I always have trouble picking a Genesis game to review. This is mostly from playing the system less in during childhood, since it was a flea market purchase for me late in high school, and I am still finding classics that need to be given more time. Most of the masterpieces I find from Sega are recommended, but I found Alisia Dragoon by going down a weird rabbit hole on YouTube—as you do. This is a good one though, so hear me out.
Flashback To 1992
Alisia Dragoon was released in 1992 as a collaborative effort between Game Arts, a studio with a decent reputation at the time, and Gainax, who would eventually be mostly known for their work on anime (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door). This pairing greatly affected the presentation of the game, and the team decided to draw a specific inspiration from the films of Hayao Miyazaki. This is evidenced by the character and enemy designs—excellent color and sprite work—backgrounds and environments, as well as the mixing of various genres, culminating in an intriguing and deeper fantasy world than what many games provided at the time. The Japanese cover art does a great job of showing this, where the American version seemed to want something simpler and a bit more boring, as well as a different design of the hero. The art and special effects caught my attention, just as intended, reminding me of other games like Altered Beast that hooked me.
This is a single-player action platforming game with a style that feels more suited for an arcade title. What throws many players off is that Alisia’s lightning attacks are auto-targeting, which causes a lack in the feeling of control, and mistakenly makes the game feel easy at first. The key is that there is a power meter that depletes when an attack is used, and a full bar provides a larger and more fierce volley. The player chooses when to press the button and at which points are okay to be more vulnerable with less energy. Enemies come from the left, right, above, and sometimes below, testing reflexes and making it worthwhile to memorize the stage and how they will appear. Alisia isn’t alone though, as she has four different creatures that can be summoned to help. These companions have their own various attacks and movements that help add to the strategy of the game—which is the most effective for the situation. Power-ups are also available to help, adding to the offensive barrage and life bars available for Alisia and her helpers.
There are eight levels to sling lightning through, each with an encounter of some type at the end. I enjoy the bosses and like that each stage has its own set of enemies without color swapping basic baddies for reuse. These zones are varied enough and have some nice transitions, which make it feel less random or disjointed and much more like an ongoing quest or epic adventure. The stage slates look good and get me excited for the next part, while ranking my performance and giving out titles that make little sense like “electric slime.”
This is a fun and challenging game that encourages replay as well as trial and error. There are continues that can be collected, but no way to save progress on the original hardware, and that Game Over screen pops up often if care isn’t taken. Enemies do have a tendency to spawn on top of the character for some cheap damage, but perhaps this was to balance out the ease of the auto-targeting. The controls are tight, other than some funny areas where jumping can be a bit annoying, as falling in some levels can cost a little life and a lot of time. I like that the game was overall cohesive and I rarely found much in it to be too frustrating. There are some cheats for this game if anyone finds it too hard or just wants to tear through it, but it looks like most of them require the use of a second controller to activate.
But About The Campaign?
Once again, the silver star fell from the sky,
unleashing evil and destruction for the second time.
The one person who can save the world
Must seek out this object.
Why is this all going on though; or in other words, what’s the plot? The short version is that Alisia needs to avenge the death of her father and save the world—easy enough. Well, not quite, as the American and European versions present a bit different story with Alisia as a gladiator who fights for the people and needs to destroy the evil monsters at their source. The Japanese version of the game had a bit more complex story that was explained at greater length within the pages of the manual. This presented the heroine as the daughter of a sorcerer who had imprisoned the main villain, Baldour, in something called the ‘silver star,’ but he is tortured to death by the villain’s followers. Soon Baldour returns and Alisia must set out to continue her father’s work. Alisia herself is presented as a strong rugged hero who is unafraid of the horrors ahead of her and far from dainty. Though she went through multiple designs, this is what the creators were after, wanting to challenge the norm in the industry at the time, while allowing her to keep an alluring sexuality.
The game was well-received by critics and garnered a good bit of acclaim then and in later years, but a lack of publicity and marketing budget led to horrible sales. Now that I know of the title, the few people I have asked that knew about it felt the same way. Alisia Dragoon is a solid game that is still unknown to many, and although I’m not sure it would do well with a modern reimaging, I think a sequel in the 90s with some more money behind advertising would have sparked a lot of interest and possibly better results. There is still the hope for a re-master or something similar, but for now the least I can do is tell my readers to go back and give this one a shot.