As I do with FMV games, I’ve had my eye on Mia and the Dragon Princess since it was announced last year. This one is a pretty straightforward interactive film with branching narratives. It’s made by two of the heavy hitters in contemporary FMV gaming, Wales Interactive and Good Gate Media, so I went in knowing it would probably be pretty solid. And it was… mostly. There were some hiccups along the way, but it’s still a good time.
In the 1800s, a pirate princess goes missing after some pretty gnarly life events. This part of the story is told in animated form, which I quite like as it sets things up nicely. It differentiates the old legend part of the story from what happens in the now. We then cut to contemporary London, where a barmaid named Mia is daydreaming of future travels when her thoughts are cut short by her boss asking her to plunge a toilet. This immediately sets her up as a dreamer who is still grounded in a much more mundane kind of reality.
She soon discovers a terrified woman in a hospital gown with a taser attached to her arm next to the garbage. She ends up bringing the mysterious woman into the bar and hiding her, as it’s clear she’s being chased by someone. She doesn’t speak English, so communication is extremely difficult early on. Simultaneous to all of this, Mia’s boss is being threatened by the owner of the restaurant above the bar, the Dragon Princess. He wants to buy the bar and will do anything – literally anything – to get his hands on it.
As it turns out, he also wants to get his hands on the mysterious woman. So his group of scary dudes hold the pub’s patrons and workers hostage. This includes a spy on medical leave, two couples on dates (there’s a small funny side story here, I won’t spoil it), a tour guide and his followers, and a bartender. What happens from here really branches out into very different narratives. Not all are really worth seeing, but it’s worth going through the so-so endings to find your way to the good stuff. I feel like there’s one “true” ending, and the rest are just what-if scenarios. Will I play through all of them anyways? Yes. But only one of the story paths gives what feels like an entire story.
Related Reading: My review of another recent (but very different) FMV game, Murderous Muses.
The gameplay is pretty standard for this type of game. While it’s not anything super innovative, it fits with the style of game. Players take control of Mia’s decisions. They’ll decide when to get involved versus when to stay out of it, when to be brave and when to cower, who to help, and other choices that can change the course of the story. When Mia makes a decision, her stats may change. These stats are shown in the top left corner of the screen, and are compassion, intelligence, bravery, responsibility, and knowledge. In general, I didn’t find them terribly necessary. The choices have a timer attached, but there’s an option for streamers that automatically pauses the game at these decision points. While obviously meant for streamers, I appreciate it because my brains and hands aren’t always (or ever) the quickest.
Something in this game that I haven’t seen in many (if any, but my memory is terrible) FMV games before is a story tree that shows what path you’re on, what path you did last, and what scenes have been seen. It’s a great way to guide players to the unseen bits. Unfortunately, it just kind of breaks in the middle. At one point, there’s a choice between two directions. If you choose the first, everything works normally. If you choose the second, there’s a weird “skip” that happens, and you’ll end up jumping to somewhere without entirely understanding what on the tree took you there. Does it matter that much? Probably not to most people. But I’m an FMV completionist and it drives me batty that that scene just won’t be shown as being selected.
I always appreciate some good casting in FMV games, and Mia and the Dragon Princess is no different. Mia is played by Noa Nikita Bleeker, and I find her portrayal of the character to be really earnest and stubborn, the perfect mix. The main villain is played by Doctor Who alum Paul McGann. It’s quite the difference to being, well, the Doctor himself. He’s imposing and, even through the screen, a bit scary. I definitely wouldn’t want to be trapped down a dark alley with him. The tour guide, Sebastian (played by Michael Geary), is another welcome character. He’s not overtly funny, it’s more subtle than that, but he does provide some comic relief. Some of the other bar patrons, like half of each of the dates, don’t really add a ton to the story; I find them rather forgettable, unfortunately.
There’s a lot of fighting and some gruesome things (mildly, I found, but I also watched six Scream movies over last weekend so I’m a bit desensitized), and Dita Tantang was a great choice for the mysterious woman, Marshanda. She’s portrayed as vulnerable yet strong and confident. Tantang is described on IMDB as “highly skilled in unarmed combat” and I can see that. I don’t know much about martial arts, but the fight scenes seem highly choreographed and heavily practiced.
Mia and the Dragon Princess doesn’t really stand out amongst the crowd of interactive films; I doubt I’ll remember it in the same way as I remember The Complex, for example. It was an enjoyable time, enough for me to play through to try and get different endings a handful of times. Despite the broken spot in the story tree, it was a welcome addition to the gameplay experience. The acting was good, though some characters seemed unnecessary. One branch of the story felt complete, the others were definitely just dead ends and generally not terribly interesting. Is the game worth playing? Sure. Does it belong in the FMV hall of fame? I don’t think so.