Back at Evolution 2014, Chinese arcade stick manufacturer Qanba featured a prototype model of a new design. This big-bodied stick was made with the PlayStation 4 in mind. It allowed easy access to the lever and pushbuttons as well as room to hold onto spare parts. One unique feature in this prototype stick was the ability to switch the left and right portion of the top panel. It would have allowed the player to use the button layout of Sega's Astro City format while having the lever placed similar to Taito's Vewlix design. The stick was eventually put on hold due to the cost involved in producing it.
Qanba was able to salvage that design and reintroduce it in 2016 as the Dragon. Aspects of the stick have changed since its 2014 reveal but the core look still remains in the final version. As a direct competitor to Hori's Real Arcade Pro Premium VLX arcade stick series, the Dragon is part of the luxury grade of sticks. You can expect arcade quality parts and an exquisite body design, but at a very hefty price.
As previously mentioned, the Dragon is based on the colossal 2014 prototype stick; it's definitely a looker. Compared to most arcade sticks, the design of the Dragon is very layered and dynamic. While the main piece of the stick featuring the control panel looks simple, the outer portion that surrounds it is angular. From the front, left and right sides, the stick absolutely looks beautiful. The rear end does look a bit unusual due to the weird arm grips. From a spectator perspective, the rear part might seem a bit massive and unconventional but nothing to really complain about.
For a large stick that's 20 inches wide as well as having the main and outer portions made with aluminum and plastic respectively, it weighs as much as its looks. At 11.6 pounds, this is a monster to hold. It's just a bit less than the Hori RAP VLX sticks, but still heavier than most sticks out there. Whether you play on your lap or on a table, you can feel confident that the Dragon won't be going anywhere. Together with the antislip rubber pads, the possibility of movement won't be a concern. Much like Qanba's Crystal, the Dragon's rubber pads do not cover the whole bottom plate so there is metal that can be exposed to rusting in the future. For a luxury grade stick, it's disappointing to notice that.
If you are looking to bring this to tournaments, consider having a big heavy duty arcade stick bag. Carrying it in your arms feels very awkward and can be straining if held for too long. Qanba's Guardian bag can hold the Dragon, but it's challenging to insert and remove; SPLITFRAME's Transporter bags might be a better answer. Bringing this stick on a plane might seem impractical due to the weight and how much real estate it requires in your luggage.
Similar to the Crystal and the Obsidian arcade sticks, the Dragon also opts for an LED system. Instead of the obvious effect of the former, the setup is much more subtle like the latter. The LEDs are placed on the top part of the front end of the Dragon as well as the undersides of the left and right hand grips. They emit red light instead of the blue found on the other sticks. On default, the left LEDs are triggered when moving the joystick lever while the right side work when the pushbuttons are pressed. Other modes, when pressing the LED button, include emitting during a vibration trigger, a constant glow or simply having them off. They don't light up as intensely as the Crystal's LEDs, making it less of a core trait and more like icing to the body design.
Instead of using proprietary arcade parts found on Qanba's lower-priced sticks, the company went for the best with the JLF lever and OBSF-30 pushbuttons from Sanwa Denshi. When it comes to performance, there is nothing to complain about as those parts are excellent. Qanba did add a mirrored dust cover and a metal ball top which is a nice touch and a compliment to the Dragon's overall look. I would have liked it if the stick contained Sanwa's metallic OBSF-AX buttons, but it probably would have affected the Dragon's price, which is expensive as it is. The black colored OBSF-30 buttons on the Dragon though looks cool.
All of the special controls such as Options, Share, Touch Pad, LED and sliders are all organized in the upper middle area of the stick. Being small and grouped up, there is no real need for a lock switch. Players don't have to worry about accidentally pausing or accessing the Share menu mid-match. The minor drawback is that you have to look at them directly to find out what they do. The console slider that features both PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 modes also has its own PC section which works as an Xinput controller out of the box. The Dragon works with the PC versions of Street Fighter V and Killer Instinct with no issues. Like the Crystal, the Dragon's Touch Pad is also contact sensitive so it's great for navigating the PS4's on-screen keyboard or resetting to specific positions when practicing.
After opening two heavy duty tabs found below the metallic part of the stick, you get a nice look at its innards. Living up to its name, the stick features a dragon scale design on its inside. While it looks very nice, having it replace a compartment meant for extra buttons and a balltop—features found on the prototype—seems unnecessary from a player perspective. The body's internals are not all just for show though. You can replace the lever and pushbuttons much like other modern arcade sticks. They are covered by protective glass. If you need to tighten or replace a balltop, there is a small hole where you can put your screwdriver through. As for full replacements, you need to remove the glass after unscrewing two specific points. In my experience working with the glass, it feels somewhat hard to remove to the point I felt like it might break.
The screw points found on the main control panel seem to indicate that it can be removed. Focus Attack is planning to offer plexi and custom art services so it looks like it's possible to customize that end.
Most legacy and current sticks from Qanba feature USB cable compartments. Similar to the budget-based Drone stick, the Dragon uses a different method for organizing its cable. It lacks a compartment, but requires players to tie the USB cable around two metal studs and then keep it in place with a provided velcro strap. The studs do look unusual compared to the rest of the stick but they do the job efficiently. For a stick of this caliber, I would have preferred a detachable cable but this method will do. Just make sure to not overtighten the cable or you risk breaking it sooner than later.
A recent trend in arcade sticks is to feature a 3.5-millimeter headphone port and the Dragon is no exception. Most if not all stereo headphones should be able to work with the stick with no problems. As long as it only has a 3.5mm jack, players can also use headsets with microphones for in-game voice chatting. Even iPhone earphones with the microphone will work with the Dragon. Since it disables audio from your display, it's not really useful in tournaments. It's great for home use during late night sessions though.
As for testing for lag with other arcade sticks, the results were interesting. When trying to find counter hits, the Dragon gets a very slight edge when up against Mad Catz's Arcade FightStick Tournament Edition 2, Razer's Panthera and Qanba's own Crystal. Fortunately, most of the other hits were trades. When it comes to using a PlayStation 3 stick under a converter and the Lab Zero legacy driver, the Dragon was winning by a larger margin. Testing with the Hori Real Arcade Pro 4 stick resulted with every hit being a trade. The Dragon did lose to the dominating Brook Universal Fighting Board, known for very low latency. You can check out the results here.
As much as the Dragon is a cool stick, the elephant in the room that has to be mentioned is its price tag. Being part of that luxury line of sticks, the Dragon justifies its $299.99 price tag by having a dense and industrial-like design, high quality arcade parts and other features that lean on vanity. This stick, though, can be considered overcompensating to some people who prefer practicality. Most of the useful features such as parts, options and more can be found on other sticks, especially on Qanba's cheaper Obsidian arcade stick.
The Dragon is for those who have the money and want an arcade stick out of the ordinary. This is also perfect for collectors. It might not be ideal for tournaments, but it makes a great stick to use at home. The Dragon is also a nice showpiece for visitors. Feature-wise, the stick does have shortcomings but they are very minor when comparing to what worked well. As much as there is a good amount of substance, the Dragon has a lot more style which is ultimately its biggest draw. You definitely get what you pay for but are you willing to invest in it?