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Dragon's Crown review

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AT A GLANCE
  • Gorgeous art style
  • Traditional beat-'em-up gameplay with satisfyingly distinct classes
  • Deeply rewarding combat…
  • …once you've come to grips with the controls
  • Onscreen action can be too chaotic for its own good
  • Being initially walled off from the online world

You know an RPG is good when it causes you to neglect such bodily necessities as eating or going to the bathroom. Dragon's Crown is one such game. As the latest picturesque epic from Vanillaware, it combines the combat of old-school, side-scrolling beat-'em-ups with the high fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons. With gorgeous artwork, deep gameplay, and a gratifying difficulty curve, it's sure to please most any action RPG fan. Despite some early hurdles and a few archaic designs, Dragon's Crown is the kind of modern arcade-style experience that only gets better the longer you play.

As the newest hero to arrive in the kingdom of Hydeland, you've taken it upon yourself to beat back the forces of evil, be it through magical spells or brute force. The core gameplay is classic beat-'em-up action for one to four adventurers: enter a screen, pummel whatever stands in your way, and keep moving to the right till you reach the boss encounter. Your six class options come in two basic flavors--melee or ranged--but they all have nuanced strengths and weaknesses that make them feel distinct. You're bound to fall in love with at least one of them, whether you prefer the in-your-face button mashing of the Fighter, the support role of the Sorceress, or the Wizard's devastating incantations.

"The core gameplay is classic beat-'em-up action for one to four adventurers..."

No matter who you pick, you'll have to appreciate them for their playstyles, because there's not much in the way of characterization as you battle through the straightforward storyline. Granted, it's more than most traditional arcade brawlers offer--there's plenty of lavishly-illustrated characters to visit in town, and the plot has a comforting familiarity about it. But your hero's personality only comes through in mid-battle quips (spoken in English or Japanese, at your discretion). Instead, it rests upon a singular narrator to guide you through your travels, who imbues the typical fantasy proceedings with an endearing charm. It's as if your grandfather is telling you the tale of the Dragon's Crown at your bedside, doing all the supporting cast's voices himself no matter how goofy they may sound.

During your first few hours of play, you'll be entranced by the lush backdrops and intensely stylized characters, which echo the striking designs of Frank Frazetta with even more extreme anatomy. Muscles bulge and breasts heave with every frame of animation, oftentimes bordering on the ridiculous. But the art style is incredibly self-confident, never playing the proportions for laughs; ripped warriors and half-naked damsels feel less like pandering and more akin to classical Renaissance paintings like The Birth of Venus. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to the art's lavish details and muted color palette: it can be absurdly difficult to keep track of the action when a full party's in combat, or discern who's who when two players are using the same class. The visuals can also spur some jarring frame drops on the Vita, a problem that's far less frequent (but not absent) on the PS3.

"...you'll be entranced by the lush backdrops and intensely stylized characters..."

The other thing staring you in the face early on are some frustrating design decisions. Dragon's Crown succeeds in borrowing some of the best elements from action RPG predecessors like Diablo; quests, rune magic, identifying items, and hidden treasures are all present here. But they're handled in rather unintuitive ways that feel jammed into the gameplay rather than accentuating it. For instance, runes, chests, and secret loot are part of the backdrop, and require you to "mouse over" them with an unsightly pointer using the right analog stick, then "clicked" on with a shoulder button (Vita players get the better end of the deal, able to simply tap points of interest). It feels bizarre when out of combat, and unwieldy when you're in the thick of things. Items you collect must be appraised before you can equip them--but the costs on your early gold income are substantial, which misses the point of the simple delayed gratification of Diablo's item identifying. Your quest log caps out at five, and many tasks boil down to a grind.

Coming to grips with the combat can also be something of an uphill battle. Many of your most essential moves, like running, attacking, and blocking, are all mapped to the same button, which can be incredibly aggravating at first. Online play is walled off until you've cleared all the Normal difficulty stages, of which there are only nine. You won't have to go it alone; there are AI companions ready to join your party once you've found their bones and resurrected them. They're a great help when you're getting your bearings early on, despite some spells of braindead stupidity when they commit suicide by standing in pits of fire. Splitscreen co-op is also an option, but simple things like selling items become nightmarish due to menu designs that fail to accommodate more than a single player.

"Coming to grips with the combat can also be something of an uphill battle."

But after the initial three or four hours, you'll have broken through the irritating barriers, discovering deeply satisfying gameplay on the other side. Once you acclimate to the controls and master the flow of your class' fighting style, clearing out rooms full of enemies becomes a joy. Additional abilities open up at just the right cadence, and you'll eagerly rush to try out your newest attacks against the myriad monsters in each stage. Alternate pathways unlock in all nine stages as you make your way through the initial 12-hour campaign, introducing fresh boss fights that will perfectly test your combat prowess as it develops.

Once you've unlocked the gates to the online multiplayer, joining a party (or welcoming wayward adventurers to your own) is incredibly simple. Even after you've conquered the breathtaking final fight, two more difficulty levels await you. Like Diablo before it, beating Normal difficulty is only the beginning of Dragon's Crown, and you'll be giddy to find out what brutally challenging encounters await you in the Hard and Inferno modes on the path to level 99.

"Like Diablo before it, beating Normal difficulty is only the beginning of Dragon's Crown..."

Some framerate issues aside, the Vita version is just as appealing as its PS3 big brother. The visuals are equally stunning on the small screen, and once you've conquered the control scheme learning curve, it handles with the same reliability. Though cross-buy and cross-play aren't on the menu, cross-saving lets you transfer your quest and characters so you can slay mystical creatures on the go.

Dragon's Crown may start slow, but opens into a truly rewarding experience with each additional hour you put in. Despite some initial barriers to entry, it's still one of Vanillaware's most accessible games, catering to the hardcore while inviting in newcomers with its familiar gameplay and beautiful art. Once you've gotten into the groove of controlling your favorite class, it's easy to play Dragon's Crown for hours on end. Just don't forget to go to the bathroom every once in a while.

This game was primarily reviewed on PS3, with playtesting on PS Vita.

More Info

Release date: Aug 06 2013 - PS Vita, PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: PS Vita, PS3
Genre: Action RPG
Published by: Atlus
Developed by: Vanillaware
ESRB Rating:
Rating Pending
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending

We Recommend

27 comments

  • cain-midnightt - August 10, 2013 8:23 p.m.

    soooo all women should be flat? Men shouldnt have any muscles. And somehow the games would THEN be better?
  • Phreakout93 - August 6, 2013 9:41 p.m.

    damn look at dem titties
  • Rub3z - August 6, 2013 4:36 a.m.

    Why hasn't anyone else said that the lavish sprites evoke Baroque art style?
  • ~LanceR. - August 6, 2013 6:26 p.m.

    It does look very Baroque/Rococo. I assume not a lot of people take art/architecture history. This game's art style is a masterpiece, no doubt.
  • Clovin64 - August 6, 2013 3:21 a.m.

    Despite the ludicrous amount of meaty mammaries on show here (which does kinda cheapen the style), I still think this game looks gorgeous and sounds from the review like it'll be a lot of fun. Elf Archer and Xemnas-lookalike mage for me, ta.
  • GR_RyanTaljonick - August 6, 2013 8:17 a.m.

    MEATY MAMMARIES, what a phrase
  • BeyondRecognition - August 6, 2013 12:33 a.m.

    Why there's so much discussion on the artwork and character designs I have no idea. The artist already stated he drew the artwork that way because he wanted it to stand out from other games in the genre, which it does. There's also only two characters that us super sex ashamed North Americans could get our jimmies rustled over. Over proportioned? sure, for both genders though. The knight has a small fit waist with huge broad shoulders and presumably many rippling muscles, same with the dwarf which is ripped to the extreme. If you look at old Egyptian artwork men are depicted the same way, those are the physically appealing standout features of men to women in general. Should we be up in arms about that too? And you guessed it, boobs and a round butt are the standout appealing things to men in general(smaller feet and a higher pitched voice too if we're going to really get into it). The artist simply took that and made it uh... bigger. It grabs your attention, draws you in and makes you look at it. Mission accomplished, it's been done before. This is set in a "fantasy" world after all isn't it? I don't expect girls to have boobs that big after watching gameplay and I hope they don't expect me to have abs or shoulders like that anytime soon hahaha All dumb and unneeded discussions aside this game looks really cool and if I had a PS3/Vita I'd with out a doubt get it. Hopefully there will be some way to play it on PS4 so In can get it later.
  • wadesmit - August 6, 2013 1:59 a.m.

    You're one of those dismissing criticism of the art style as a valid one. If you'd read my comment thoroughly you'd have known that my criticism lies elsewhere from what you identify, and I say that to let you know the opinions whereby the game is supposedly sexist, are not the only ones, and that those too are valid anyway. You mention ancient Egyptian artwork as a defense of Dragon's Crown. An interesting but far reach, since what's being discussed by the gaming community are the odd connotations, the reduction of quality, and the cheapness that over-sexualizing characters can cause, not all art in history. There is no problem people have with exaggerating human features, especially not in all art, that would be a discussion of censorship and approval.
  • alex-roy-bristol - August 6, 2013 1:02 p.m.

    I just love the fact that your icon is Holding a Wolf by the Ears... For far too long I have not seen another FATA lover!! :'D
  • BeyondRecognition - August 6, 2013 1:26 p.m.

    haha hell yeah dude :D
  • wadesmit - August 6, 2013 12:04 a.m.

    I take issue with the art style. For a couple of days now I couldn't pinpoint to myself exactly why that was, but I've realised what the problem for me is. While there is the issue raised about the depiction of women and how it's potentially degrading, that's not it. I think there's a valid point in that, and I agree, but it's not that. Sex sells, sure. It does. But it cheapens the product you're sticking it into (...). As a hardcore RPG beat-em-up, Dragon's Crown is fucking awesome to me and I wish I could enjoy it but I can't because it degrades itself with its flaunting of dangerously large boobs and ass. I know it's an art direction decision but that doesn't make it any less linked with the marketing of the game -- in fact, it has everything to do with it. They refuse to allow the game to sell on its own merits and instead, like giant fucking uncouth popups, they use the female form to sell their game, not the game itself. That's just annoying. I look at screenshots and gameplay and I can't help but be distracted, because hey it actually is kind of sexy, but I don't want that cheap kind of sexy in mah games. It's nigh on porn and that cheapens the game's self-image so much I just can't enjoy playing a game like that. So there.
  • TheMcFinder - August 6, 2013 5:33 a.m.

    They're just boobs.
  • LovingLife139 - August 6, 2013 7:10 p.m.

    I have to totally agree with this on every level. I was very excited for this game, came here for the review, and am no longer considering even renting this based on the photos provided. I am so tired of physically exaggerated men and women in video games and I haven't supported games that have this detriment in over eight years. I honestly don't find it sexy, I find it insulting to both men and women. As a woman, I certainly don't want to support the objectification of my gender. I refuse to believe that women can only be good as visual objects in video games rather than strong characters that are taken just as seriously as men. As you said, this type of ridiculousness degrades and cheapens the games and its characters. I want nothing to do with a game that relies on something so shallow and juvenile to sell and/or generate an interest. I'm not going to insult those who find games with such content appealing. To each her/his own. I believe that game makers need to begin thinking twice before putting it in their games. I have never known a person who, when asked why they bought a game, reply, "The sex!" and/or "The huge breasts!" But I have known quite a few people who no longer hold interest because of such content, whether for moral reasons, discomfort with it, and/or simply because they no longer take the game seriously. Dragon's Crown, you just lost a customer in me.
  • wadesmit - August 7, 2013 4:19 p.m.

    I'm happy to know I'm not alone in this niche of the argument. Good to know their are like-mindeds in the community.
  • shawksta - August 5, 2013 8:25 p.m.

    Neat
  • FemJesse - August 5, 2013 6:02 p.m.

    I kinda disagree on the art. Something can be disturbing and well rendered at the same time. I wouldn't compare these anatomical abominations to Botticelli in any respect. As a woman looking at this, all I can think about is the copious amount of boob sweat the women must suffer from. Not just where the cleavage touches... but underneath the breasts. Anywhere skin touches skin is going to be an issue. I also think of the rancid ass stank suffered by the woman in the battle-kini. Hopefully they are well equipped with baby wipes and shower powder so they can freshen up on their adventures.
  • Rub3z - August 6, 2013 4:34 a.m.

    They've probably got have magical boob sweat and ass stank cure- all potions. Maybe boob sweat and ass stank are more or less treated like status effects that can be whisked away by applying a certain herb or potion item.
  • Evanesco - August 5, 2013 5:49 p.m.

    Jesus I didn't think the characters would actually look like that.
  • FemJesse - August 5, 2013 6:06 p.m.

    You could screw a tap under her ta-ta's and get your 8 glasses of boob sweat a day.

Showing 1-20 of 27 comments

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