Dragon's Crown is the newest offering from Vanillaware and Atlus. It is a game that seeks to combine the multiplayer action of old-school, sidescrolling arcade beat 'em ups with role-playing mechanics in order to create a fast-paced, but deep experience. Does it succeed in its quest? Or should we just leave this would-be treasure as we found it?
I'm a fan of sidescrolling beat 'em ups. I'm a fan of RPGs. When the two come together in a wonderful blend of action, skill points and equipment management, I just don't know what to do with myself.
Dragon's Crown is hands-down one of the most addictive games I've played this year, and I'm still trying to figure out why. Is it the gorgeous, albeit ridiculously-proportioned character designs? The sidescrolling action that's reminiscent of my days in the arcade, playing drop-in/drop-out cooperative multiplayer with other dudes who were armed with quarters? Or perhaps it's the deceptively simple presentation that fools you into thinking that Dragon's Crown isn't as deep as it becomes. Whatever it is, it's got me hooked and will probably hook you too, providing that you're a fan of all genres involved.
At the start of your adventure, you take control of one of six adventurers -- the burly Dwarf, the busty Sorceress, the broad-shouldered Fighter, the agile Elf, the mysterious Wizard and the mighty Amazon. After a brief tutorial, you're thrust out into the world of Hydeland to embark on a quest to recover the fabled Dragon's Crown. This crown is said to give its bearer the power to control dragons, which is pretty damn badass. And since you inadvertently play a role in the political intrigue surrounding the kingdom, its ruler and the Dragon's Crown, it is up to you to delve into the deep dungeons of the world in search of answers and treasures that will help you on your quest.
There to help you on your quest are a number of strange character located throughout the town that will serve as your home base. You can get magical runes and items from the magician Lucain, grab quests and level up your skills at the Adventurer's Guild, and even bring the dead back to life at the Canaan Temple. It is through these resurrections that you can gather party members to help flesh out your company, since you'll come across piles of bones in the world that can be collected and revived in town. This is important, because you won't get access to the online component of Dragon's Crown until you've beaten all of the available levels at least once.
And you'll rock through these levels with a combination of physical attacks, magic spells, items and special skills. Each character has their pros, cons and special mechanics that make them useful in battle. For example, the Fighter can heave his shield up in order to absorb damage for the party while the Wizard and Sorceress hang back to cast spells. Though they both command magic, the Wizard and the Sorceress differ in that the former has access to more offensive spells while the latter can help support the party with heals and protective buffs.
Rounding out a party is the key to successfully navigating a dungeon in Dragon's Crown, so be sure to have a health mix of melee attackers, ranged damage dealers and spellcasters. While the holy trinity isn't a huge factor here, meaning that you don't necessarily need a tank, damage dealer and healer, it's still a good idea to have variety.
Mixing up your equipment is also important since some items might be more effective than others in a certain level. For example, the Sorceress can equip three different kinds of staves/wands: Fire, Lightning and Ice. If you're in a level that has a section in which your characters must wade through water, the Sorceress' fire spells will often fizzle out and just turn into steam, making it less effective. By the same token, sometimes you'll have to fight ghosts that can only be damaged by using fire spells. Smart equipment management will ensure your survival and keep your wallets fat, since paying for revives can get quite costly in the field.
Your equip is ranked E through S in terms of quality. You'll pick up treasure from chests throughout levels, thanks to a your thief companion, Rannie, which will be filled with anything from useful weapons to powerful trinkets. At the end of a level, you can choose whether to appraise each item you've picked up or just to sell them outright. Here's a tip: Hang on to everything ranked B and up if you want to do well in battle. Most times, these items have special stat bonuses such as resistance to petrification, stat boosts or damage reduction.
While skills and item management are very important, the meat of the game lies in its gameplay. It is my pleasure then, to inform you that the game does a great job of blending action and role-playing elements to create one cohesive adventure that can become downright exhausting thanks to the content that it offers. Once you've conquered each of the initial levels, B-routes open up that allow you to take a different path in each stage that will lead to a more difficult boss battle. These boss fights in Dragon's Crown are some of the most fun you can have and often feature different mechanics that must be exploited for a win. And without spoiling too much, I just want to say that one of the boss fights in Dragon's Crown is quite possibly the greatest Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference ever made in a video game. Like, ever.
Of course, whether or not you choose to rush through the main story and its B-route-laden second half is up to you. For players who don't want to burn themselves out on narrative, the quests available from the Adventurer's Guild are always good distraction. These act as challenges that flesh out the lore of the world, and often reward you with plenty of gold, experience and skill points. In fact, taking on the quests as they're made available before tackling more story parts will actually buff up your character substantially, better equipping them for the road ahead.
The elephant in the room is probably still there, hanging around with its disproportionate body,, so I'll address it now. The character designs, while interesting, skew on the ridiculous. And you know what? That's OK, for the most part. If you can look past the fact that every female has breasts so huge that they look like they'll be torn from the owner's torso whilst running, you can have a perfectly awesome gaming experience. Sure, there's no reason for the Amazon to have a badonkadonk that can act as a shelf for small objects, but she probably did a lot of squats to get that way. All you have to care about is how she'll kick others' asses in the many different stages. Besides, Vanillaware has been known to pump out games with terribly interesting character designs.
Just get Dragon's Crown. It's got swords, spells, dragons and an amazing Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference, so what's not to love? And the fact that you can use your save files on both the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita versions is just icing on the cake, because you'll be able to level up your character wherever you go! Get the game, jump online and help me find the Dragon's Crown and defeat evil, once and for all!
This review is based on digital copies of Dragon's Crown for PlayStation 3/PlayStation Vita that were provided for review.