Review: Dragon’s Crown (PS3/PSV)

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Title: Dragon’s Crown
Format: PlayStation Network Download (PS3/PSV) / Blu-ray Disc (1.3 GB) / Game Card (980 MB Download)
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Vanillaware
Price: $49.99 (PS3) / $39.99 (PSV) *This is NOT a Cross-Buy title
ESRB Rating: T
Dragon’s Crown is available on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. It is Cross-Save compatible.
The retail version for both platforms were used for this review.

There was a reason that I requested Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara for review back in June. I’ve had Dragon’s Crown in my sights since it was announced eons ago (at least it felt like eons), and knowing that George Kamitani (director of those amazing Dungeons and Dragons arcade games) was involved in the creation of Dragon’s Crown, I wanted a basis of comparisons between the two blood cousins of the brawler genre. After all, Dungeons and Dragons: Shadow over Mystara redefined the genre back in its days, allowing gamers (otherwise accustomed to button-mashing in these types of games) to build up their character with acquired items, weapons, spells, as well as attaining higher levels, complete with hit point and magic upgrades. But at their core, the Dungeons and Dragons arcades were quarter-munchers. They were designed to be played in one standing. And by the very nature of an arcade game, you were not able to save your progress and continue with your leveled-up character at a later point… although it should be noted that Neo Geo did develop a way to do this with certain arcades. (see Torgo for more information).

Dragon's Crown Screenshots (32) copy

So curiosity immediately set gears into motion when Dragon’s Crown was announced. This was the evolution of the brawler that I had dreamed of. It was the Dungeons and Dragons arcades of yore, with the added depth that being released on a console could yield. You could keep the weapons you picked up, you could save your character, you could replay the game with your beefed up cast.

All those early anticipations for Dragon’s Crown appear to have been realized, as the title delivers on all of the above, and then does so in other areas as well. This is not an arcade game with a save feature. This is an action-adventure game with a robust leveling system, and an equally fun looting system. You can’t button mash your way out of this game, and as such, I consider it a serious evolution from its predecessor.

Gameplay:
If you walked into a room and glanced at Dragon’s Crown in action (particularly with its four-players-on-the-same-couch mode) you would be forgiven for thinking this another Streets of Rage/X-Men brawler. After all, the action that takes place in Dragon’s Crown revolves around the player moving his/her character from left to right or into and from the Z plane, battling anything that moves and ensuring that nothing is left alive, before moving into the next area. This is absolutely true of the game. You would be required to take a seat next to your buddy and watch the game unfold in order to see where Dragon’s Crown differs from your quarter-munching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle arcade.

Dragon's Crown Screenshots (35) copy

You control your character via the left analog stick (with the option to switch to the D-pad available in the options menu). The D-pad in the default setting allows you to choose items, spells, and even alternate weapons, while tapping down on it executes the item/spell. You can also hold up, which will open a 4-pronged selection screen (each with a corresponding face button labeling an item). Tapping on that button will execute the object or spell of choice. I found this menu system a bit ill-placed. As quests and stages became more and more challenging, the time it took to release the joystick in order to tap the D-pad and press a button became almost a hindrance, thus I would have to find a location on the screen to position my character before rummaging through my wares.  I’m not quite sure why the item selection was not assigned to the shoulder buttons (like Dungeons and Dragons), as you would be able to at least control your character while choosing a spell.

The right stick is used to control your thieving companion, Rannie. While Rannie is not a playable character, he does travel with you and aids with your looting. See that locked treasure chest? Use the right stick to guide a hand icon upon it until the hand turns into a key, then click on the L1 button. Rannie will speed over to the locked chest and prop it open. If he sees treasure on the ground, he will pick it up and add it to your collection. The right stick not only controls Rannie. It can also be used to uncover hidden treasures and passageways. Cracked walls yield entrances to new areas that, in turn, yield access to new treasures.

Loot is pooled, so if you are playing locally with your friends, you don’t have to stress about who picked up what. It’s all going to the same place, and you can argue about who gets what when the mission is done.

Dragon's Crown Screenshots (3) copy

This is one area where the PlayStation Vita shines over the PlayStation 3 version of Dragon’s Crown. Instead of using the right stick to tap on treasures, locked doors, or suspect hidden areas, you can tap on those areas with your actual finger, a gesture than can take significantly less time to accomplish, particularly in the heat of battle.

Once an area is clear and a giant boss defeated, your party returns to town (the game’s central hub) and proceeds to examine the loot. Unlike most games of similar genres (Diablo, Champions of Norrath) The loot system in Dragon’s Crown is not as forthcoming with information on the items you collect. That is to say that every single item that you find in a stage must be examined and appraised before deciding whether or not to keep it. While this might sound frustrating, I rarely found myself with less money than I needed to appraise what I wanted. Furthermore, your loot is always tagged with a letter grade (from S-E) so you have some idea of what you are spending your money on. Items that are not appraised can still be sold, so it’s a win/win for the player.

Quests are offered via the Adventurers Guild. These are a compliment to the main storyline quests, and have you revisiting areas for various tasks. After you have completed an area in the storyline, new random quests become available through the guild. You can tackle these in whichever order you choose.

Dragon's Crown Screenshots (34) copy

The Guild also offers a multitude of options in strengthening your character. The leveling system in Dragon’s Crown is based on unlocking cards which contain upgrade perks for your character. One might offer you more hit points, while another will allow you to carry more arrows. These cards can be raised multiple times, depending on your character’s level. Once again, the choice on how to level your character is entirely up to you. There is no growth tree, so as soon as you meet the requirement of a perk, you can purchase it using skill points.

The town is also home to a temple, and this is an area that you should visit frequently, particularly if you plan on playing on your own. As you travel through the dungeons, you will find piles of bones scattered upon the ground. If you play as the sorceress, you can use a spell to raise the bones as a skeleton which will fight at your side. As she is a somewhat physically weaker character, the added help is welcome. But the real fun comes in taking the bones with you and visiting the temple. Here, you can make a choice to resurrect the fallen hero and take them with you on future journeys. You can also choose to put their bones to rest. Doing this sometimes yields access to treasure left behind by the dead. I found some great computer-controlled allies via the resurrection system. Locally, you can mix and match these NPC’s with friends sitting on the same couch. It’s a great way to fill out the party when you’re about to face a difficult boss.

Speaking of bosses, Dragon’s Crown sports some ruthless, yet gorgeous bosses. While some of the early fodder can be tackled easily with the careful use of spells and/or weapons, the latter require you to be prepared, or at least bring some friends along. Bonuses are awarded for accomplishing certain tasks before defeating the boss (such as completing the stage without dying).

Dragon's Crown Screenshots (20) copy

It should also be noted that the Dragon’s Crown online multiplayer mode is not available upon boot-up. You must accomplish a few quests before the feature is unlocked. Local multiplayer is available from the moment you begin the game. It should also be mentioned that, while the game supports a very useful Cross-Save with its Vita cousin, there is no Cross-Play between platforms; a bit of a disappointment, but not something I will judge it for. What Dragon’s Crown presents is an awesome romp with a rewarding loot system.

Visuals:
You’ve seen the visuals. Rarely have I heard anyone mention them without marveling at Vanillaware’s mastery of the hand-drawn style. It moves as good as it looks, with silky-smooth animations that look almost as good as if the characters were polygonal and simply following internal programmed skeletons. My elf character glances around as she walks, and if I leave her alone too long, little critters come around and play with her. Spell effects light up the screen, and on the PlayStation 3 at least, the game takes the visual pounding with ease.

The Vita does cough up a little when playing online, but nothing that renders the game unplayable. And the visuals aren’t reserved for the character combat and movement. Presentation in Dragon’s Crown is enhanced with beautiful backdrops and subtle gestures, like fruits and drinks decorating your selection menu in the Tavern, and your fairy taking a bath in a goblet of wine.

Dragon's Crown Screenshots copy

It is an absolutely refreshing thought to know that visuals like these still exist less than a year from the time that the next generation of gaming brings us more polygons, more visual effects, and we put more distance between us and visuals like these.

Audio:
Unlike the visuals, which have been circulating the world wide web for ages, the music in Dragon’s Crown came as a huge surprise. Orchestrated tunes compliment the beautiful visuals with vocals akin to those found in Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings score. You will be humming these tunes long after you’ve completed the game.  Some of the voices might become a bit repetitive, but the option to shut them off is always available. This is one game where I wish the special edition included a soundtrack.

Online/Multiplayer:
Much like with the Dungeons and Dragons collection, as well as games like Sacred Citadel, Diablo, and Champions of Norrath, you do yourself a disservice if you don’t take on this adventure with friends. While the game gives you plenty of NPC allies, you can’t really tell them to cast a protection spell on you or heal you moments before death. This game was meant to be played with three friends, and the execution of this feature is done well.

Dragon's Crown Screenshots (4) copy

I played the game with a human companion from the very beginning, but on some evenings she was not available to play, so I started a new wizard on the same save. And while I had to begin the story over with the wizard, the pool of money and items earned prior was immediately available to him, so I didn’t feel that I was repeating everything. When I was ready to go back to my elf, she was easily selectable and her story continued from where it left off.

At the time of writing this review, I could not find a way for my characters to be ported to another players home, like I could with games like Champions of Norrath (via a memory card) because the opportunity didn’t present itself, but if you plan on playing on your own machine, everything about the online component in Dragon’s Crown works as it should, and it is a blast to play.

Conclusion:
Don’t be fooled by its arcade mechanics, Dragon’s Crown is one of Vanillaware’s deeper games, with quests feeling less stage-like than games like Odin’s Sphere, and a loot system that I found rewarding and entertaining (making each piece of treasure a mystery to be discovered). Vanillaware has definitely created a look and style that is all their own.

After you get through marveling at the beautiful visuals, you will find an amazing action adventure game that will entertain for hours, and offer what so few games can… a adventure that you can experience in the same room with your friends.

Score:
9.0

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  • ChazzH69

    Looking forward to this even more now. Still annoying that UK Amazon hasn’t got the Vita version.

  • Jahonius

    Ah.. The pricing is a bit too much. I don’t wanna sound cheap, but at least they should offer some form of discount for cross buy

  • Phil

    Played it and enjoying the crap out of it.

    Having the RPG leveling element in action games always makes it fun.

    I don’t understand why it isn’t cross-play though. the only thing i can imagine is that psv players can tap the food when cooking instead of dragging with the right analog stick. haha

  • Loonknight

    Great game, and quite honestly worth every cent I paid for it. Loving it on my Vita, the Gallery pictures becoming my wallpapers. Would have been even better as a Cross Buy, but I’ll not mind picking it up again once I’m finished playing my first copy.

    • Ramen_4_Life

      The artwork really is beautiful. It’s a shame that more PS3 games don’t support the screenshot feature — that would have been VERY welcome here.

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