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Crimson Dragon Xbox One Review | Nasty Business

Jonathan Lester
Crimson Dragon, Microsoft Studios, SHMUP, Xbox One, Xbox One Games

Crimson Dragon Xbox One Review | Nasty Business

Platform: Xbox One (XBLA, £15.99)

Developer: Grounding Inc.

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Something has gone horribly wrong here.

As the spiritual successor to the Panzer Dragoon series, Crimson Dragon was the first game I downloaded and played on my new Xbox One. An odd priority, perhaps, but I've always lauded SEGA's rail shooting franchise as a near-perfect fusion of gameplay and art. Every second, every moment, every scene and enemy, every word of the fictional language and note of the exquisite musical score is designed to instil a sense of wonder in its players, and to provide an engaging challenge curve. If you ever have the opportunity to play Panzer Dragoon Orta on the original Xbox, the pinnacle of the series, take it.

Crimson Dragon looks and sounds like Panzer Dragoon upon first inspection. You'll blast over some gorgeous environments riding a massive laser-spewing reptile, all while enjoying another soundtrack from composer Saori Kobayashi. You probably haven't heard of her, but audiophiles probably should have, since much of her output makes Aerith's Theme sound like wetly farting through a cardboard tube.

Crimson Dragon Xbox One Review | Nasty Business

However, the resemblance is skin deep; skin stretched thin over a rickety framework of grind, repetition and bad business that the humble rail shooter was never designed to support.

The story, such as it is, sees players battling to keep a human colony safe from ravenous alien fauna and an ever-encroaching disease called Crimsonscale. It's a classic SHMUP plot insofar as it's totally unintelligible, doesn't set the characters up properly, gives us no context and doesn't even properly introduce us to the setting. It's a far cry from Panzer Dragoon's peerless environmental storytelling, thanks especially to some generic American voice actors, but I'm going to stop mentioning the series from here on out. I can hear the chorus of "fanboy!" from here.

No, Crimson Dragon deserves to be judged on its own merits. As a rail shooter, not a sequel.

Crimson Dragon Xbox One Review | Nasty Business

Rail shooters steer players down a preset route, challenging us to destroy enemies by moving the reticule and dodging around the screen. The best examples of the genre, such as Lylat Wars and Sin & Punishment, use this setup to provide perfect pacing; making sure that enemies attack in interesting formations and constantly challenge us in new ways.

In Crimson Dragon, however, enormous swarms of recycled foes just mob-rush the screen at all times, with no sense of pacing or restraint. They tend to blend into the fussy backgrounds, and obscured by your dragon since the camera is far too close to the player character and his mount, who take up a good third of the screen. It's usually a confusing and irritating bundle opposed to a well-crafted shoot 'em up.

Though the smart addition of Wingmen based on other real players, inconvenient Kinect integration and surprisingly entertaining free flight sections help to add flavour, they rarely lift Crimson Dragon above apathetic mediocrity. There are moments when everything clicks, but they're few and far between, usually constrained to some massive if oft palette-swapped bosses.

Crimson Dragon Xbox One Review | Nasty Business

I wish I could stop there, but it only gets worse. This hatchet job hasn't sliced down the bone yet, not even close.

See, this is a genre that's all about tight meticulously-crafted levels; a gameplay experience that offers quality, not quantity. They're over quickly but memorable forever. And thus totally inappropriate for shoehorning in progression systems and microtransactions.

Yet Microsoft Studios found a way. Crimson Dragon's eyecatching environments have been hacked into tiny boring repetitive pieces, through which we have to continually grind over and over and over again to gain money and experience to level up our dragons. Who, predictably, are practically useless at the beginning of the game, purposefully hamstrung in terms of speed and power to support the new progression system. RPG levelling have been forced into the cracks, rewarding us with randomised item drops that might, might, be the random thingy we need to evolve our precious mounts. Unnecessary repetition and tedium has been disgracefully shoved into Crimson Dragon everywhere you look, a transparent attempt to encourage players to part with real money to speed up the process, despite already having paid £15.99.

Crimson Dragon Xbox One Review | Nasty Business

The screenshots are shiny, but Crimson Dragon is very inconsistent from a visual standpoint. Often gorgeous, occasionally embarrassing, usually just resembling a fairly capable Xbox 360 XBLA title

This is unacceptable. In effect, Microsoft Studios purposefully broke their own game in order to fit in with their vision of paying once, then paying again and again. The stages have been snapped into bits, then awkwardly plastered over a nasty business model that has no business in this genre, let alone this particular game. The clunky awkward dragons have been nerfed for effect, neither fun nor interesting to play as. Grind. Has. No. Business. In. This. Genre.

Crimson Dragon is sick, a beautiful beast suffering from a chronic illness. With long levels designed to tell a story through its art direction, and bespoke-tailored encounters that constantly offers new challenges, it could have been good if not great. All the fundamental components are there. But it has been twisted beyond all recognition.

After putting in a few miserable hours, Crimson Dragon does start to make more sense, and does become notably more enjoyable. You'll finally unlock a dragon who can move quickly and hit hard (even if all the default weapons are incredibly boring to use), and encounter a couple of slightly more interesting environs. But, crucially, it's probably not worth the tedious aggravation getting there.


  • Attractive, often downright beautiful vistas
  • Saori Kobayashi on fine form
  • The dragons look great and have some interesting secondary attacks
  • Occasionally, eventually, it's mildly entertaining


  • Messy, cluttered, poorly-paced action lacks attention to detail
  • Constant repetition and grind, set in tiny hacked-up levels
  • Microtransaction-heavy progression is totally inappropriate for a rail shooter
  • Game purposefully broken in numerous ways to support bad business

The Short Version: Another magnificent Saori Kobayashi soundtrack and some visually arresting scenery can't save Crimson Dragon from the mean-spirited cynical sickness at its core. What could have been a gorgeous and uncomplicated shooter has been hacked into tiny chunks in the name of microtransactions, butchered almost beyond recognition until you push through several miserable hours. Microsoft And Grounding broke their own game. Willingly.

Worse than all of that, though, Crimson Dragon usually isn't much fun. I'm flying an epic laser dragon. Why isn't it fun?!

Crimson Dragon Xbox One Review | Nasty Business

Add a comment6 comments
Tsung  Nov. 27, 2013 at 15:24

But you gave it a 4 out of 10? 40%? Just below average.

A game that is broken, sick, boring to play, hacked/force Micro transactions plus you have to pay for it. It's not even fun!, that must be a major criteria for a game? if it isn't fun why bother playing it at all?. If the music is good can I just buy the soundtrack? (or maybe someone will put it on You Tube).

Are you sure you didn't click 4 by mistake? you were going to click 1? maybe 2 if you were feeling generous?

Review scoring systems baffle me.

JonLester  Nov. 27, 2013 at 15:31

@Tsung: I personally feel that the soundtrack and art direction, coupled with the fact that it does improve after a while, was just enough to push it up to a 4.

Regardless, though, you shouldn't buy it.

EDIT: I've slightly tweaked the wording and emphasis to make that clear, ta.

Last edited by JonLester, Nov. 27, 2013 at 15:35
Quietus  Nov. 27, 2013 at 16:15

I guess it's also partly restricted by having a ten-point system. 4/10 could be anywhere between 35% and 44%, so there's quite a bit of scope within that 4/10.

Also, bear in mind that one star would be unplayable, and two would likely be the fact that it loaded OK, but you had no interest in going further. At worst, this would have maybe dropped to three stars.

Yay, reviewing systems, I guess.:D

Last edited by Quietus, Nov. 27, 2013 at 16:15
Realhoneyman  Nov. 27, 2013 at 16:37

It's a shame to hear that the newest spiritual follow-up to the Panzer Dragoon series has fallen flat on its face. Perhaps I'm being naive in stating that we shouldn't expect the best quality titles for a downloadable XBLA game but why not?

Furthermore, taking what works really well in the series (i.e every Panzer game until this one) and chopping up/editing the hell out of it with modern day business practices sounds like all kinds of wrong at work at once.

Didn't think I'd say this at some point but perhaps the franchise would fair better in the hands of Nintendo or SONY (you know, the former rivals of the developer's old publisher and former owner, SEGA?)

Gods of gaming, please save Crimson Dragon (if there is any glimmer of a chance that a follow-up will be made).

JonLester  Nov. 27, 2013 at 16:51

@Realhoneyman: Ironically, it was Microsoft's partnership and assistance that led to the release of Panzer Dragoon Orta on the original Xbox, which I personally rate as the best game in the series. And I say that as someone who still owns a copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga.

@Quietus: Yup. Crimson Dragon was right on the boundary in my mind - a 35%, I suppose.

Last edited by JonLester, Nov. 27, 2013 at 16:56
Radik  Jan. 12, 2014 at 22:15

Interesting that you give high points to the soundtrack. What actually happened is that Microsoft had someone remix Saori Kobayashi's original soundtrack to, and I quote, "elevate it to new heights". Some track were replaced entirely. The result was a much more westernized and less memorable soundtrack, there's really only a faint trace of Saori's original work left. Go listen to the Crimson Dragon: Side Story's soundtrack, the "Hesterine" track in particular. Compare that to the "Lost Colony track in the Xbox One version, which is a remixed version of that song. I think you'll be (unpleasantly) surprised.

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