Sega Mega Drive/Genesis

The cocoon prison of Baldour, the manifestation of evil, has returned to Earth and his followers are gathering for his return. You must use your gift of sorcery along with your four familiars to put and end to them and vanquish Baldour once and for all, thus avenging your father's death. Or you could just be a gladiator set out to kill everything that crosses your path...depending on your region of course.

Alisia Dragoon is an action platformer released for the Sega Genesis in 1992 by Game Arts in partnership with the animation studio, Gainax, known for their critically acclaimed anime works such as the Evangelion series and Nadia: the Secret of Blue Water. Essentially Gainax designed the characters, story and environments while Game Arts were responsible for the actual development of the game. The story, as told in the Japanese instruction manual, follows my blurb above while the english localized versions took a simpler route, toting Alisia as a gladiator who's mission is to vanquish the evil monsters plaguing the world.

What makes the game stand out against other 2D platformers of the time is the unique way you do combat. Alisia's main attack is a beam of lightning that automatically targets the enemies in front of her. For the most part aiming only involves facing in the right direction. That may sound easy but the strength of your attack is derived from the energy bar beneath Alisia's health. As you hold down the attack button the bar depletes and only refills when you stop attacking. Surviving in this game requires keeping a watchful eye on this energy bar. Burning the bar all the way out will cause her to be defenseless for a second which is more than enough time for the swarms of enemies to do their damage. However, if you go an extended amount of time without attacking the energy bar will max out and begin to glow giving Alisia access to a screen clearing special attack. Fortunately you are able to level up Alisia's health and lightning attack power through hidden power ups as well.

Sometimes the amount of enemies can be hard to handle and that's where your familiar spirits come in. From the start of the game you have access to four partner spirits that you can switch between on the fly by pressing the A button. Each spirit attacks in their own unique way, so you want to pay attention to how each enemy attacks and select the right familiar for the job. Their ability to attack is unlimited and also follows an energy bar much like Alisia, but they also have their own health bars as well. It's important to keep an eye on how they're doing so you can side line anyone who's health gets too low because if they die they're permanently out of the game unless you can find a rare power up to revive them.

This combination of platforming and run and gun action gives Alisia Dragoon a high energy arcade game feel. The levels are big and beautifully detailed with lots of hidden areas that encourages exploration to find all the hidden power ups, and you're going to want to do so to make sure you're a full power by the time you reach the final stage. Every environment is different than the last, complete with unique enemies that are almost never reused. It's refreshing to see a game refrain from using recolored enemies everywhere which keeps the fighting from ever becoming tedious.

The bosses are menacing at first but after a few play throughs you'll likely have their patterns down and will find them easily dispatched. Especially if you're brave enough to unleash a fully charged lightning attack at point blank range of their weak spots (that's a big tip there by the way).

When your game ends you're given a rank. How high can you score?

The soundtrack is grand and sets the atmosphere perfectly for a grand adventure. By the end of the game you'll be hard pressed not to hum along as the main theme finds itself woven in here and there. The sound effects are loud, crisp and satisfying, especially the various roars from the bosses and explosions.

I highly recommend the title as a must play for any Sega enthusiast as well as any fan of the platforming run and gun genre. It's hard to find this level of polish in such an early title in a console's life.

Pros:

-Controls extremely well.
-The combat and familiars system is unique and fun to experiment with. Using Alisia's lightning is just plain addictive.
-The stages are all colorful and richly detailed.
-Beautiful character designs and animation.
-Killer OST and sound effects.

Cons:

-Once you learn the patterns of the bosses they become very easy.
-At 8 stages the game is relatively short (though if you're seeking an arcade like experience this may be just right for you).