Rise of the Dragon
First posted on 08 May 2007. Last updated on 25 April 2012.
In 1984, Jeff Tunnell and Damon Style founded Dynamix. As a game developer, Dynamix initially made a name as a talented studio with an action game called Stellar 7. After developing a number of other games for other publishers including Electronic Arts and Activision, Dynamix was bought by Sierra On-Line 6 years later. Once part of the Sierra family, Tunnell increasingly came into the spotlight and rose in prominence as a game designer. He is the person who is most credited for Dynamix' best adventure games, of which Rise of the Dragon is the most notable. Tunnell has been credited as both the developer and designer for this series. In some ways, Rise of the Dragon fits into the traditional line of Sierra On-Line adventure games, in that it is a basic point and click adventure with the distinct trademark that there are a lot of ways to die unfortunately and unexpectedly inside the game. Yet, like most of the other Dynamix productions, it has its own distinct touch which sets this game apart from authentic Sierra On-Line classics such as King's Quest.
In Rise of the Dragon, the player assumes the role of William "Blade" Hunter, a private investigator (though he is usually addressed to, less flatteringly, as "private dick") and ex-police officer who gets involved unknowingly in a major crime conspiracy. The mayor's daughter, Chandra Vincenzi, has been killed after experimenting with a mysterious and toxic drug that has transformed her into some kind of mutant before dying. The mayor does not want the big public to know about what he considers as his private affairs, so he contacts Blade instead of the police to investigate the case. Besides tracking down the megalomaniacal drug kingpin responsible for Chandra’s death, the case leads Blade to uncover an underground Chinese Mafia operation led by Deng Hwang—or "the dragon" Bahamut—who is planning on world domination. He shows off his malice by threatening to poison the entire city of Los Angeles through the water supply with the toxic drug. Blade must prevent Deng from committing his inimical plans.
Unlike King's Quest, Rise of the Dragon is not played in a third person but in a first person perspective. Blade's inventory can be accessed by clicking on a square symbol at the bottom right of the screen. Acquired objects can be studied and manipulated in the inventory. For example, before leaving his room it is necessary to pick up Blade's clothes and dress him, which is done in the inventory. Traveling to different locations is mostly done by a map that is automatically accessible on a station after leaving a location. However, traveling can cost precious time that is limited in the game. This is because time is an important element of play in Rise of the Dragon. Some locations, like the City Hall, are closed in the afternoon so that Blade can only visit these locations at certain times of the day. When Blade has an appointment with another character, he better arrive on time or else he may not be able to continue his investigation or gain cooperation from his sources. Also, Blade likes to sleep in the night and when he is not at home in time he will sleep on the streets. If he wakes up on the streets, it is common that some objects, of which he has been robbed, will appear missing in the inventory.
The graphics in Rise of the Dragon are superb. Together with the brilliant music, the game really manages to create a spooky sci-fi atmosphere that is homage to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and truly immerses the player into the mystery. Most of the story is told by non-animated cut scenes which reads like a comic book and pay tributes to the classic noire atmosphere. The game can be played in CGA or EGA, but the game is most clear and best played in VGA color mode. The game is originally designed to run in DOS.
Much like in authentic Sierra On-Line adventures, there are manifold ways to die in Rise of the Dragon. Saving the game often can lessen the frustration created otherwise, given that many of the deaths are unexpected and sometimes feel even a bit unfair. However, there is another reason to save often. When Blade makes the wrong choices in conversations with crucial characters, they can refuse to talk to him anymore. Without their help it is not possible to finish the game successfully in any way. When first playing the game this can be particularly frustrating, because the player is left with no clue on what to do next and just hangs around aimlessly until time runs out and the game over screen appears.
Thanks to the involving atmosphere, such criticism is surmountable. Most puzzles require logical thinking and some conversations ask for bluffing. Even parts which seem to be trial and error at first (especially the part in which the player has to connect wires and gets electrocuted if it is not done correctly) turn out to be logical after all. Besides puzzles and dialogs, there are 2 arcade sequences in which the player has to guide Blade in a platform styled mini game. They are nice diversions away from the regular adventure elements, but not great in any way. Fortunately, the player is not forced to finish them to continue, since after a few failed attempts the option to select "win the arcade" will appear so they can be bypassed. Rise of the Dragon, though a bit short in length, has a fair amount of replay value. There are different endings of the game, depending on how much the player has successfully accomplished or messed up the mission. The game is aimed at a mature audience. It contains coarse language, and the story takes place in a fictional surrounding where drugs, prostitutes, and violence are the order of the day. When the game was ported to Sega CD, it even got censored despite having been given with the "mature" MA-17 label by Sega of America!
Overall, Rise of the Dragon is a truly involving sci-fi detective adventure. It features an unique mix of gameplay elements and creates an atmospheric setting with its excellent music and graphics that are also appropriate for the sci-fi backdrop. The game sets itself apart from other original Sierra On-Line games by the special mature Dynamix touch. It is a true gem for fans of the genre interested in thrilling adventure games. It is unfortunate that none of the other adventure games from Dynamix have ever achieved the artistic success of Rise of the Dragon, including Heart of China that is meant to be the unofficial sequel to this game. Sadly, Dynamix was closed in 2001 when Sierra On-Line underwent restructuring by Vivendi Universal. Tunnell and others from the studio have since co-founded another game publisher called GarageGames, giving hope to fans that there will be another adventure as atmospheric and involving as Rise of the Dragon.