Mia and the Dragon Princess (XS) - ReviewLee Mehr , posted on 06 June 2023 / 2,213 Views
There's something about the allure to Wales Interactive's dedication to the FMV adventure genre, though perhaps it’s fairer to call it a "churn" more than anything else. The publisher's unfazed frequency of releases (even during the pandemic) at least shows it's earned a niche, even if just limited to choose-your-own-adventure short features. But Mia and the Dragon Princess is a shift from the usual: rather than aiming for campy horror a la Night Trap, this new entry is trying to capture an adventure romp. Sadly, said changeup results in one of this brand's sloppiest stories to date.
The tale begins with a pleasant animated flashback. A few hundred years ago, the titular Dragon Princess, Marshanda, forged a friendship with the famous pirate Red Kat Morgan on the high seas. Their bouts against numerous foes became legendary in their time. Forced to split up, Morgan gave Marshanda a special wrist device (i.e. Jack Sparrow's compass) that'd guide her back to both Morgan and her share of the treasure. She was eventually successful in evading her pursuers in the cold Antarctic waters, but this resulted in her being lost for hundreds of years. Now, she's happened upon modern-day London.
The transition from the short cartoon to FMV cut scene can certainly elicit whiplash. Getting the MCU Captain America treatment off-screen and then being chased through random London streets in a hospital gown doesn’t feel as smooth as it should. You only know she's evading a mysterious man, which eventually spills over to evading police. Enter Mia [stage left]. After being subtly foisted to clean the toilets by her boss, she happens upon this mysterious lady near the bar's dumpster. Despite the language barrier, Mia decides to help what she thinks is just another poor homeless person.
How choices are baked into this varies from wildly insane in consequences to utterly benign. I'm starting to think part of the charm with Wales' FMV games stems from finding the false choices, just to see how it recovers from "your Mia" taking the incorrect path. When you have the option to either lie or tell the police that Marshanda is hiding behind the dumpster, you intuitively know what you have to do. The game knows it, the character knows it, and you know it. But it's just too funny seeing the tattletale option awkwardly play out and how the game essentially says (through Mia) "look… let’s start over." It's my favorite joke across both playthroughs.
Now the other end of the spectrum are choices that are actually impactful. The game's finale can end at two different locations based on one critical choice. Even though that's a nice gimmick in isolation, it's nearly impossible to give credit when the way the plot develops is so wildly inconsistent. During my first dumb-luck playthrough, I was constantly asking how this sequence of events was conveniently occurring. First time through, Marshanda whips out a special plot device from nowhere; second time through, you see how she discovered it. Another mishap: the same shots of a side character opening a bar's wall safe were used when both the bar was being attacked by the mob and before they arrived.
After you've sifted through the jumble of false choices and inconsistencies, you get what could've been a serviceable little adventure serial. Having Encino Woman, who's also a skilled fighter, wake up in a strange new land to uncover her long-lost treasure with a down-on-her-luck barmaid sounds fun. There's some fresh ground to cover with their different circumstances, the unlikely heroes made along the way, the nasty baddies who're willing to kill to acquire her riches. If Hollywood had more respect for pacing these days, there's a solid 80-minute feature with those ideas. That's not exactly an expansive theater experience, but at least a matinee showing would go cheaper than the game's $12.99 retail cost.
Regardless of format, Richard Foster & Michael Pedley's script would still need a major overhaul. While the unknown importance of the dilapidated bar being lost on everyone except this centuries-old woman and the mob boss trying to buy it out is fine, you have to ease players into understanding more things: the dynamics of the bar in question, the looming threat of the mysterious mob, and so on; instead, players are just being shuffled from scene to scene, especially when the first-quarter is so focused on Mia trying to balance babysitting Marshanda while satisfying customers. Most of said customers are random and dull too, especially the spy lady with a hand injury and a compendium of bad lines. No matter which route is inevitably taken, the narrative can't help but feel like an inchoate string of scenarios to keep things going.
On the plus side, there are a few competent qualities to credit. Paul McGann (who I'm tempted to call "mob boss Douglas Murray") manages to salvage an antagonist performance that balances serious and camp in spite of a confused script. Noa Nikita Bleeker as Mia and Brian McCardie as her boss do a fair job as well. The rest of the cast unfortunately tip more towards the corny TV show on The CW or Sci-Fi by comparison; in their defense, it doesn’t seem like they're given the most assured direction either. At least the action captured on film is… something. Hyper-fixating on the bar leads to some confused gunfight scenarios, but work and pre-planning went into several martial arts sequences. It certainly beats the overwrought close-ups and jump scares in most of Wales' horror FMV titles, at least.
Even with those slim pickings to appreciate, Mia and the Dragon Princess is another Wales Interactive entry towards the absolute bottom of the barrel. Though there are decisions with substantial consequences scattered with the usual false choices, it feels like a wish granted from the monkey's paw: you can author a split in a critical path but the adverse effects are a choose-your-own-adventure story without any connective tissue. It's more engaging to think about this team trying to map out how to make sense of everything within the basic decision tree than the story itself. Even by schlocky B-movie standards, that's a terrible sign.
Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.
This review is based on a digital copy of Mia and the Dragon Princess for the XS