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Old 08-13-2011, 01:30 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Retronauts: Tales of Thexder Part III

What would a Thexder game be without giant robots? GameArts asked itself this very question, and their answer was the exceptional yet tragically overlooked Sega Genesis title Alisia Dragoon. Released in 1992, Alisia Dragoon was a godsend for Genesis owners starving for quality software. (Well, the handful of Genesis owners who were smart enough to pick up a copy, anyway.)

Although the similarities are hard to ignore, the game isn't quite an official sequel to Thexder. GameArts kept the auto-targeting system but made changes to the play mechanics and especially the setting to give Alisia Dragoon its own distinct identity. The world of space-age technology has been replaced with one of magic and monsters, with the lead character using both in her battle against the dark wizard Omah.

When her bolts of lightning aren't enough to bring down the ravenous beasts that stand in her way, she can call on one of four familiars for assistance. These creatures range from that mythological staple, the fire-breathing dragon, to the less exciting but surprisingly handy lizard, which flings boomerangs at Alisia's enemies.

These benevolent beasties and a new weapon charge system give Alisia Dragoon an element of strategy that was sorely lacking from the Thexder series. Alisia is a powerful sorceress, but even she can't call down the thunder forever' she has to take brief breaks to let her power recharge, or risk being helpless during an enemy ambush. Similarly, while her pets are welcome company in a fight and will even take a bullet for her, they can die if she's careless.

Alisia Dragoon brings plenty of other improvements to the Thexder formula. The graphics were supplied by a then-unknown art studio named Gainax, and they've done a fantastic job of working within the boundaries of the Genesis hardware. They kept the colors understated but the detail incredibly high, which adds a fittingly rustic touch to the game's fantasy setting. Mecano Associates also deserves credit for its soundtrack, which starts with a whimsical medieval flair but grows more urgent with each stage cleared. It's a little twangy, but hey, this is a Sega Genesis!

Beyond all that, Alisia Dragoon is just a better, more tightly constructed game than its ancestors. The level design is thoughtful and deliberate, a far cry from Thexder's jumble of corridors, and frustration is far less of an issue since GameArts discovered the joys of post-hit invulnerability. And it only took them seven years!

Alisia Dragoon is a worthy successor to the Thexder franchise and a real diamond in a rough year for the Sega Genesis. It's not a flawless gem, mind you' the boss fights are needlessly drawn out and Alisia's constant distressed chirps will make you think a parakeet flew into the cartridge when you weren't looking. But hey, it's worth putting up with a little temporary insanity for one of the best games from the 16-bit era, right?
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