Dragon’s Crown Review

dragonscrown02Dragon’s Crown (Available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1-4
Genre: Action/RPG
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Vanillaware, Atlus
Release Date: August 6th, 2013
PS3 Price: $49.99
PS Vita Price: $39.99

PS3 vs. Vita: There aren’t many differences between the two versions. The Vita version has all of the content found in the home console version. It’s easier to gather around friends and play together with the home console version, though the handheld version is $10 cheaper and the pointer controls feel much more natural on the Vita. The Vita version seems to slow down more frequently during gameplay though, especially in the fights with the Kraken and the Goblin Gate. You can transfer save data between the two versions, though unfortunately cross-buy and cross-play features are not available.

Parent Talk: Dragon’s Crown doesn’t have any blood or gore, but it does have highly sexualized character designs. The character designs are meant to reference Dungeons and Dragons and Weird Tales/Conan the Barbarian, which had very scantily clad characters, but it may make some people feel uncomfortable, especially parents with young children.

Plays like: Classic arcade brawlers with a twist like Capcom’s Dungeons and Dragons: Tower of Doom (and the recently re-released Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara), as well as the Golden Axe series. Dragon’s Crown is a beat ‘em up game at its core, throwing you against hordes of enemies in a semi-2D field, but it has adventure and role-playing elements as well. Also, if you enjoyed Code of Princess, you’ll really love this game.

Review Basis: Completed the Elf campaign, played locally and online, currently on Hard mode, started campaigns with the Fighter, Wizard, and Sorceress.

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Vanillaware deserves a lot of love, whether or not many gamers know it already. They’ve been keeping 2D gaming alive with excellent titles like Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade (my personal favorite of the bunch). Dragon’s Crown fits squarely in with its forebears, because it thoroughly embraces its 2D heritage and manages to be fresh and interesting at the same time. While Odin Sphere was more of a single-player RPG and Muramasa was more of a Metroidvania-style adventure game, Dragon’s Crown is more of a Golden Axe-like arcade brawler. Yet also like its kin, Dragon’s Crown manages to make itself distinct, thanks to an interesting array of characters and a surprising amount of depth.

The Great:

Wonderful, nostalgic, 2D brawling. Dragon’s Crown is a throwback to classic arcade-style games, but given a modern twist. Part of the game’s charm is that it seems like a mindless, fun, hack-and-slash game at first glance, but hides a layer of depth beneath the surface. Destructoid probably put it best, calling the game a “technical brawler.” It doesn’t have the insane move-set of a typical fighting game, but each character has a unique move-set, a character-specific skill tree, and a wide variety of equipment at his or her disposal. Deciding who to go with and how to spec characters can make your adventure that much more successful.

The Good:

+ Absolutely stunning artwork. Though the character designs drew some ire from people, I’ll go out and defend it: George Kamitani’s artwork is absolutely wonderful and he has a true sense of style. The designs are meant to pay homage to the stylized look of Weird Tales/Conan the Barbarian, Dungeons and Dragons, Golden Axe, and perhaps Record of Lodoss War. I do agree that it’s highly exaggerated, but that’s the point of the characters. I personally prefer the aesthetic of Muramasa more, but that’s because I’m more interested in the Japanese mythology background and characters from that game. No matter which you prefer, it’s impossible to deny that the highly detailed characters and the amazing monsters really show that 2D artwork can still impress in the HD era. The dilapidated ruins, sprawling ruins, ornate castles, and dank waterways feel nostalgic rather than cliché. The characters have a sense of personality and life. The game looks especially beautiful on the Vita’s OLED widescreen. It’s quite possibly the most beautiful game on that system.

+ A diverse cast. There are six playable character types: Elf, Fighter, Amazon, Sorceress, Wizard, and Dwarf. While you cannot customize your character like in some fantasy role-playing games, each character has unique gimmicks. The Fighter has a wide array of sword attacks, can block with his shield, charge through enemies, and perform powerful combination attacks. However, the Wizard can create familiars out of wood and rain down fiery destruction. Each character gets access to a common skill tree as well as a character-specific skill tree. The Elf character, for example, can get access to a larger quiver, a better charged-shot skill, and more. You can build your character differently by focusing on different skills and changing your equipment list. I’ve spent most of my time playing as the Elf character, which is nimble and graceful. She can quickly unload a volley of arrows, but also unleash quick kick attack combos, which makes her a fun character to play.

+ Variety of equipment options. Most beat ‘em up games just set you own your way with a basic weapon and an occasional power-up. That is not the case here. Over the course of the game, you can open chests and get new gear, including weapons, armor, belts, necklaces, greaves, etc. Each piece of gear is ranked between E through S. E ranked gear tends to not offer any perks, while S ranked gear tends to have more passive bonuses. You can even purchase multiple equipment bags so that you can swap out different item sets between levels. You can spec one item list for finding items and increasing your chances of getting great loot. You can have up to 500 pieces of loot in your main equipment list, so you’re never pressured to start selling off your gear. Your equipment actually has a durability gauge as well. If you use your equipment too often, it may break, so you have to go to the shop and repair it. Though you may find that appraising a weapon you found may be the better option.

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 + Items and power-ups. In addition to the equipment system mentioned above, you can also find limited-use weapons and items, such as crossbows, daggers, and torches. You need torches to ward off ghosts and bombs are needed to blow up secret passages. You can even mount certain monsters and ride them around!

+ Partner system. Even if you’re playing alone, you still have options. You can play locally or online of course, but if you prefer, you can resurrect other characters to help you. If you find bones in a level, you can take them to the local priest and revive them. These partner characters can’t level up or change equipment, so you’re encouraged to manage these partners carefully. Bury the bones if you don’t need to revive them and then part ways with them after you’ve adventured for some time.  If you bury the bones, you may be rewarded with a bonus item as well.

+ Magic system. Of course, the Sorceress and the Wizard have spells at their disposal, but there’s also a rune system as well. You can purchase several runes from the wizard Lucain, who looks suspiciously like Lord of the Ring’s Gandalf.  When you enter a level, you may find inscriptions strewn about the landscape. You can select the runes via a point-and-click style control system and then combine them with your own to cast a variety of spells. By combining specific runes, you can heal your characters, open hidden passages, petrify enemies, and more. After you uncover a rune combination, it will be recorded in Lucain’s rune guide. Sometimes it’s too hectic to select the runes while fighting enemies and renders some of the attack-based rune spells somewhat ineffective, but it’s an interesting mechanic.

+ Multiple pathways, multiple difficulties. When you first play the game, everything is very straightforward. You go through a basic tutorial, undertake a basic quest, and then gradually reach new areas. Once you get far enough, you can get a “second quest” in each area. Once you finally clear each level and get all of the talismans, you can challenge the dragon in the hopes of defeating it and restoring the land. However, that’s just part of your quest. Beating the dragon once clears the game on “Normal” and revives on the goddesses, represented as a statute in the church. You can then play the game again on Hard, and then again on Nightmare, in the hopes of reviving the other goddesses. Your level cap increases on each mode, going from level 35 on Normal, to 65 on Hard, to 99 on Nightmare. I completed the Normal mode in about 15 hours after completing all of the quests, and going through the remaining modes is not a breeze either. The bosses become more challenging and you also gain access to a new labyrinth level, which is basically like a remixed tower consisting of various sections of other levels. Most levels only take about 10 minutes or less to beat, making the game ideal for short bursts of play.

+ Both English and Japanese audio is available.

+ There are multiple color schemes for each character.

+ Continuous play option. Levels don’t take much time to complete, but there’s an interesting hook that comes after beating a stage—you can choose to keep going in the hopes of getting added rewards, but risk becoming worn out. After each stage, you may get a bonus incentive, whether it’s added gold or score bonuses. However, if you use your equipment too long, it might break, making it less effective in combat. You also have to worry about how many life points your characters have, because after a certain amount of revives, you have to start shelling out money to revive your comrades. It’s a careful balancing act. Do you risk braving the next level? Or do you go home and rest, repair your equipment, and prepare for the next adventure? However, you may occasionally get the option to heal between adventures by feasting over the campfire.

+ Quests. Each level already has a secondary path to discover and alternate boss to fight, but you can also revisit levels to satisfy quest objectives. Some quests ask you to defeat a number of enemies, for example. After completing a quest, you get a piece of art with a short story. It’s simple, but rewarding, and may remind many gamers of Lost Odyssey. I became more interested in finishing the quests just to see the various art pieces and stories, rather than getting the quest bonuses and items.

+ Multiplayer. One of the big draws of Dragon’s Crown is the multiplayer. You can easily drop in and out of online plays, making play seamless and quick. I joined a game in a few seconds and experienced no lag whatsoever.  I also played with a friend locally and everything was seamless. You can drop in and drop out in the middle of levels, making joining games less cumbersome.

+ Music. The music is just excellent. Composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, Dragon’s Crown score perfectly fits the fantasy aesthetic. Some of Sakimoto’s work includes Tactics Ogre, Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy Tactics, which should give you an idea of its epic scope.

+ The fantasy landscape. Playing Dragon’s Crown is like reliving a session of Dungeons and Dragon’s mixed with a game of Golden Axe at the same time. The narrator perfectly complements the adventure with lines that make you feel as though you’re experiencing a tabletop adventure. The game play is reminiscent of classic arcade beat ‘em up, but the sparse story segments still manage to have personality and charm thanks to the dungeon master-like proclamations from the narrator. You can even access other narrator voices as well. The adventure is remarkably simple in scope, but that’s what makes it endearing—you have to defeat the dragon and save the land. It’s not bogged down with brooding characters or meandering plot threads.

+ Cross Save option easily lets you transfer your save data between the PS3 and Vita versions. You can upload your save data on one platform and then download the data on the other, so you can pick up where you left off.

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The Bad:

-The pointer controls on PS3. Controlling Rannie the Thief and activating runes is interesting, but the pointer controls on the PS3 are a bit awkward. It’s not necessarily that bad, and considering that it would otherwise be impossible to control Rannie at the same time, it’s a somewhat necessary evil. Many times, I wouldn’t activate runes or move Rannie until I cleared out enemies because it was difficult to do both, but the runes had attack-focused abilities, thus completely useless by the time I cleared out the enemies. This is a very minor complaint. The Vita version avoids it completely, because the touch controls are significantly quicker and easier.

-Stiffness. Dragon’s Crown is a 2D brawler, but it has a pseudo-3D plane like other arcade brawlers. And like those games, it also can be a bit awkward at first. This was especially problematic when playing as the Elf, when precision is required. Sometimes I would barely miss my arrow strikes because I misjudged the enemy’s hit box. Using the analog stick makes movement a bit easier, but then running became more awkward, because you have to hold the attack button down to run. The d-pad makes running easier (with a simple double tap), but then lining up to attack enemies is a bit trickier. This issue goes away in time and to be fair, it’s just a matter of getting used to the game’s controls and quirks. After some time, I was able to easily land hits.

-Even with the option to replay levels, do quests, and explore hidden routes, the action can get a bit repetitive. You’ll be fighting the same bosses several times, you’ll see the same levels several times, and you’ll have to run through the same challenges. If you play the game with other characters, you’ll have to redo the same challenges and stages. Playing on multiplayer alleviates the tedium and the game does remain fun to play for quite some time, but if you’re on your own, it does drone on a bit.

-Unfortunately, you cannot customize your character’s appearance and equipment doesn’t seem to change the look of the character. Also, there aren’t variations of the characters—if you select the Elf, there’s only the female Elf character, for example. The six characters are very well developed and designed, and the character art is incredibly intricate, so I can understand why they don’t have the added customization options. Still, it would have been nice to have other options for these characters.

-Sadly no Cross Play feature.

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The Ugly:

Occasional slowdown. This issue was more prevalent on the Vita version, especially during more hectic boss fights like the Kraken. I rarely had this issue with the PS3 version.

The Lowdown:

If you like classic arcade games and are a fan of 2D action, you’ll find a lot to love in Dragon’s Crown. It’s one of the best games of its kind, as a brawler with depth and heart. For a game in this genre to last more than a few hours is a feat in itself, so one that lasts a dozen is a godsend.

Score: 9/10

2 thoughts on “Dragon’s Crown Review”

    1. Thanks for tackling this Tim. Super glad you enjoyed the game, and really appreciate the helping hand :) I plan to check this one out when I have more time, right now knee deep in so many other things. Need to clear my plate before the two big console launches, and the wave of Wii U exclusive content hits. Gah, so much to do!!!

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