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REVIEW | Fun Beat-Em-Up Mechanics and Beautiful Worlds Help “Dragon’s Crown” Shine

By
Posted on August 7, 2013 AT 06:00am

You have to give George Kamitani credit for not giving up on a dream. Since Vanillaware pushed Princess Crown out the door in 1997 he’s been fighting to get Dragon’s Crown made, jumping from publisher to publisher, until the folks at ATLUS saw what sort of potential the game could have. So after many years of being a mere concept inside of Kamitani’s brain, does Dragon’s Crown manage to find itself a seat amongst the round table of the RPG realm?

Dragon’s Crown has you starting off by picking one of six characters: the Fighter, the Amazon, the Wizard, the Elf, the Dwarf, and the Sorceress. Within the medieval world your task is to go beneath the worlds into the catacombs and defeat the monsters, ghosts, and creatures that roam about. As you complete tasks, revive elder wizards, collect fairies, and bring about the rightful rulers of the kingdom you learn about the secrets of the Dragon’s Crown, which is being used to revive a powerful fire-breather that seeks to destroy the world once more.

Playing through Dragon’s Crown you’ll come across objects, items, and weapons that can help you during future journeys. You can either keep them for yourself, sell them for the bare minimum, or use a little coin to appraise the item so you’ll know its true worth. On occasion you’ll also pick up fallen comrades, which you can choose to either revive for future battles or bury for their goods and weaponry.

Later on in the game you’ll be tasked to find nine talismans in order to fight the awoken dragon, and it is at this point where online play is unlocked. Here players from all over the world can jump in and join you on your journey if they’re on the same quest. It’s the sort of online mode that feels more rewarding than, say, any of the Call of Duty titles, as there’s a huge emphasis on teamwork and battling without having to deal with someone screaming obscenities in your ear if you mess up. There’s also a fun little mini-game where you can cook food for yourself and your fellow warriors, which can be used to replenish health. (I found myself playing for a few hours with some Japanese gamers, who seemed to be having as good a time as I was battling monsters and collecting gold.)

Dragon’s Crown also has a sort of arcade-styled setting when it comes to your life system. You start off with a number of lives, being revived each time you lose all your HP. Once you’ve run out of lives you are then given the option to continue on in the level by trading in some in-game currency. However if you find yourself with insufficient funds you are then taken out of the game if everyone else fails in the mission and revived by your thieving pal. You do leave the same with a few trinkets you’ve discovered, but not all of it.

As you progress in Dragon’s Crown you’ll learn new techniques, maneuvers, and spells that can be used in battle. While the attacks are pretty cool I didn’t find myself using the bigger moves as much as I should’ve. It isn’t the type of game where you are given a fair moment to devise a strong attack; it’s the kind of RPG whose mindset is stabby-stabby-kill-kill time when the monsters come a-roaming. Perhaps some players out there are far better at making the best out of the strongest attacks, whereas I just see an enemy and just want to destroy it for its gold.

There is one control mechanism that doesn’t work quite well here, and that is the usage of the right analog stick for the point-and-click aspects. Using the right click you can click on hidden items, open chests & doorways, and summon magic. It’s the summoning magic part that can be a major pain, especially while in-battle. By the time you are almost at that final letter in the spell you may find yourself at the other end of a beating, which can throw you off many a time. (The Vita version using the touchscreen aspect for this, which sounds a lot better, but I cannot comment on it as I don’t have said handheld to test it out.)

Graphically the worlds and characters look gorgeous, looking like old paintings brought to life. (A similar task was done with another ATLUS title: the very underrated Rock of Ages.) How they maneuver, too, has something of a Terry Gilliam style to it, appropriate considering one of the talisman boss battles you’ll face. (I won’t spoil it here, but trust me when I say you’ll get a huge laugh out of it.)

I understand there has been some controversy regarding the, erm, bounciness of the female characters, and to be fair the jiggle effect can be a little bit ridiculous during battles and cut scenes. That being said it’s not the worst character design decision made by a developer. From the Dead or Alive games to even old-school Tomb Raider there have been plenty well-endowed women, many of which have shown strong character developments and have become a symbol for female gaming independence. The fact that the girls in Dragon’s Crown are big in the chest area is not the sign of the apocalypse, as some extreme feminists have cried out in vain. (If/when it gets to Queen’s Blade-like fan-service bad, then yeah you can start panicking.)

There is, however, one thing that confuses me about Dragon’s Crown, and that is how it’s being sold. As it’s being simultaneously released for PS3 and the Vita it should’ve had all the cross-buy/cross-play aspects that we’ve come to expect from these releases. Instead we’re only given cross-save, which is pretty much the bare minimum of these features. There’s also the issue of its overall size, which is 1.4 GBs for the PS3 version (900 MB for the Vita). This not only leaving a lot of discarded space on a Blu-Ray, but also presents the argument that this title could’ve been a downloadable release for $15-20 instead of a $40-50 retail one. (There have been bigger games released as a download for far cheaper, after all.)

Despite this little brain-scratcher Dragon’s Crown is well worth playing, whether it be solo or with online players. Granted the story may drag a little here and there, but what you can experience in the many hours of gameplay is well worth hearing the narrator tell the tale in that droll voice of his. To give you an idea on how long of a game you can expect, in order to beat it on the hardest difficulty with all six characters, you’ll need to play it five days straight (which I don’t recommend doing, as you’d probably die).

PROS:

  • Fun quests
  • Smooth four-player online co-op
  • Artwork looks very Renaissance-like

CONS:

  • Some repeated levels
  • Story gets a little longwinded
  • Using point-and-click mechanics can be a pain

FINAL THOUGHTS:

It’s not often we get a side-scrolling RPG fighter that looks and plays as good as Dragon’s Crown. With its many quests and characters to upgrade there’s a good chunk of fun that can be found in Vanillaware’s latest game. Go alone into the dangerous worlds, or find a few friends to join your quests, and experience a video game adventure worth retelling over the warmest fire with goblets of mead.

FINAL GRADE: 8.8 (out of ten)

PS3 review code provided by ATLUS

Evan Bourgault is an accomplished music, anime, and video game critic. His passion for discovering new bands, developers, and Japanese pop culture began in his college radio days and continues on today. Evan joined the ElectricSistaHood team in 2008, where he is a contributing editor and host of one of the network's weekly podcasts. Follow Evan on Twitter at twitter.com/King_Baby_Duck


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