Oh blimey, it's one of those games. One my writer child is obsessed with. Get ready for a lot of words, folks. This is definitely one of those games where we have an original copy (a PAL copy, but an original cart nonetheless) and so playtime was divided between original hardware and emulation for screenshots. If only we had the Japanese version, but if we did, we'd be actually made of money. Don't look up prices, they'll make you cry. Speaking of versions, we don't have access to a proper translation of the Japanese manual, so names for characters and the monster pals come from the PAL manual, and only one particular boss gets a pet name from us. That one made an impression, you see. Finally, we found most of the hidden items ourselves but one in particular- the first hidden cave in Stage 5-1- must be credited to the rather good No Miss Hard Mode run done by wangjinrey. No way we were finding that one on our own!

Not even gonna bother with the coy intro this time- Alisia Dragoon is one of my favourite Mega Drive games.

Gotta cut straight to the heart of it for this one!

Released in 1992, Alisia Dragoon was published by its developer Game Arts in Japan, but picked up by Sega to publish in Western territories. Considering that, in America in particular, Sega would sometimes choose not to publish their own games (like Gain Ground and Crack Down) in the West, it speaks to Alisia Dragoon's quality that they'd choose to publish it overseas. Game Arts themselves had just started dipping their feet into the console market at the time of Alisia's release- primarily a developer on the MSX, MSX2 and PC-88 with games like Thexder and Silpheed, they would primarily focus on the Mega-CD in this era (as you can see on their products list) releasing works like Lunar: Silver Star Story and Yumimi Mix, and only had three Mega Drive games to their name including this one. If anything, Alisia Dragoon sticks out amongst their library because they didn't really make games like it beyond Thexder (in fact, this game started as a game in the style of Thexder's sequel, Fire Hawk, with more RPG elements, as revealed in this interview with BEEP Magazine, and Thexder's DNA remains in the final product, as we'll see).

Game Arts was the primary developer but it was made in co-operation with a big name in another field- Gainax. Yes, the animation studio best known for Gunbuster (or, if you insist, Neon Genesis Evangelion) dabbled in video games briefly! As explored in this article on zimmerit.moe, in the late '80s and early '90s their involvement was mostly limited to softcore adult games like Cybernetic Hi-School and Battle Skin Panic, eventually hitting paydirt with 1991's Princess Maker that would become a franchise. For Alisia Dragoon, most of the work was done by Game Arts themselves, but Yoshimi Kanda of Gainax worked on the story and setting, and also game design (referring to himself as 'chief complainer' in the BEEP Magazine interview)- when asked on specifics, he said, "I was asked to analyse what kind of things users would want to see in the game". As explained by Todd Ciolek, Alisia Dragoon seemed to be part of a small effort on Gainax's part to enter the less-seedy console market, although the only other games to this end were Yoshimi Kanda's contributions to SNES RPG Xardion in 1992 and PC Engine isometric adventure Götzendeiner in 1994. Then they made some anime about robots and depression and, well, they never needed to dip their waters in video games ever again. Still, it's interesting to see a company from one industry try their hand, even in a limited way, at another.

I'm going to copy the story straight from the PAL version's manual because you might not believe me otherwise:

As Baldour, the prince of all things evil, nears the end of his dormancy, the cocoon in which he rests is transported to Earth by his aide, Ornah. The world is still recovering from the devastating effects of Baldour's last visit. Alisia Dragoon is the daughter of the magician who attempted to stop Baldour. When she was a child, Alisia's father was tortured to death before her very eyes. His final cries of agony ring in her ears even now. Inexplicably, Alisia's life was spared. She is now a woman with magical ability rivalling that of her father. "Baldour is going to wish he had killed me as well," she vows.

Alisia must find Ornah and the cocoon before Baldour awakens. Use her Thunder Magic to demolish enemies, and summon any one of the four friendly monsters to help you. If Baldour awakens before you can destroy the cocoon, there may be no more tomorrow.

Now that's a backstory. You let Alisia live, now she's gonna tear you apart.

That line, by the way, is the single line of dialogue attributed to Alisia herself (in the English version, at least).

Alisia Dragoon has the general structure of a standard action game of the time- through a combination of platforming and combat, make your way to the end of each stage- but has some specific wrinkles to call its own. Probably the most unique feature is Alisia's thunder magic, which is far away from Simon Belmont's whip or Strider's Falchion as you can imagine. Holding the attack button launches thunder from Alisia's hands which automatically locks-on to the nearest available enemy or object (or straight ahead if there's nothing to lock on to) until it's destroyed, then it moves on to the next, and so on, locking on to multiple targets at once when it can. However, you can't just use it willy-nilly, as you have a meter that drains as you hold the button but recharges when you're not attacking- once you're out of juice, you'll need to pause for a second, but if you charge it up until the meter flashes, you can unleash a screen-damaging two-way lightning attack, the Rolling Bolt! You may think this means you're leaving yourself at the mercy of the game's lock-on and that it can't hope to be as accurate as weapons from other action games... Not so, it works way, way better than you'd give it credit for at first brush, and aside from some very rare circumstances (on Stage 3 you'll sometimes, but rarely, miss the gun placements if you crouch) you'll never be frustrated at it not locking on properly. This, of course, is where the Thexder connection comes in- it's basically a more advanced version of the laser weapon from the home computer versions of that game.

Alisia's other talent is as a monster summoner, with four different beasts that answer to her call. These little fellows have their own health bar (yes, they can die!) and follow Alisia when they're chosen from the Monster Select, with only one out at a time (you can also opt to have no pal out, in case you want to preserve their health). They also have a meter similar to Alisia's thunder meter, which builds up gradually and, once full, makes them use their attack if an enemy's on-screen. They generally stick close behind Alisia, sometimes moving to get an enemy within their attack sights, but you can also influence where they go a little by moving about, jumping, and so on. They're very similar to Options / Multiples in shmups like Gradius and Salamander (and indeed that's what they were inspired by, according to the BEEP Magazine interview) and each have their own strengths and weaknesses, situations where they shine and others where they're best switched out. It does pause the action when you switch between them, but this doesn't really interrupt the flow too much as it's very quick and painless. In the order they appear on the Monster Select menu, here's Alisia's animal buddies:

Dragon Fyre

You'd expect one of Alisia's summons is a standard dragon, and this is the role filled by Dragon Fyre. When the meter fills up, it'll spit out a fireball straight ahead (at max level, it's a three-ball spreadshot with the top and bottom balls arcing slightly up and down respectively) that does impressive damage. Given its size and straightfoward nature of its attacks, Dragon Fyre's best used against large, stationary opponents to go with Alisia's thunder attacks.

Ball O'Fire

The most unique of Alisia's companions, Ball O'Fire doesn't fling projectiles or anything, it's a living weapon. It can smash into enemies to do damage, and while this drains its meter and shrinks it down a little, it doesn't take actual damage (that only happens when it's hit with low meter) and will regrow as its meter fills up again. Ball O'Fire can be used both offensively (by swinging it into enemies) and defensively (absorbing bullets) so if you master it, it's a very useful ally.

Thunder Raven

The Smart Bomb of this group of beasties, Thunder Raven is a gigantic target so it'll take damage a lot of the time, and its meter takes a small age to build up, but once it does, it unleashes a screen-shattering attack that hurts everything currently on-screen. It's very handy for speeding up boss encounters and, as long as you keep an eye on its health, for areas with lots of small enemies Alisia can't handle all by herself.

Boomerang Lizard

Aw, lookit 'em, this thing's so small! As the name suggests, when its meter is full, Boomerang Lizard flings out a boomerang (multiple ones when you level it up) that won't do much damage but covers a fair amount of the screen. It's handy for areas with lots of enemies and fast-moving targets, and the occasional boss encounter where you have to jump over the boss at some point in the fight, as its boomerangs will probably clip it.

Alisia's powers and abilities won't quite be enough to see her to the final confrontation with Baldour, however, and you'll need to pick up as many items as you can on the journey, as they provide you with all sorts of benefits including permanent power and health upgrades for both Alisia and her buddies, and extra continues to finish the game. Items are kept in floating bubbles and while most are out in the open, many of them are hidden from view and Alisia has to get close to them for them to appear. Zap 'em with your lightning or let your helper destroy them to make them drop the goods!

Refills one of
Alisia's life blocks.

HP Plate
Increases Alisia's
max life by one block.

Alisia Doll
Gives an extra continue.

Refills one of the current
helper's life blocks.

Increases the current
helper's level by one.

Resurrects a dead
helper at Level 1.

Thunder Power
Increases Alisia's attack
power by one level.

Red Fairy
Temporarily makes Alisia
completely invincible.

Blue Fairy
Temporarily gives Alisia
unlimited thunder power.

Before we get started, this playthrough will be based on the default Normal difficulty. Hard mostly makes enemies stronger and more resilient and removes some hidden items so it takes longer for you to get Alisia and her animal buddies to maximum strength. We'll also be focusing a little on the locations of as many secret items as we could find, especially in early levels and especially Alisia Dolls (as you have one life and no continues at the start, these are your only way of continuing!) to give you the best fighting chance to beat the thing. Of course, there's a lot of joy to be had from finding those items yourself. If you'd rather just skip to the end and get our final thoughts, either hop over to the final page or read the short review.

It's time to show Ornah and Baldour the power of the world's greatest dragon sorceress- let's play Alisia Dragoon!

Lightning strikes!