‘Dragon’s Crown’ Review
Platforms: PlayStation Vita/PlayStation 3. Developer: Vanillaware/Atlus Publisher: Atlus Genre: Action Role-Playing Platform Played: PlayStation 3
Vanillaware has created an experience that encapsulates you within a fantasy setting, through fantastical and beautiful artwork, unique array of character designs, mythological beasts throughout the land, and a whimsical soundtrack. Dragon’s Crown provides an addictive sense of progression, as you constantly gain experience, stronger loot, in addition to an extremely rewarding combat.
Dragon’s Crown provides an interesting narrative surrounding the land of Hydeland, which weaves in a tale of kingdom corruption alongside a mythology driven adventure that ultimately leads to some epic boss encounters. Though the story is quite interesting, it never seemed to grab my attention, so it became backseat to gameplay. The narrative feels like a means to an end; it seemed to be an excuse to push my character to certain locations throughout the campaign. Due to a lack of voice acting (aside from the main narrator) or written dialog for most characters, it becomes tough to become attached to any of the small cast.
Defeating the main story will grant you access to Hard difficulty, an increased level cap, and with further playthroughs, the ability to unlock Infernal Mode. Aside from the main narrative, side quests are also available; completing these objective-based tasks will unlock some beautiful artwork, as well as gaining some much needed experience. Side quests lack much story, aside from a written paragraph or two, depicting some random events that don’t affect your character. These bland stories incentivise you to replay previous stages.
Combat will take up the majority of your time in Dragon’s Crown; with that being said, I can happily attest to how addictive and downright fun it can be. There are six completely unique characters to choose from, ranging from the general melee based Fighter class, to the expert Wizard class. Each character class as its own unique move-set, difficulty option, and general strategy for each battle, meaning that you will have plenty of choice when choosing your class. Offering such a variety between classes adds to the replay value, each character having a distinct feel, similar to the range Borderlands offers players.
Once you have found the character that best fits you (mine was the Fighter) you will travel to various stages to fight an array of mythological beasts. Combat isn’t about putting together difficult high combos or button-mashing; it is about using the Beat-‘Em-Up style to its advantage. Though moves are fairly basic, using these manoeuvres at the right time can make you a deadly combatant. During stages, you will also collect a variety of loot, coins, and bones. These bones can be resurrected, offering the player allies to join his adventures, which will become extremely important during the more difficult battles and boss fights.
Your AI companions are tough for the most part, but showcase their stupidity when dealing with traps. Your partners will constantly stand on platforms while getting shot by arrows, getting crushed by weights, and more. It’s frustrating to see your partners go down, as they will cost a substantial amount of money to respawn when running out of lives. If this is an issue, you can always play with friends via online or locally, to avoid any issues with the AI; or you can simply turn them off and take on each stage solo.
The previously mentioned boss fights were some of my favourite moments of Dragon’s Crown; although the entire game takes place on a 2D plane, the boss fights take full advantage of the situation and provide a memorable challenge. Each boss is beautifully created within Dragon’s Crown‘ gorgeous art-style; they are brilliantly designed, and can range from massive behemoths covering your entire screen, to my personal favourite enemy – The Killer Rabbit.
The real fun in Dragon’s Crown is offered when you receive the ability to play through multiple stages in a row, this option being offered after completing each stage. Stringing together multiple stages means you will be offered a higher amount of coins to buy items, greater chance at rarer loot, and bigger experience bonuses. Trying to take down multiple levels including each stages boss in succession is an exciting task, as the difficulty continues to increase as you run out of lives and slowly become more vulnerable. It presented an intensity that took the combat to another level, as you frantically try to survive, as the odds continue to mount against you. Amazing!
Dragon’s Crown only features 9 unique stages; however, each one offers its own second route later on during the game. The problem here is that these stages become quite repetitive after a long period of time, since each stage can be cleared in less than 20 minutes (and I’m being generous here); you will quickly find yourself repeating stages. Luckily, the addictive leveling system and loot drops help the repetition from becoming a huge issue, but it does become noticeable after spending over a dozen hours repeating stages constantly.
Loot is spread throughout each stage, from hidden treasure chests, to simple rewards for killing foes. Each item you discover is given a letter ranking, ranging from S as being extremely powerful, or E which are useless in most cases. When returning back to the hub world of Hydeland, you will have to make some interesting decisions regarding your loot. Since each piece is given a letter ranking, the details to each items specific stats are unknown; these are revealed when you appraise these items. Though the decisions usually are fairly obvious, it can become quite a gamble if you’re running low on funds. Should I keep this A-grade weapon that is a level 17? Or should I keep this S ranked shield at level 15? These simple choices make managing your loot more enjoyable and addictive.
Alongside the loot system, Dragon’s Crown also features the ability to level-up. By leveling up and completing missions, players will earn skill points. These points allow you to designate what features your playable character will obtain, such as bonus health, extra damage, or the ability to collect coins that will also regenerate heath. Each of the six characters in Dragon’s Crown have their own unique range of skills to choose from, allowing the player to completely design how each character plays as they see fit.
Dragon’s Crown possesses a unique art-style that looks quite similar to concept art created in preparation for a game’s creation. The graphical style is gorgeous; each environment, enemy, and playable character look beautiful. The art style looks simplistic, yet wonderful at the same time. Additionally, the game never dropped the frame-rate once, even when battles got extremely hectic. Each character (friend or foe) has a range of smooth animations that make watching combat an absolute pleasure. Alongside the excellent graphical fidelity are some whimsical musical tracks that constantly reminded me of big budget fantasy films like The Lord of the Rings. Aesthetically, the musical tracks emphasise the brilliance of the visuals, working together to create a fantasy world that feels unique and memorable.
Dragon’s Crown also contains the Labyrinth mode, which is essentially an Arcade mode. It cuts out the story threads from the main game, and randomly places you in sections of each stage, leading up to a random boss encounter at the end. There are 9 Levels in Labyrinth mode, and only the best player will make it to the top; there is a great deal of challenge here and it allows you to focus on combat rather than dealing with the narrative. It is an excellent inclusion that could see players spending many hours trying to complete.
If you don’t want to work cooperatively with a partner, Dragon’s Crown offers Collusion mode. This mode allows players to battle it out competitively against each other online. The number of players, rounds and lives of each player can all be edited in a simple menu before the battle. Each battle ran completely smooth, which allowed for some intense fights, using the simplistic combat. However, expect to be annoyed at the repetitive narrator who repeats the same post match dialog every – and I mean every time. Dragon’s Crown is on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, but each console can only play online with players from that particular hardware. The strange thing is Cross-Save functionality works between both formats, yet both versions of the game must be purchased separately for this function to work. Unfortunately, both versions are not Cross-Buy, so expect to part with some cash to utilise this feature.
Dragon’s Crown not only provides some excellent combat, but it also digs its claws into you with its addictive loot and leveling features. I found myself losing hours at a time trying to find that special piece of loot that would make my character that slightly bit stronger, and I loved it. Though the lack of level variety can be draining, combat should help whether the pain.
Vanilliaware has made an exceptionally stylish fantasy title, one that could take countless hours to maximise all your characters and see all that there is to see. So, if you’re after a loot-driven experience that is as fun as it is addictive, it’s hard to go past Dragon’s Crown.
+ Addictive loot/Leveling system
+ Whimsical musical tracks
+ Beautiful visuals
+ Enjoyable combat
– Small selection of stages
– Uninteresting side quests