Eragon doesn't do much to embellish its simplistic design, but it's a surprisingly satisfying role-playing game despite its shortcomings.
- Mostly solid, uncomplicated role-playing mechanics
- Lengthy campaign with plenty of sidequests to keep you busy
- Save-anywhere feature is handy.
- Constant battles quickly get tiresome
- Despite the license, the story and presentation are completely generic.
The Eragon license lends itself well to a video game adaptation. Dragons, magic, monsters, and unlikely heroes abound in both the film and the novel it's based on. Given the theme, it makes sense that the license would be applied to a role-playing game, which is exactly what Eragon is on the Game Boy Advance. The structure of the game is generic but functional, and there's enough content to pad out the relatively shallow gameplay. It's easily overshadowed by the abundance of great role-playing games on the Game Boy Advance, but Eragon does offer a simple and oddly engaging experience that will keep you playing long enough to get your money's worth.
The game takes place in the fantasy world of Alagaesia, where the forces of evil are sweeping across the land, destroying towns and more or less taking over the world. Eragon is a young farmer who one day stumbles upon a glowing stone that turns out to be a dragon egg. The dragon hatches and Eragon finds out that he's been chosen to become a legendary dragon rider. Also, he has to save the world. The story is bland and the characters are uninteresting, but it's all very straightforward and it doesn't get needlessly convoluted.
You spend the game traveling from town to town and dungeon to dungeon defeating hundreds of orclike urgals and earning experience, which is applied toward strengthening specific skills, such as magic, herbalism, weapon proficiency, endurance, and so on. You can choose to focus your character on one of the specific skills, and when you gain enough experience to increase in level, that skill will increase in level. So if you focus on endurance, your character will gain more hit points when he or she levels up. If you focus on magic, you'll be able to learn more powerful spells. It's a very basic way of letting you develop your character as you play the game, and although it doesn't allow for much flexibility, it's rewarding enough to see your characters grow appreciably stronger.
Whenever you're on the overworld map or in a dungeon, you'll get drawn into battles with as many as five enemies. When you're in a dungeon, you'll actually see the enemy sprites running around onscreen, so you can at least try to avoid them. Even then, you'll usually end up having one battle for every four or five steps you take. The high encounter rate makes for a challenging, but also very repetitive and tedious, gameplay experience.
When you get into battle, the perspective switches from a top-down view to a side view, with the enemies on the left and your party of up to three characters on the right. The turn-based battle then plays out according to initiative. You can rest, retreat, use items, cast spells, or attack. But even though you're given plenty of options, you'll usually just end up attacking each turn. You have two attacks, a medium strength attack with the A button, and a stronger, but less consistent, attack with the B button. You can enter chains of up to five attacks, and then your character will perform the moves. Depending on the order in which you use your two attacks, you'll pull off combos for added damage or status effects. As you play, you'll open up new, more powerful combos. The combo attack system works well, because you can quickly enter in your attacks without sifting through menus or checking stats. This makes the battles move fairly quickly, although the enemies you face are often much stronger than you, so they can take several turns to defeat. It doesn't help that your characters will often die with only a couple of hits, and the magic and item systems are too costly to give you much of an advantage in battle.
When you cast a spell, you don't have to spend magic points as in most other role-playing games. Instead, magic spells drain your life gauge. You're given limited control over the power of your spells, and the more powerful a spell is, the more life it will cost you. As a result it's rarely effective to use magic early in the game because casting a spell will damage you as much as it will hurt an enemy. It works the same way with healing spells. When you take 150 points of damage to heal yourself for 170 points, using magic just doesn't make much sense. The disparity between the cost and effect of magic changes as you gain levels, but not enough to make it useful. The item system is also somewhat punishing. You can't simply go to a town and buy healing items from a merchant. Instead, you have to collect herbs and other items and then take them to an herbalist in town to create potions for you. You can't collect many herbs until you increase your herbalism skill, though, which means that you'll often find yourself stuck in a dungeon somewhere with little to no health and no way of healing yourself. You'll spend a lot of time backtracking just to get healed at the nearest town, which further drags down the pace of the game. Fortunately, you can save anywhere, and there's also a helpful checkpoint system in the game, so dying isn't a tremendous setback.
The constant battles and unforgiving magic and item systems make this a difficult game to get into. But even though the game can be frustrating, it can also be entertaining in a simple sort of way. The straightforward quest design, accessible battles, and easily managed character growth make Eragon a satisfying role-playing game most of the time. After you've put eight or so hours into the game, you'll start to level up and get stronger, and it becomes more enjoyable. You still have to deal with constant interruptions from random enemies, but the battles aren't nearly as aggravating when you're strong enough to actually handle them. The item system can be annoying, but it does make exploring a bit more interesting when you come across ingredients that you can use to make new, better items. The crafting system extends to your weapons, as well. You can take any weapon to a blacksmith and use items you've gathered to make that weapon stronger. These are minor touches, but they do help to make the game more interesting and provide a bit more depth beyond the very basic role-playing template that this game adheres to.
The presentation in Eragon is about as generic as the story, despite being based on a licensed property. The character sprites look large and animate fairly well, but they are lacking in detail. Enemies consist of the same few sprites highlighted with different colors to denote strength. The environments in the game look decent and aren't unreasonably large or complex, but like the characters, the backgrounds lack finer detail, making them look rather bland. One area in which the game does make an impression is the music. The soft tunes that loop in the background are pleasant enough to warrant turning up the volume on your Game Boy Advance.
Eragon is a fairly long game that can easily take you 20 hours to complete, depending on how much time you devote to side quests and item fetching. It takes some perseverance to get into, but if you give it some time, you'll find Eragon to be a competent role-playing game that will keep your interest for much longer than the typical licensed game. It shouldn't be your first choice for a portable role-playing game, but it's a decent adventure that you don't have to be familiar with the license to enjoy.