Alisia Dragoon was a one-off collaboration between developer Game Arts (Silpheed, Grandia, Lunar) and animation studio/dating sim developer Gainax (Evangelion, Gunbuster, FLCL). It’s difficult to know exactly how much input Gainax actually had in the development of the game. Doing IMDB/Anime News Network searches for the credited staff found only the scenario writer, Yoshimi Kanda, was a Gainax employee, having worked on Otaku no Video. The rest of those credited were all Game Arts staff. Regardless of the scope of Gainax’s contribution, something must have gone right in the collaboration, because it resulted in a very unique and special action adventure game.
In Alisia Dragoon, you play as Alisia, who is tasked with defeating a techno-religious cult bent on resurrecting an ancient deity (at least, that’s how I understood the plot). However, Alisia is not alone in her quest. She is able to choose between four pets (bird, dragon, flying lizard, and fireball) that act on their own, attacking enemies. These pets have life bars similar to Alisia’s and “level up” just like her.
Throughout the game, Alisia will come across various items that make her more powerful. One thing that is really great about the game is the sheer amount of hidden power-ups. These items are incredibly useful and encourage the player to search every nook and cranny of the game world. Alisia can find items to increase both her life bar and the power of her attack.
Enemies will often attack Alisia in swarms of half a dozen or so at once. Luckily, Alisia’s attack compensates for this. She attacks with lightning, and instead of just shooting a single bolt in one direction, it automatically locks on to all the enemies in the vicinity. There are limits to this attack though. The lightning has a charge meter, which operates in a somewhat similar fashion as the attack mechanic in Secret of Mana. As the player isn’t attacking, the meter charges. Once it’s full, pressing the attack button will result in an extra-powerful lightning storm that hits every enemy on the screen for massive damage.
The production values in Alisia Dragoon are quite lavish for the genre. The visuals are incredibly detailed and there are a variety of environments (even within each individual stage). The music not only sounds great, but is extremely well composed, interesting, and never repetitive.
What doesn’t sound so great are the sound effects. Alisia oddly sounds like a small dog yelping when she gets hit. Though jarring at first, I eventually got used to it, which is a good thing, because I was hearing it quite a bit during the last two stages. The difficulty seriously ramps up towards the end of the game, with both the bosses and the levels themselves requiring a great deal of practice and patience.
It is definitely worth sticking it out though. The ending is both subtle and sweet and presents a satisfying conclusion without text. While it doesn’t resonate at the same level of say, Super Metroid, it is still top-notch visual storytelling. Another incentive to finish the game (and another similarity to Super Metroid) is that the player is graded at the end of the quest, which adds replay value for the dedicated.
It’s unfortunate that this is the first and last we ever saw of Alisia. Despite a (well-deserved) positive critical reception, the game apparently did not sell well in any territory. It’s a shame, because I can only imagine the great things both Game Arts and Gainax could have done with the property.
Some staff names taken from Moby Games.
EDIT: My friend Chris just emailed me this bit of info on the game’s plot: “Just to let you know because it was only in the manual, Alisia’s father was a magician who was killed by the coccoon-guy you fight at the end named Baldour. When Baldour visited the world last, there was supposedly destruction so great that the magi-medieval world is still recovering by the time you begin the quest. Anyway, the cult is trying to resurrect Baldour and you’re trying to prevent it and sate a personal vendetta.“