The Legend of the Dragonflame Highschool Collection Review (Switch)
There was a point in my life where I’d beat River City Ransom every day. I’d come home from school, sit down and eat dramatically like I was at Merv’s Burgers, then play the beloved beat’em-up RPG until I rolled the credits. It was my happy place. And ever since, I’ve tried just about every game in the same vein I could get my hands on. Fortunately, this has become much easier to do over time, much thanks in part to the resurgence of the Kunio-kun franchise and beat’em-up RPGs in recent years (River City Saga: Three Kingdoms hype!).
After browsing the eShop for some experiences to tide me over until Xenoblade Chronicles 3, I discovered The Legend of the Dragonflame Highschool Collection: a compilation of two beat’em-up RPGs clearly inspired by the likes of the Kunio-kun franchise. And for $5USD, what’s there not to love? Turns out, the games are by no means gems, but will certainly scratch that particular itch in a pinch.
If you’re familiar with the narrative of River City Ransom, then both titles in The Legend of the Dragonflame Highschool Collection will not be a surprise in that regard. In the first title, high school goer and apparent martial arts expert, Ryuichi, has drawn the attention of Hell High leader, Enma. The nefarious Enma seeks to test the martial artist’s prowess by challenging him against his subordinates and, eventually, himself. To raise the stakes, he also kidnaps his sister. Ryuichi must make his way through town and up to the roof to defeat Enma and rescue his sister.
In the sequel, Ryuchi is attacked during a trip to Osaka and once again has to go through hordes of enemies before facing off against another mastermind from Hell High. Both games in The Legend of the Dragonflame Highschool Collection are extremely light on story content, and the first game especially comes across far too similar to River City Ransom that it’s more of a detriment than a charming, nostalgic nod. While beat’em-ups are certainly about “more fighty, less talky,” some effort could have been made to differentiate the games a bit more from their inspiration. And there’s something to be said about a game from 1989 portraying a better story than a similar one made in the modern era.
The Legend of the Dragonflame Highschool Collection is all about kicking butt and taking names. Between both games, Ryuchi will travel across town, doling out equal parts of pain, punishment, and yen at the various shops and restaurants. At a base level, Ryuichi can punch, kick, and perform jumping variations of the same attacks, but soon will have access to a wider array of techniques (via bookstores) that improve the flow of combat. And, in Kunio-kun fashion, he can eat excessive amounts of food in order to increase stats, such as strength, defense, and health.
When it comes to shopping, The Legend of the Dragonflame Highschool Collection is consumer-friendly thanks to clearly labeled item descriptions – a drastic improvement from the original River City Ransom formula. No longer will you have to spend $40 on a t-bone steak just to find out it is inferior to a lot cheaper items. With the bloat cut out, it’s very easy to discern what is useful and how much it will cost. That said, both Dragonflame games lack in the variety department since there are no “to-go” consumables available, and there are only three character statistics: strength, defense, and health. The streamlining process still does more harm than good, however.
Unlike its inspiration, upgrades are essential in surviving The Legend of the Dragonflame Highschool Collection, as groups of enemies and bosses can easily overwhelm those that are unprepared. Some bosses may even take a few tries to down thanks to extremely tight, responsive AI that often use powerful multi-hit moves against Ryuichi. The only downside is that a sizable amount of techniques simply aren’t viable due to the aforementioned boss AI, as well as enemies tending to swarm in groups. Ryuchi can easily be stunned even during special techniques if an enemy happens to land a blow. Even still, The Legend of the Dragonflame Highschool Collection does exude that undeniable beat’em-up charm to a certain extent.
The Legend of the Dragonflame Highschool Collection wears its River City Ransom cosmetic inspiration on its sleeve. Ryuchi will dramatically consume food, whilst partaking in a complimentary smile from restaurant employees. Enemies don’t “barf,” but do have things to say as they are beaten and drift into their currency-based afterlives. Virtually every character in both games feature the same physical shape and structure; a nod to the Kunio-kun series. The lightning-fast Dragon Feet kicks have a similar counterpart here, among other special abilities, and each location in Dragonflame utilizes extremely simple, NES-like color palettes.
None of this is inherently bad, but it’s the lack of any sort of elevation beyond the roots that make it feel aesthetically inferior. Moreover, both games use the same MIDI-based soundtrack that doesn’t really fit the mood all that well, and both suffer from occasional crashes. When the entire collection is less than an hour long, that is a bit concerning.
While a decent, short beat’em-up RPG series, The Legend of the Dragonflame Highschool Collection does little to improve upon what its inspiration achieved more than three decades ago. If River City Ransom wasn’t available at the same price, or included with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, then these games might garner a stronger recommendation. As it stands, Ryuchi’s bite-sized adventures are only really worth playing if you are a die hard (or bored) fan of the subgenre.