Dragon’s Crown Review: Style and substance

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dragon's crown

Title: Dragon’s Crown
Price: $39.99 on Vita, $49.99 on PS3
System(s): Vita, PS3
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Atlus (Vanillaware)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence

There are certain expectations one has of a Vanillaware game. First and foremost, it’s going to be stunning. I’m talking so beautiful, a player has to sometimes just stop and stare at the screen, marveling at the way every character, enemy and environment is depicted. Second, it must draw players in, be it with an interesting story, challenging adventure or unexpected gameplay. Third, something about it must keep you coming back for more.

Dragon’s Crown fulfills all those criteria. It is a gorgeous adventure with an interesting story. The game gradually grows more difficult, rewarding players with rare loot, extra challenge and more skills. Most importantly, the ability to play as six different heroes either alone, or online with friends, provides plenty of incentive to keep returning, even if your level is already maxed and your character is armed with legendary armaments.

dragon's crown

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

Adventurers get caught up in epic affairs. It’s a hazard of the profession. If someone going to go around, exploring ruins and forests, and offering their services to anyone who’ll hire them, odds are something big is going to happen and the adventurers will be the ones who have to set things right. Which is exactly how it goes in Dragon’s Crown.

Players create a custom character, based on one of six classes. The adventurer could be an Amazon, Archer, Dwarf, Knight, Sorceress or Wizard. Players get to customize their name, choose a color pallette to influence the appearance, decide on the language the character speaks and then sets out to join the Adventurer’s Guild and make a name for him or herself around Hydeland.

Naturally, the adventurer gets drawn into royal affairs. The king of Hydeland took off in search of the legendary Dragon’s Crown, a relic that supposedly allows the wearer to control dragons. It was an understandable course of action, considering Hydeland is constantly threatened by stronger, outside forces, but now the king is missing, the succession is in question and generally strange happenings are afoot.

Good thing there’s a new adventurer in town.

dragon's crown

Gorgeous, outrageous, smooth and engaging.

At it’s core, Dragon’s Crown is a beat’em up with RPG elements. If someone is familiar with Guardian Heroes, Streets of Rage or Golden Axe, then they’ll have a pretty good idea of how things will proceed. The group of four, or less if one wishes, explores an area, fighting off every enemy encountered, while also directing Rannie the thief to open locked doors and chests. At one point in an area, a scene will come up guiding the story and, if a certain point in the story has been reached, offering the option to continue down one of two paths and face one of two different bosses. After an area is completed, the party returns to town.

That’s when the chores begin. First, experience is applied to the current main character and players can sort through the newly acquired equipment to determine what to appraise and keep, and what to sell. This is also the time to take various adventurer bones found during the prior quest to the temple, to see if any should be resurrected, adding to the pool of potential party members, or buried to make room for more. Currently equipped items have to also be repaired, so they don’t break in the field. Not to mention it’s always smart to visit the Adventurer’s Guild, to see if there’s a new skill to spend points on, a completed side-quest to report or a new side-quest to take. After that, it’s back to either level grinding in the dungeons or listening to the narrator to see where the adventurer should go next to advance the story.

If it sound repetitious, that’s because Dragon’s Crown is. However, I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s repetitive in the same way Diablo or World of Warcraft is. Yes, players are going through the same area multiple times, but the crew going with them or the character they’re currently using can change the experience. Plus, the treasure chests available in each area change, meaning higher quality weapons could appear. Which means multiple playthroughs are required to acquire the best equipment and reach that initial, level 35 level cap. Besides, after a certain point, online and local multiplayer is unlocked, which adds quite a bit of extra replay value, and there are two additional difficulty levels that open up after the first and second playthroughs.

In fact, I’d encourage each Dragon’s Crown player to make one of each of the six main adventurers. They all play differently, and you may find an unexpected favorite among the group. For example, the Amazon, Dwarf and Knight are melee fighters, making it easy to get right up on enemies and let loose a barrage of hits. The Archer, Sorceress and Wizard are distant fighters and require players to think strategically, using arrows and magic when the time is right, to avoid being caught unaware and unarmed by enemies. For example, I was one of those people who intended to avoid using the Sorceress because of her appearance. I decided to use her to be fully informed for this review, and now she’s my favorite character.

dragon's crown

In fact, even any two Sorceresses, or Dwarves, or any other character won’t be alike. Players may go with different skill set upgrades at the Adventurer’s Guild, which can change the way a character plays. For example, I’ve given my Archer, Pixie, a melee build, even though she’s a distance fighter. She has the hidden dagger skill, which allows me to give her a dagger to replace her bow temporarily in battle. Another skill adds the defense stat of her boots to strength, so her general, close-range physical attacks are stronger. I’ve also chosen to invest in a magic skill, which allows her to use a short-range magic attack by holding down the square button. The characters are what you make of them.

Speaking of the characters, this is probably a good time to briefly discuss the Dragon’s Crown art issue. Some people have a problem with the depiction of the Amazon and Sorceress characters. To this I say, look at some of the male characters, primarily the dwarf. Vanillaware clearly created Dragon’s Crown as an homage to classic beat’em up games, hoping to make it more over-the-top and stylized than the games that came before it. Yes, proportions are ridiculous. I’m going to have to play the “it’s only a game” card here. If someone doesn’t like characters like the Amazon or Sorceress, don’t look at them.

Though, even if some players are opposed to some Dragon’s Crown characters’ appearances, I hope they can still appreciate the overall beauty of the game. Because this game is incredible, and I think it’s an example of Vanillaware’s finest work. The detail in each characters’ appearance is extraordinary, even in the way they move. Every ally and opponent is a work of art. That isn’t even getting into the detail of the environment. I spent about five minutes just marveling at the lighting techniques used in the gate area of town, making my characters walk in and out of the shadows and sunlight to bask in the visual effects. I’m glad that the reward for completing sidequests is additional artwork, because I loved what I saw and wanted more.

Actually, that’s one of the reasons why I think the Vita version of Dragon’s Crown is superior. The ability to take screenshots of this incredible game at any time is a godsend. I was snapping an endless array of pictures, trying to get perfect shots of certain moments. My sorceress riding a dragon mount. My elf eating a piece of fruit. A magician’s apprentice squirming after he’d been turned into a mouse. I needed to capture every moment.

But there’s even more of a reason why Dragon’s Crown works best on the Vita, and that’s the touch screen controls. There are so many moments in the game when players need to interact with the background to make something happen. Tapping a door or chest to make Rannie unlock them. Touching a glimmer in the background to make a hidden treasure appear. Pushing runes on the wall and in my inventory, to create a special magical event. These were all so easy and effortless on the Vita, and while it isn’t too difficult to use the right analog stick and X button to make these things happen on the PS3, it just felt more natural on the handheld.

dragon's crown

Dragon’s Crown pays tribute while treading new ground.

I’m in love with Dragon’s Crown. I suppose one could call me addicted. I’m taking endless pictures of every moment, because it looks so good and I feel I have to share it. I have an avatar of every character, because I had to see how each one works. I’m going through the same dungeons two, three, eight times alone, because I want to be fully prepared for when I go online and play with other people. I don’t want to be dead weight, I want to contribute. I need to collect every piece of extra artwork, because dang it, it’s worth the extra effort. It’s like part of me is playing, and remembering endless romps through Golden Axe and Streets of Rage as a child, while another is marveling at how gorgeous an intricate a game can be, while also appreciating the rune system, RPG elements and various twists. Vanillaware perfectly captured the spirit of these classic games, while adding in new elements that show the future of a side-scrolling beat’em up. Dragon’s Crown is a gorgeous, engaging game that is not only entertaining, but is also a work of art.

Site [Dragon’s Crown]

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