Mia and the Dragon Princess is what you might expect for an FMV game, but there’s at least some ambition on display.
Is that an FMV game? Oh go on then, you’ve twisted my arm. Interactive movies are a guilty pleasure of mine that I feel no guilt about whatsoever. Choice-driven and frequently entertaining, they’re quick bursts of choose-your-own-adventure fun that have come a long way since those early FMV outings when CD-ROMS (remember those?) were just breaking into the video game scene. Mia and the Dragon Princess is another release from Wales Interactive, who have pretty much made themselves the poster child for interactive movies, and whilst they tend to stick to a similar formula a lot of the time, this release certainly has more ambition than some of what has come before.
Initially animated, the story is about Marshanda, a buccaneer from the golden age of piracy who mysteriously appears in the modern era clad in a hospital gown. After a brief exchange in a restaurant, she hides out behind the back of a neighbouring bar, where the titular Mia works. Over the next hour or so, you make Mia’s decisions at certain points to drive the story forward, resulting in a variety of different endings. If you’ve played an FMV game before, you know what to expect.
Mia’s place of work seems to get very busy very quickly. Aside from a hen party — which is painfully acted I’m sorry to say — that disappears after a while, there’s a former MI5 agent, a walking tour of London, and a group of gangsters who turn up at various points. Considering this place is meant to be struggling financially, it certainly has a lot of customers. Anyway, Marshanda’s appearance kicks off a series of events thanks to a device strapped to her wrist that is pointing in the direction of something. Depending on your choices, you might find what this is, or perhaps not. People will live or die based on your calls, as well as the fate of the bar and whatever might be lurking beneath it.
The plot is pretty absurd, and at times seems to flit wildly between UK kid afternoon drama series and violent mob thriller. Obviously, this can be an issue with branching interactive movies, but it doesn’t make it any less jarring when Mia can change personality on a dime depending on what you’ve selected. Things are fairly well acted, and even though it’s hammy, scenery-chewing stuff, it’s no less fun for it. Brian McCardie and Paul McGann are well cast as the bar owner and the prospective buyer of it respectively, and lead actress Dita Tantang comes across as an absolute badass when it comes to the fight scenes.
This is what I was referring to when I say this is a somewhat more ambitious project. The fight choreography is very good. Suitably violent and hard-hitting with some truly vicious-looking impacts from time to time, it’s a highlight when they happen. Through my three playthroughs, I saw maybe four different scenes that really show off the talents of the performers. I’d love to see more FMV games that make use of this sort of genre.
The act of actually playing through Mia and the Dragon Princess can feel a bit odd though. The pacing and tone are often bizarrely off-kilter from one moment to the next. MI5 agent Bennie can be making classically British quips only to be violently killed minutes later. Characters hiding in a secret hatch can be getting shot at by bad guys one minute, then be allowed to have a five-minute conversation completely uninterrupted with no reason for a change in threat level. A pursuit down a series of tubes to a hidden chamber should be intense, but the pace breaks for everyone to solve a little puzzle. It’s kind of all over the place and quickly breaks any immersion that might have been there. In this regard, it’s one of the weaker Wales Interactive offerings.
Then there’s the story tree which is slightly disappointing. I appreciated being able to look up the different possible paths, but quickly makes it clear that there are only one or two pivot points that really change the ending. Many events are seemingly destined to play out, and the only effect you’re having is how they occur. I regularly think about this whenever I play an FMV game because I realise how hard it is to create a branching narrative with many different endings, but then I remember the hugely ambitious and impressive Not For Broadcast and remember that there are ways to make this work and feel natural.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this. The occasionally silly humour gave me more than a couple of chuckles, and the collectable audio tours you can pick up by seeing certain scenes were a nice touch to add more to the story behind Marshanda. Those fight scenes were excellent, and the acting on the whole was exactly what’s needed for a game like this. I’d like to see Wales Interactive and Good Gate Media carry on with this sort of genre, as the possibilities for fun narratives are certainly there.