Underrated Jewel – Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon
What is really terrifying, creepy and shocking… I asked myself just before picking up this forgotten jewel of the game. I thought that I have seen it all when it comes down to the horror genre in general, but Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon, a point & click adventure masterpiece from Kheops Studio’s kitchen changed my opinion in a single, swift stroke. Some consider this game to be the best out of the Dracula trilogy, both in terms of thrilling story and artistic execution, while others criticize the mind-cracking riddles and stiff animations. Here’s my perspective on Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon, the lost treasure of 2008.
Every game needs to have an appropriate and determined mood in order to function properly, so that all parts of the game have sense and work as intended. Whether hilarious, scary or sad, the importance of the atmosphere in games – especially adventures – that are driven by complex narrative or literal base is paramount. In this department, Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon checks out as a perfect example of unity: characters, story, setting and riddles function in a awesome choir. The entire spooky, melancholic and tense atmosphere of Romanian Transylvania after the WWI is magnificently represented, especially within the walls of Vladoviste where the game takes place. Every scene in this “hopping” adventure is acting in unison with the plot that is gradually unraveling the bigger picture filled with twists and turns that in no moment seem cliche or redundant. Most side characters that the player encounters during the game are memorable, from the old and hunched undertaker to the deviant professor Heinrich Von Kruger.
When we talk about the characters themselves, they are truly majestic. The protagonist of the game, father Arno Moriani of the Sacred Congregation of Rites is sent from Rome in 1920 to Vladoviste on a mission to investigate the deceased scientist Martha Calugarul and affirm the possibility of her being proclaimed a martyr. What seemed to be a pretty straightforward mission, turned into a hardboiled detective work for the young father as he journeys to Budapest where he meets Irina Boczow (an expert on vampirism) and even into the Turkish mountains where Vlad Tepes – the infamous Dracula and the antagonist of the game – had been imprisoned. Father Arno is someone with whom the player can identify since he is an ordinary man of flesh and blood, though truly brave and valiant going toe-to-toe with Dracula’ s legend – a veteran from the WWI, he still possesses knowledge about field medicine (remember to wash your hands with soap!) and is haunted by claustrophobic nightmares that appear to had come from that arduous period of his life – if you know your history, you can recall all the horrors of trench warfare in the Western Front.
Riddles in Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon are inhumane. Yes, all of them are inventory crawlers, but their nature in a game dealing with folk legends and popular vampiric myth can be disputed. Blood analysis and sampling, code machine deciphering, book hunting and sorting, safe cracking, electricity circuits and mechanisms fixing are not the type of puzzles one should find in a game of this type. They are almost impossible to solve (many question their logic, if it even exists) and many hardcore adventurers that have countless titles beat behind themselves would have to roll up their sleeves. It took me about four hours of trial and error to get all the blood vials analysed and sorted according to the given cryptic manual that (conveniently) leaves you high and dry. Until then, I never would have guessed that Count Dracula has a knack for blood analysis before he gulps it up.
I am not going into the details of the story itself, since it would be a cardinal sin to spoil Dracula 3. The story is intriguing and unsettling with dashes of melancholy and feeling of hopelessness, but if you manage to pull through the punishing puzzles, you will be rewarded with twists worthy of the Nobel Prize. Not in one single moment are you aware of what is precisely going on around father Arno, leaving everything wrapped nicely in the veil of mystery that is unfolding slowly, giving a bigger picture that is, well, impressive (I’ll let you judge it for yourselves). Your trusty companion, The Holy Bible, will be your only guide and councilor when you find yourself in a dead corner (this WILL happen at some point if you are playing it without a walkthrough) and by pouring over its pages you can attempt your next move.
Music and sound effects are phenomenal and well played out. The music of Dracula 3 includes several appropriately moody and dour atmospheric themes that in unison with the dark environment such as derelict streets of Vladoviste and the empty halls of the castle in the last chapter produce an effect of grief and sadness, along with claustrophobia and fear. The only time this somber mood has been “killed” is during your first visit to Budapest, but the next time you come there you’ll be in for a surprise. Turkish mountain prison on the other hand, mixes a feeling of tension and horror using the book examples of bones being scattered, mysterious and ominous inscriptions and crypts just to name a few. In my opinion, this and the final chapter are the hardest in terms of puzzles: labyrinths, deathtraps, dismantling a live mortar bomb and the series of challenges given by the enigmatic gypsy. Along the path of the Dragon (series of challenges for attaining immortality that will player uncover during the game) Arno will face more than just his fears and count Dracula, but numerous other historic entities and groups such as the Thule society and nationalistic Romanian Iron Guard. There is a lot of historic references within the game, whether it’s the setting or the events.
What more to say about Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon here and not to ruin it? Probably nothing. Father Arno has been etched in my mind along with his incredible adventure and many other characters that appear in it like the tragic reporter Stephan Luca. This game merits an equally if not better sequel that will perhaps continue the cliffhanger in the end (just observe the final scene and you will see where am I coming from), but until then, I’ll install Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon again if nothing more than to hear father Arno introducing himself every time when he makes a call.
Here’s a trailer link: