Because these games are fairly similar, I want to focus on what makes this game so different, because it offers us a natural springboard into an increasingly pertinent discussion topic.  But we’ll get to that in due time.  First, let’s get another similarity out of the way.  All of these games allow for character advancement.  In all three, as you gain experience points, your level increases.  In addition, while Knights doesn’t offer equipment, the others do, so you can also get dem sweet, sweet loot drops to power up!

You really DO have to learn all of these things.  This game constantly puts your skills to the test.  You’ll often be outnumbered 5-to-1.  Frankly, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief for the times you’re only being double teamed!  This is where you can use your knowledge of how each enemy will attack to your advantage.  Like I said, green orcs never block, so you should get rid of them quickly in order to remove them as a possible source of incoming damage.

But I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about the game.  Keep in mind that these are intentional design decisions.  Capcom didn’t just forget to add more moves and animations.  Think of this as a “Back to Basics” game.  It really lets us get in to the essence of what brawler games are all about.  Defeat all of your foes.  Don’t die.  You’ll be outnumbered and overpowered pretty much all of the time, so make do with what you have.

So this opens up an extremely important discussion that all gamers need to have.  What’s really important to us as gamers, style or substance?  Most of us instinctively answer substance, but we don’t always make that choice in reality.  The above mentioned Final Fantasy XIII is a perfect example with its pseudo-strategic battles (read:  not strategic).  To say nothing of the “complete direction you have in shaping your characters.”  </sarcasm>  Yeah, the Crystarium system sucks…  And yet, that game received 2 direct sequels.  Style over substance.

I wonder who has to push the pram a lot...

The Legend of a Terrible Game.

You also want to really familiarize yourself with the characters.  The differences are significant and drastically alter how you play the game.  And some characters have traits that may surprise you.  For example, the Elf and Wizard are both ranged characters.  The Elf has higher HP, but the Wizard actually trumps him in both offensive and defensive capabilities.  Don’t write off the Elf, though, as he is the fastest character in the game.  But you’ll need that speed to stay safe since he has literally the lowest defense in the game.

And this problem seems to continue to worsen over time.  In the Atari and NES days, style was simply hard to muster and even harder to maintain.  This meant that games had no choice but to offer substance, at least if programmers actually wanted their games to sell.  With the SNES, many games were still substantive, but the beginnings of this problem emerged.  The increased graphical capabilities really thrust style into the debate in a meaningful way for the first time.  Don’t get me wrong.  I happily declare the SNES to be pinnacle of pure gaming, but even I have to admit that it was where we started walking down this dangerous road.  

Not every game can be Skyrim.  Not every game should be Skyrim.  There already aren’t enough hours in the day to play all the games I want…  But we need to actually vote with our wallets and really start choosing substance over style when we purchase games.  Then again, this industry has repeatedly proven, “You’ll never go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator.”  Or you can just choose to ignore everything I’ve said (as seems to be the case).  Either way, if you spend an afternoon with this dragon-slaying Capcom adventure, you won’t be disappointed.

As mentioned, you have little variety in your offense.  Even though you’ll acquire 7 weapon upgrades over the course of the game, your attack animation won’t change (unless you’re playing as the Wizard).  Some characters do gain attack speed or range, but you’ll see the same basic attack for the duration of the game.  This actually allows you to get intimately familiar with the game itself.  You’ll know your own attack inside and out, so there’s a very low barrier to entry to play this game.

Welcome back to Zero Sum Gaming, here at The Culture Cache!  We received a cool donation this week.  Alison Z. from Ass Crack, Alabama sent us The King of Dragons.  I really hope that isn’t the actual name of where she’s from…  It can’t be true, can it?  After all, Stinking Creek, Tennessee exists, so it’s not all that strange.  But this column isn’t about funny geography (Butte, Montana.  Hee hee!), it’s about video games, so let’s stick to KOD from here on.

This game also defies its genre in another way.  Most of the time, you’ll have a pretty wide range of moves to use to dispatch your foes.  Consider Shadow over Mystara.  In addition to normal, jumping, and ducking attacks, characters also have commands to dash, slide, anti-air attack, block, and much more.  And this is before you even consider items and magic!  By contrast, The King of Dragons limits you to a single normal attack and an HP-burning magic attack.

What's the over-under on the unicorn practicing Scientology?

You can have what's in either of the two boxes or you can trade them in for what's behind Curtain Number One!  Just watch out for the Zonks...

If you didn’t know any better, you could easily mistake The King of Dragons for a Dungeons and Dragons game.  The setting is clearly designed around the swords and sorcery motif.  But, you’d be wrong.  This isn’t a D&D game.  Don’t worry, that day will come…  Spoiler alert!  It already has, more than once, and those games are great!  But if this isn’t a D&D game, is it perhaps related to Knights of the Round?  Wrong again!  While this brawler does have a lot in common with it, it’s actually very different in many functional ways.

This frees you up to spend your time really getting to know the enemies well.  Orcs, for example, come in three different colors:  green, blue, and red.  At first, you may be tempted to think they’re simple palette swaps, but each variety actually behaves differently.  Green orcs never block, while the others do.  Most enemies exist in multiple different palettes, and for most of them, behavior changes accompany the diverse hues.

Your character selection determines whether you value range or melee.  The front line characters all possess the ability to block in lieu of the safety of distance.  You’re also choosing whether to prioritize attack or defense.  The Fighter disposes of enemies quicker than the Cleric, but the Cleric is a hardier character.  Try them all, but make sure to adjust your play to fit the character.

It’s in its simplicity that this game shines.  It’s simple without being easy.  That may sound like a paradox, but it isn’t.  Consider how hard Battletoads on the NES is.  But it’s still simple.  Make sense?  Now consider The Walking Dead (or pretty much any Telltale game for that matter…).  There’s a lot more going on, but the game is pretty easy.  Another way to think about it is how Final Fantasy (the first one) is much harder than Final Fantasy XIII.

You've heard of Spy vs. Spy.  Well, this is Wizard vs. Wizard.

Despite the simplicity of this game, The King of Dragons always manages to keep you on your toes.  The challenges it presents are many and varied.  And for a game that only lasts about an hour from start to finish, that’s pretty impressive.  Admittedly, the fantasy wizards and warriors look of the game was the first thing that caught my eye, but it’s the fun and addictive gameplay that keeps me coming back.  That’s what sets this title apart from crappy games simply cashing in on the Medieval setting, such as Legend.  That game doesn’t even have the decency to be based on the 1985 movie starring Tom Cruise and Tim Curry…

Honestly, beyond theming and character growth, this game really doesn’t have a lot in common with the others.  When you think of beat ‘em up games like this one, you probably expect to see some flashy combos.  You can look all day in this game.  You just won’t find any.  This may sound antithetical to the genre, but it isn’t.  This game is still very much a brawler, just a deliberately paced one.

Not a Knight of the Round Table.

You’re also constantly in danger because every single enemy is a credible threat to your life.  Even normal enemies can kill you in 2 hits in some instances.  That nice long life bar may look impressive on the screen, but it empties very easily.  Let’s just say that there’s a reason this game gives you 5 lives per credit…

One of the best example in all of gaming to prove substance > style is Super Mario Bros.  Take a game with incredibly simple graphics, most of which were intentionally chosen to get around graphical limitations.  Mario wears a hat because it’s easier than drawing hair.  He has a moustache because it’s an easier detail to draw than a mouth.  His brother is Luigi because it justifies the obvious palette swap.  And that’s only scratching the surface.  There’s no parallax.  Few moving sprites can be present on the screen.  Backgrounds are extremely limited.  Few music tracks exist.  And yet, this game was and is a supremely satisfying experience.  The last time I was stuck in line at the DMV (actually the DOS in Tennessee, but I digress), I whipped out my 3DS and started playing some SMB to pass the time.  Before I finished World 1-4 (warps are for the weak!), I was enjoying a merry conversation with 3 other people about the game and that era.  Had the game planted its flag firmly in style, it would have long since faded into obscurity, but by providing such a premier platforming experience, we continue to play it, even as it enters its 4th decade.  THAT’S the mark of a good game.  THAT’S the mark of substance over style.

The fans are surprised to see the...  Clothesline!