Quick time events in video games aren’t anything new. The Dragon’s Lair series is evidence of that.
The original Dragon’s Lair, released in 1983, is basically Quick Time Event: The Game. And follow ups Space Ace (1984) and Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp (1991) don’t mess with the formula at all. Unsurprisingly, then, Dragon’s Lair Trilogy isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Especially if you never played them all those years ago.
Until now, I was one of those who had never played a Dragon’s Lair game. I wasn’t born when the first game released, and would have only been eight years old when Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp landed. But every time I’ve seen the games move from one format to another, I’ve told myself that I must play them someday. And now I have, I partly understand why they’re heralded as classics.
Despite being three separate games, all three entries in the Dragon’s Lair Trilogy pretty much tell the same story. A princess has been kidnapped and you, a dorky adventurer, must save the day. It’s your typical damsel in distress story, though all three games wrap it up in a different setting.
The original Dragon’s Lair is very much a high-fantasy affair. There’s a dragon (obviously), but to reach it you’re going to have to travel through an ominous castle full of traps and beasties. It’s very much a passive experience though, with you simply observing what’s happening onscreen and pressing the correct button when required to do so. Fail – which happens a lot unless you have the reflexes of a ninja – and you lose a life before whisked away to a new scene.
Fail enough and the game does eventually show you mercy, starting you on the same scene on which you failed so you can make your way through to the ending via trial and error if you have enough patience. Does reaching the end make it all worthwhile? Not really, but at least it doesn’t take too long – around 30 minutes, in fact – and the animation on display is absolutely gorgeous.
Dragon’s Lair was released at a time where games didn’t have stories or even dialogue, so it was a marvel. It was a beautiful cartoon that you could play rather than simply watch. Space Ace is essentially the same game minus the dragon with a sci-fi setting, while Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp is the same again but with time travelling antics providing a wealth of fantastical environments. Once you’ve played one you’ve pretty much played them all, with only the visuals and limited individual story beats to separate them.
There are some problems shared by all three games as well. The transitions between scenes aren’t always very good, occasionally making each game seem like a hodgepodge of ideas simply thrown together. Additionally, it’s sometimes hard to see which button you should press and when while a scene is playing out thanks to the opacity and colour of the HUD. It can make some scenes even more frustrating than they already are.
Dragon’s Lair Trilogy isn’t going to wow you with its gameplay, then, but for those keen to experience a piece of video game history it’s compelling. Alongside each game is wealth of information about it, including interviews and artwork. And if you decide that playing them is too much of a hassle, you can simply watch each game from beginning to end like a movie. It might possibly be the best way to enjoy them, because the work put into each game by ex-Disney animator Don Bluth is stunning.
On the gameplay front, each game can be tweaked a little, giving you more time to press the required inputs, for instance, or removing the on-screen interface. Those new to the series will appreciate the opportunity to make each game a little easier, but it doesn’t come at the expense of putting off ardent fans who’ll undoubtedly prefer the original experiences.
So, should you buy Dragon’s Lair Trilogy? Well, it depends. If you fondly remember the games and want to revisit them on your fancy modern console, sure, why not? Just bear in mind they might not be as engaging as you remember them to be. If you’ve never played them before however, be sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for: endless QTEs placed inside three utterly sumptuous pieces of animation. As games, the titles in Dragon Lair Trilogy are awful, but as interactive experiences, they still have some value.