Namco’s Dragon Spirit is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played. This game holds a burning grudge against you, and it will sneak upon you in the middle of the night and destroy you. And then it’ll go after your family and curse your descendents.
But that’s not to say it’s a bad game. Granted, it may take a little bit of a masochistic attitude to appreciate it, but the game has a certain appeal.
It’s a vertically scrolling shooter that takes its cues from Xevious in that you can shoot enemies in the air, as well as bomb targets on the ground. What makes Dragon Spirit unique, however, is its medieval fantasy theme, which you don’t see in too many games of this genre. Usually they involved space ships and aliens, so the change of pace is very refreshing, and it’s very well done.
The game also has an amazing soundtrack, and it’s nearly worth playing just for that alone. Or you could always save yourself some pain, and just listen to it on YouTube.
There are also a number of power-ups you can collect, the most notable being the ability to grow extra dragon heads, for a total of three. In a strange little twist, you actually need more than one head in order to both shoot and bomb at the same time. And powering-up your dragon is important, because if you manage to survive long enough to get a little stronger, it makes the game ever so slightly easier.
The levels embody a variety of terrain, from valleys to forests to volcanoes and all the kinds of stuff you would expect from a typical fantasy setting. The enemies are also crazy and inventive. They’re also everywhere, and they attack you with extreme prejudice! One of the later levels is really kind of unfair. It takes place underwater, but you can only see a small spotlight in front of your dragon, so you can’t see all the enemies and bullets flying at you until it’s too late.
However, it is kind of nice that the game allows you to choose to play on any level right off the bat, and gives you a power-up bonus. It doesn’t really help much, but it allows you to see what each of the nine levels looks like.
I don’t recall ever seeing Dragon Spirit in the arcade, although I might just be forgetting. I tended to spend my quarters on games that would last more than 30 seconds. The game is currently available in multiple compilation packages, such as Namco Museum 50th Anniversary, and on Xbox Live Arcade. (I played the former in preparation for this article, which didn’t include an option for auto-fire, and mashing the attack buttons over and over got very intense.) It was also ported to numerous home consoles and computers, most notably the NES and TurboGrafx 16. Those versions probably have rebalanced difficulty that makes them a bit more fun to play.
There was also a sequel called Dragon Saber, but I’m not sure if it was ever released outside of Japan.
Anyway, that’s Dragon Spirit, a fun game with an epic soundtrack, if you can handle the challenge.
Area 1 music: