Before getting into the review I would like to share with you an excerpt from the foreword found in the Dragon’s Crown art book that came with my copy of the game, written by Vanillaware president, artist, and designer George Kamitani:
“To all the customers who have been looking forward to this game since its first announcement in 2011, please forgive us for making you wait two years for it. Dragon’s Crown has become a deeply moving product for me, and I would like to explain the circumstances that made it that way.
“I drafted the first plan for the game about 15 years ago, immediately after I created a game called Princess Crown. It never saw the light of day at that time, but ever since, in the depths of my heart I’ve been wanting to make it exist if the opportunity ever arose.”
It’s easy to see from that first paragraph of the foreword just how emotionally attached to Dragon’s Crown George Kamitani has been. The amount of painstaking detail that has gone into the artistry and crafting of the game of his dreams is apparent in every scene I encountered, and there are so many references to other games and popular culture that influenced Dragon’s Crown that it’s nearly impossible to catch them all.
Sources of inspiration range from games like Golden Axe and The King of Dragons, to movies such as ‘Conan the Barbarian’ and ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’ There are even a couple of nods to some classic Disney characters thrown in as well.
Upon the onset of the game you get to decide which character class you will play as. Classes include a Fighter who boasts the highest defence of any character; an Amazon who is an absolute beast at dealing out damage; a Wizard who can attack from a distance with powerful spells; a Dwarf who duel-wields hammers while also being the only character who can grab and throw enemies; an Elf who is a quick, ranged character that must rely on accurate shots from her bow in order to be effective; and the much talked about Sorceress who is by design more of a support character who can conjure up food for the party while also being able to do some crowd control with her spells.
There is no ‘best class’ to play with in Dragon’s Crown – a well-balanced party will be the most effective. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses so I would encourage players to try out the different classes to see what best fits your play style if you aren’t sure. After selecting a character you can give them a name, choose a colour scheme for their appearance, and make custom text messages for different situations that occur upon greeting, death, or resurrection.
Labelled as an action RPG beat’em up, I have to say that I wasn’t sure what level of depth to expect from a game like this. Many games claiming to have RPG elements have a very rudimentary system that doesn’t offer much depth. Dragon’s Crown is not one of those games. A deep levelling and skill progression system adds a ton of replay value and always gives you something to keep working towards.
There are multitudes of items and equipment that can be found in each of the game’s nine dungeons, too. Treasure chests are commonplace, but their contents are randomized so that you’re likely to find something new every time. The equipment that you find will be given a rank of S, A, B, C, D, or E. Obviously the ‘S’ ranked items are better but they are more difficult to come by, especially in the early going, and will be more costly to appraise and purchase.
After completing a level you are returned to town where you must decide what to do with the new-found treasure. Unfortunately, you can’t truly tell just how good of an item you acquired is until you have it appraised. After doing so you can then see the item’s statistics and bonus attributes that it imbues its user with.
These items include things such as weapons, shields, boots, glasses, and charms that not only increase the offensive and defensive stats of your characters, but also will include enhancements like decreased fire damage or immunity to poison. I found myself selling off lower ranked gear without ever having it appraised because it’s simply too costly to do so for every single item you find.
In addition to equipment upgrades, as you level up and complete some of the game’s over fifty side quests, more skill points will be acquired. These points can then be redeemed for either a character specific skill or a common skill. Character specific skills are different depending on which class you choose, so if you’re playing as a Fighter you may want to increase your defensive capabilities so that he can absorb more damage for the party and serve as the tank. Or if you’re controlling the Wizard you could invest in different magic spells that can devastate both normal foes and bosses alike. (Tip: ‘Slow’ is a particularly useful spell in boss battles.)
Common skills, on the other hand, are just that, and can be used on things like increased hit points, converting coins into experience points, or increasing the number of items that you can carry in your bag.
While traversing the dungeons you will also come across piles of bones, which can be taken to the priest in town where, for a small fee, they can be resurrected. You can then have these characters join your party as AI-controlled counterparts which is very useful when playing through the game as trying to go solo can be a bit of a chore.
Dragon’s Crown really shines when playing either local or online co-op, where up to four people can progress through the game together, though only the host’s storyline will be advanced. Keeping track of where you are on screen and exactly what is going on can be difficult at times during multiplayer games because the action is fairly fast paced. It should be noted, however, that online multiplayer does not become available until the first nine stages have been completed. This is a good way to ensure that players are familiar enough with the game that they won’t be a detriment to the team.
The story in Dragon’s Crown seems like it’s just there to push the gameplay along and doesn’t offer any grand narrative. In fact, it kind of slows down the action a little too much early on when all I really wanted to do was go dungeon crawling again, and although I use the term ‘dungeon’ I should mention that there is a lot of diversity in the game’s levels. An underground labyrinth, a mage’s tower, lost woods, and even a pirate ship help to make up these levels.
Yes, there are only nine of them, but there is also a ‘B’ path that becomes available after completing the ‘A’ paths of the stages. It isn’t until you’ve completed both sides that you can encounter the game’s final boss and unlock hard mode, which is when the game really opens up.
At this point the story is more or less out of the way and you can begin making chain runs through the stages and racking up huge bonuses for doing so. This is a great way to gain experience, gold, and higher ranked items. There’s also a surprisingly fun cooking mini-game that will be encountered after certain stages during these chain runs in which you can cook items to replenish some of your stats.
There are a total of about twenty boss battles in the game and each one of them feels both epic and unique, and is definitely one of the highlights of Dragon’s Crown. Some of them are recognizable figures from Greek mythology, while others are more traditional fantasy. Most of all they are fun to take down and I rarely felt like any cheap gameplay tactics were being used against me. They do have a somewhat predictable pattern that an experienced gamer will be able to pick up on and take advantage of, especially after multiple playthroughs. The game does scale in difficulty, however, so it won’t be a walk in the park every time out.
I can’t say enough about the artwork of Dragon’s Crown. Whether you’re looking at the richly detailed backgrounds or the wildly diverse monsters it’s simply breathtaking and I wish more game developers would take the time Vanillaware has to work so diligently to impart so much artistry into a game. The hand-drawn 2D artwork is beautiful throughout and additional artwork can be unlocked by completing the optional side quests.
This wouldn’t be a proper Dragon’s Crown review if I didn’t mention the way certain female characters in the game are portrayed. There has been a bit of controversy around the issue and I have to say that it isn’t completely unfounded. From the overly sexualized Sorceress and Amazon, to several non-playable characters, it simply cannot be avoided and is a bit distracting at times. I can’t say that it bothered me too much personally, as I understand that all of the characters in the game are exaggerations or caricatures to a certain degree, but I’m sure that some gamers will be turned off by this.
Dragon’s Crown is a delight to play and a fantasy lover’s dream come true. Even though the game’s stages only take around ten to twenty minutes each to complete, the main campaign will take at least fifteen to twenty hours to finish the first time though and that’s barely even tapping into the side quests, higher difficulty levels, or the ‘Chaos Dungeon’ that is unlocked after beating the final boss.
If you add up all of that then you’re looking at well over fifty hours of gameplay, not to mention playing through with multiple characters. Dragon’s Crown offers fun, addictive gameplay whether you’re playing by yourself or with friends and will be a game that is sure to be treasured by its somewhat cult-like following for a long time to come.
Dragon’s Crown was reviewed on PlayStation 3