inspired me to make a beat combo that I can loop multiple times while still keeping my combo going. You only get to select one beat combo per battle, but you can save up to twenty of them for later use.
There will always be something new and unique to hear in your many battles. You may hear the default beat a lot, but outside, of that you'll never hear the same attack song twice. Entering a new battle is always exciting, because you'll be anxious to hear what your opponent's beat combo sounds like. This has an added bonus of preventing the game from getting stale, since there's always going to be something new to hear. Even if you do tire of the fighting action a bit, the music will keep you coming back to it.
Coming back to it is made easier thanks to Draglade's Wi-Fi capabilities. You can play battles online against others, so you'll get to hear a lot of creativity as your opponent tries to beat you down with his or her beat combo. If you like something, you can trade beat combos. Bullets can also be swapped, which is essential to getting them all. Of course, you can do all of that stuff locally, too.
The one annoying thing about Draglade is that to unlock the hidden characters, you'll need to play through adventure mode multiple times, once with each of the four starting characters. Although I enjoyed playing through it because of the musical battles, because you play through the same locations filled with the same enemies, things will get repetitive after the first time through. The different fighting styles of the characters will require you to play the game in a different way each time, but there's only so long you can stand behind a turret unopposed and pound it into submission. Plus, the stories aren't terribly fascinating. You'll probably get two new characters without getting bored, thankfully. Just be prepared for the final boss fight, which is considerably more difficult than the path leading up to it.
Draglade is a brilliant marriage of music and fighting. It's not the game's built-in soundtrack that you'll care about, but rather the custom beat combos you can create yourself. Hearing a sweet beat will make you smile, then wonder how you can top it. After you improve your own combo, you'll want to improve your fighting skills to open up more opportunities to use it. It's a partnership that creates something that is more than the sum of its parts. If you like fighting games, you'll definitely like Draglade.