Review: Dragons Soar, but Games Might Burn You

Back in the day — say, 550 A.D. — dragons were scary.

They torched villages, hoarded treasures and kidnapped virgins, and one of them even took down legendary tough guy Beowulf.

In Western cultures, at least, you didn't want to mess with a dragon.

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Dragons got better P.R. in Asia, where they were generally seen as symbols of good luck and prosperity.

Over the years, the kindly dragon has become more familiar, reaching its nadir with Peter, Paul and Mary's "Puff, the Magic Dragon."

The dragons in video games aren't that wimpy, but they've usually been somewhat domesticated.

I still can't figure out why a flying, fire-breathing brute would let itself be dominated by a scrawny human, but in fantasyland an infinite number of dragons are apparently ready to do our bidding.

Let's meet a few of them:

—"Lair" (Sony, for the PlayStation 3, $59.99): The dragons in "Lair" are some of the most majestic creatures ever seen in a video game.

The developers at Sony's Factor 5 studio have lavished an unprecedented amount of attention on the beasts, carefully crafting them down to their individual scales.

It's worth checking out "Lair" just to marvel at the way the sun shines through a dragon's translucent wings.

Sadly, the gameplay in "Lair" doesn't come close to its glorious visuals.

You play a dragon-mounted soldier who's defending your country against a jealous neighbor. Early on, you and your comrades are in the air fighting waves of enemy dragons, which is where this game's first major issue comes up: It's awfully hard to distinguish between good guys and bad.

A more significant problem is the game's control scheme.

It depends on the motion-sensing capabilities of the PS3's Sixaxis controller — you tilt it to turn your dragon, or thrust it up and back to pull a U-turn.

Unfortunately, the controls are stubbornly imprecise, making tight turns nearly impossible.

Most of the challenge comes from getting your dragon to fly in the right direction, making "Lair" one of the most frustrating games in a long time.

One star out of four.

—"Blue Dragon" (Microsoft, for the Xbox 360, $59.99): Shu is a boy with a curious skill: When he gets into a jam, a blue dragon appears over his shoulder to do his fighting.

Shu's buddies have their own animal familiars — a bird, a bull — and they join forces to battle an evil mastermind and his minions.

"Blue Dragon" is the first release from Mistwalker, the studio founded by "Final Fantasy" creator Hironobu Sakaguchi to develop Japanese-style role-playing games for Microsoft.

Xbox 360 owners have been starving for this sort of game, but they're bound to be disappointed by this initial effort.

Most of the game is spent exploring a desolate landscape, wandering between settlements until the main villain shows up to goose things along.

The fighting is moderately entertaining, but the cliche-ridden plot is predictable and the characters are annoying.

"Blue Dragon" is a perfectly serviceable RPG — small praise indeed for a legend like Sakaguchi.

Two stars.

—"Dragoneer's Aria" (NIS, for the PlayStation Portable, $39.99): In the world of Iris, most dragons with humans maintain the peace.

But one bad apple, the Black Dragon, is determined to ruin the fun for everyone, so the human dragoons and their leathery pals have to take down the evil beast.

"Dragoneer's Aria" is a sprawling RPG from a company best known for quirky strategy games like "Disgaea" and "Grim Grimoire."

"Aria" lacks the charm of those two games, thanks mainly to its bland human characters and slow-moving story. And the dragons, sadly, aren't awesome enough to pick up the slack.

"Aria" also suffers from a cumbersome battle and magic system that can turn a single fight into a half-hour-long grind.

This game requires a lot of patience, but few players will find the story compelling enough to slog through.

One-and-a-half stars.