Mashing together fighting-game mechanics with rhythm-game ideas sounds like one of the stranger genre combinations you're ever likely to find in a video game. Nevertheless, in Draglade, you'll be fighting to a musical beat while also enjoying some light adventure and collection aspects. However, none of these aspects--most notably the rhythm mechanics--are very robust by themselves, which leaves you with a game that is merely decent when it could have been much more.
Draglade shows you the ropes via its single-player story mode. You can choose from one of four available characters and guide him through his quest to become a major grapper, a professional fighter that uses a specialized weapon called a glade. Each of the four characters' stories follow the same basic template, which involves the same tournaments, the same optional quests, and the same generic, sinister organization bent on harnessing the power of dark glades. If you've ever seen an anime series or played an anime-themed game, you wouldn't be missing anything if you chose to skip the forgettable dialog.
There's rarely any motivation to talk to townspeople, anyway; most don't offer anything but recycled combat tips. You'll sometimes hear tales such as the two lovers who were from different social classes, or an old potter whose lost vase turned up in the hands of a mischievous child, but you can never help them out. Some towns have many areas and people, but given that you can't do anything with them, you'll wonder why the developers even bothered with it all. Don't be surprised to find yourself ignoring everyone and going straight to the fight.
Combat in Draglade is quite simple. All characters have light and hard attacks, each of which can be modified to knock the opponent either into the air or down on the ground. You also use up to six different "bullets" in battle, which are special moves you can equip before battle, including fireballs, electrical bolts, and even health-restoring dew drops. Usage of bullets is governed by a regenerating energy meter at the bottom of the screen, which means that you can't throw an overpowered bullet at your enemy over and over again.
Via a rudimentary combo system, you can chain light attacks into a heavy one, perform moves that hit multiple times with a single button press, or hit foes one extra time as they come down from a fall. It never gets as complex or as tactical as a Street Fighter match, though, and instead opts for a feel that mimics Super Smash Bros. or Power Stone. This is exacerbated by the fact that there's no distinction between blocking low attacks versus high ones.
The beat combo system is where the rhythm-game aspects make their way into Draglade. As long as you've got energy stored up, you can send your character into a beat mode by tapping the L button. This activates a horizontal note chart--the beat score--at the bottom of the screen. It begins scrolling when you execute a light attack, after which you must continue to hit the light attack button in time with the notes. Do this successfully and you'll complete the beat combo, which can cause massive damage if it connects. If your timing is especially good, you'll do even more damage.
Aside from being able to perform one in the air, there's not much more to beat combos than tapping a single button in time. For the majority of the game, beat scores last only about three seconds long. Furthermore, being limited to the light attack button makes it feel even more simplistic. Due to the loose nature of the combo and blocking system, you can't reliably chain into a beat combo from a normal strike. Unless you exploit moves or bullets that leave your adversary stunned, nailing someone with a beat combo relies on chance a bit more than we would like. However, in a fun twist, you're able to create your own custom beat scores: Taking someone down to the riff of "Kung Fu Fighting" never gets old.
The simple fighting mechanics make for a relatively easy experience, but this at least makes the game more accessible. Furthermore, even if it's not necessarily deep, on the surface it is quite varied. The wealth of bullets you collect during story mode cements that notion, considering that there are a hundred different attacks you can buy or find throughout the towns you visit and the side missions you take. The side missions, all of which are optional, boil down to guiding your character from left to right and beating up creatures that stand in your way much like you would in a one-on-one match. This is, again, very simplistic in that it rarely throws any more than two threats your way, and you'll start to wonder why the developers couldn't put some interesting platform elements or secrets in there. Finally, there's absolutely no way for you to backtrack and complete missions you've failed previously until you start over with a new character.
Regardless, you'll want to put up with all the side missions and complete the game with all four characters if you want to fully enjoy the multiplayer experience in Draglade. Finishing the game with each character not only increases his hit points and attack strength, but also unlocks a character from his story for usage in versus mode. DS wireless play makes a standard versus mode available along with a cooperative campaign and a lobby through which to trade beat combos and bullets. The versus mode features single-card download play, which is a nice addition despite its limitation to the four principal characters. It's subject to occasional stuttering but holds up well enough. You can also fight online, with the option to limit your encounters to anyone within your skill range. Leaderboards are a nice touch, as are the achievement medals you earn for such acts as winning a match very quickly, exploiting beat combos, and successfully defending against repeated onslaughts.
There are a lot of neat little things about Draglade, but they're not taken advantage of as much as they should have been. Therefore, Draglade ends up being enjoyable but hardly robust. If Ultimate Mortal Kombat and Bleach DS aren't enough to satisfy your fighting-game bloodlust on the DS, Draglade is a worthy game, but don't go into it expecting anything too intense or complex.