“Forgotten Classics” is a celebration of obscure PC games that weren’t released to widespread fanfare – or simply fell of the radar of gamers at the time of their release – and deserve a second look. In this instalment: Rise of the Dragon, a cyberpunk adventure game originally published in 1990 by Dynamix, Inc (a division of Sierra On-Line), and designed by Jeffrey Tunnell.
Rise of the Dragon is set in Los Angeles in the year 2053. It’s a surprisingly mature-themed game, with drug overdoses, criminal behavior, and gruesome deaths all important plot elements. The player assumes the role of William “Blade” Hunter, a private detective tasked with quietly solving who gave the Mayor’s daughter a fatal dose of a new designer drug, MTZ. It seems MTZ creates monsters by altering its users’ DNA, and the Mayor is very torqued that his daughter turned into one, but not enough to call for a public investigation. That’s where Blade comes in. Along the way, a dire threat to L.A. is uncovered involving MZT and the head of the Chinese mafia, Deng Hwang, “The Dragon.”
This game was a visual masterpiece, with its game backgrounds and portraits all hand drawn by Robert Caracol, of Dark Horse Comics fame, and ran in 256-color VGA. The critics agreed, and Rise of the Dragon received the “Special Award For Artistic Achievement” in 1991 by Computer Gaming World, arguably the most influential PC gaming magazine at the time of the game’s release.
Rise of the Dragon plays out in a real-time environment. Blade has only three game days to solve the mystery, and the clock is ticking. Every action costs time, especially travelling from one area of the game map to another. Strategic play is a must, here, as time of day is an important game element, and must be accounted for. For instance, some locations are accessible only at certain times, such as City Hall. More importantly, Blade isn’t a super-human, and needs sleep. He’ll doze off around 1am every evening, no matter where he is. This leads to the amusing instance of Blade collapsing on the street and falling asleep, which quickly loses its charm when you realize that he was robbed during the night and you’ve randomly lost important inventory items. In short, it’s best to get Blade home before he turns into a pumpkin.
The real-time environment also plays out in character interaction. What Blade says and does to each character will influence his future interactions with them or their friends (or enemies). This can have devastating effects on game play as a snide remark that seemed so appropriate at the time can limit Blade’s access to important game areas, and make the game’s ending untenable. Again, it’s best to save before any character interaction to avoid running into a dead end (or use the hint book…but I digress).
Rise of the Dragon was a moderate success for Dynamix, neither setting the PC game sales charts on fire, nor being a dismal failure, and was released on several platforms: IBM-PC in 1990, Apple Macintosh and Commodore Amiga in 1991, and a modified version for Sega CD in 1993. It sold well enough to warrant a sequel, Heart of China, set in the 1930s, but the sequel parade ended there. Regardless of how it fared, Rise of the Dragon remains a classic PC game that the pcgamerverse has forgotten, but well-worth the time to replay!