There are four different games based on the Eragon movie that’s coming out in the middle of December, all of which offer a different gaming experience. For fans of third-person action/adventure games, you’ve got the PS2/Xbox/360 version, or if you’re inclined toward handheld play, the DS version. For aspiring Dragon Riders itching for the chance to soar the skies on Saphira, the PSP version offers some hot dragon-on-dragon action. But in terms of value for money, the GBA’s turn-based RPG take on Eragon might be the best of the lot. Although it suffers from some of the same flaws as the other adaptations, including a lack of innovation and polish, it’s probably the best value for the cost out of all four versions.
One of the major knocks against the other versions of the game is that they tend to skimp on story elements. The PS2/Xbox/360 version’s plot is so bare bones that someone who’s never read the book or seen the movie that the game is based on won’t have much of an idea of what exactly it is that they’re doing or why. Whether this was a movie studio mandate to preserve the uniqueness of the film or the result of a rushed development cycle is unclear, but the good news is that it’s not a problem in the GBA version. The game starts at the very beginning of the Inheritance Trilogy, with Arya’s doomed attempt to keep the dragon egg containing Saphira out of the hands of the forces of evil. From there, it’s a solid 20 hours of gameplay that takes you all the way through the events of the first book, with plenty of side quests that explore areas and events only hinted at in the novel. Because fantasy RPGs and swords-and-sorcery tales tend to share the same narrative structure, the story fits the game like a sword in its scabbard, and there’s plenty of it to enjoy.
Much of the gameplay, as with most RPGs, is spent in turn-based combat. Fortunately, Eragon avoids mandatory random encounters, which tend to discourage exploration for gamers who don’t want to spend an hour fighting twenty extremely similar battles just to make sure that they didn’t miss a treasure chest somewhere. Instead, enemy parties in the immediate area are represented by a single enemy sprite. If the enemy sprite runs into your party (also represented by a single character) or vice-versa, combat begins. If you move at the default walking speed, enemy parties will almost always be able to catch you and initiate combat, but you can run indefinitely by holding down the B button and avoid practically every enemy encounter if you don’t feel like fighting. Of course, that can come back to haunt you later in the game, when your characters haven’t earned enough experience to defeat more powerful enemies, but it’s nice to always have the option of not having to get into a brawl every seven to ten steps.
Yeah, It’s Derivative. So What?
The combat itself is standard RPG fare. Once it starts, you go to a combat screen where your party is lined up on the right side and up to six enemies appear on the left side, arranged in two rows. Enemies in the back row can only be attacked by magic or ranged weapons, so your melee fighters need to hack their way through the front row before they can get a piece of the rear guard. Characters take turns taking actions, whether that’s attacking with their equipped weapon, casting a magic spell or using an item.