Dragon’s Crown Review
Review by Shawn Denney
Dragon’s Crown is an arcade style brawler inspired by games from the 90’s but made with some of today’s enhancements. It comes to us courtesy of developer Vanillaware and publisher Atlus. The result is a visually striking game that is fun to play but comes with some design decisions that are rather perplexing.
Gameplay takes place on a sidescrolling psuedo-3D plane where your characters can move up and down as well as left and right but within the defined field. This is exactly like the arcade brawlers of old. Their are 6 playable classes to choose from: Wizard, Sorceress, Elf, Amazon, Dwarf, and Fighter. Each comes with their own unique equipment, skills, and movesets. For example, the Dwarf and throw enemies while the Elf can shoot from a distance. Those were just basic examples but you get the idea.
Gameplay consists of up to 4 party members visiting locations in town to repair equipment, restock items, take quests, advance the story, and more. the 4 players can be either human or A.I., local or online. Online play requires you to get about halfway through the game before it is unlocked. For the record, I went through much of the game with a group of friends on local co-op. I bring this up because this did effect parts of the gameplay experience.
While local co-op is an option from the very start of the game, it is abundantly clear that the game was not designed with local co-op in mind. For example, during the entire we spent with the game we never found a way to cycle through characters in the shops. So to repair equipment one person must go in, repair, exit, and then the next person repeats. It was extremely tedious and halted the flow of the game. ON the same page, when one person accepts a side quest only they get the side quest. So 4 of us playing co-op meant we each had to go in and accept the sidequest. What is the point in that? If we are playing together obviously we want to do sidequests together. Why would we only want one person to be able to finish the quest?? Then once you complete the quest each person has to individually turn it in to get the rewards. All of it adds up to needless tedium that could have been fixed.
Outside of towns and the poorly implemented local multiplayer shop system, their are the dungeons. This is were the meat of the gameplay is. Each character has a basic melee attack, jumps, dodges, specialty attacks, abilities, and more that mix to a cacophony of exhilarating mayhem. With a wizard creating tornadoes, a sorceress casting a blizzard, a dwarf hurling enemies all of the battlefield, and an elf flipping about like its nobodies business, your character can get lost in all the action taking place on screen. This isn’t frequently an issue but occasionally it does rear its head.
Levels have branching paths, secret areas, as well as hidden treasures to find and collect. This keeps repeat visits to an area from becoming completely monotonous along with varied enemy types. One highlight of the game is certain levels contain mounts which are powerful beasts you can ride but come with disadvantages as well. Another factor to levels are runes. Runes are special markings that can be found throughout the games levels that when combined offer special effects. These effects could range from an extra life for that level to a massive increase in damage for a short duration to instantly killing all enemies on that screen. It adds another layer to the game.
When the online multiplayer is unlocked, so to is the branching paths for each level that lead to a different boss. Boss encounters are probably the highlight of the entire game as many of them require a different strategy to complete. Each one plays by its own set of rules that make it a treat to partake in. The other major addition that comes at this point is the chaining of stages. After completing one stage you can immediately continue onto the next one with bonuses to your score, to the loot you receive, to gold, and it makes for a great balance of risk vs. reward.
Vanillaware is known for their beautiful art in games. Goregeous 2D games is just what they do. Dragon’s Crown is no different. Environments, character models, spell effects, everything comes together in a jaw dropping package. However it isn’t perfect. Some of the aesthetic choices are just necessary. For example, the sorceress design has no reason to have her chest trying to escape her clothing the way it is. Another point has a mermaid appear but the fish tail doesn’t begin until visibly after her ass. Necessary? Nope. Don’t get me wrong, it all still looks very nice but their was no reason to go for the oversexualized appearance.
The sound design in the game is well done with the ability to choose between different voices (both English and Japanese) for characters. The default narrator was a particular highlight in my eyes as he sounded like someone trying to impersonate Tim Curry while reading a fantasy novel. The musical score never quite reaches that upper echelon of truly memorable tracks but it does compliment the game wonderfully.
Overall, Dragon’s Crown is a fun game that brings the arcade beat-em-up to the Playstation 3 and Vita. It stumbles on some places like the local co-op design in towns but once you get out into the dungeons and start ruining monsters days it truly shines. This is one piece of art that is worth playing.