Jul31

Dragon’s Crown Review

 2013-07-30-012422

What even is

Genre: Side scrolling Beat ’em up RPG

Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer (up to 4)

Developer: Vanillaware

Publisher: Atlus (JP), NIS America (NA/EU)

Platforms: PS3, PS Vita

Release Dates:

JP: July 25, 2013

NA: August 6, 2013

EU: Q3/Q4 2013

Visuals

By far the best aspect of the game. The art is a gorgeous, hand-crafted style that simply looks fantastic. If you’ve seen Vanillaware’s work on Murumasa then you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect out of them, and Dragon’s Crown goes above and beyond even that. Almost every frame for all the characters radiates this beautiful hand-crafted art style that embodies the high fantasy setting perfectly.

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Right on par with the characters themselves are the backgrounds. The game covers a diverse set of locations including every setting you’d expect from the fantasy genre from castles to catacombs, each setting bringing in their own plethora of unique enemy types. Throughout the game you also encounter plenty of NPCs, which all have amazing full screen portraits with just the right amount of idle animation to make them feel alive. Further, every quest you complete rewards you with some very nice original artwork relating to the quest for the gallery, a feature which I actually appreciate having in this game unlike so many others that include it.

I can’t emphasize enough how good this game looks. Every detail is accounted for, the subtle glow of torchlight or the lightshow emanating from spells in dark rooms is aesthetically amazing, creating the perfect amount  of mystery and fear of what awaits you. Every weapon has a unique, detailed, and usually awesome visual presentation as well, which are actually reflected on your character in game when you equip them; a feature I expected from Vanillaware, but one that is missing in too many RPGs.

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Gameplay

If the visuals aren’t enough to carry a game for you, don’t worry, the game is fun too.

Gameplay follows the classic beat ’em up formula, navigating your character around a 3D plane to beat the shit out of whatever hops out from the side of the screen with up to three of your worst friends. Or three strangers thanks to the implementation of PSN. Or three AI controlled characters if your faith in humanity isn’t high enough. You go from room to room, making everyone your bitch, and eventually get to the boss of the level, who makes you his bitch. While I honestly haven’t played too many beat ’em ups, and was never really that big of a fan of the genre before, the gameplay here completely changed my mind – this is easily the best beat ’em up I’ve played.

The game feel is great. The animations are fast and smooth you can turn on a dime, making you really feel in control of where you are at any given time. Every attack you can make, you can combo together seamlessly. Going  from kicking someone on the ground to juggling them in the air, then finishing them off with a volley of arrows or magic missile flows easily, feels good, and looks badass. The game greatly rewards timing your attacks and precisely placing your character, which the movement mechanics make a breeze to do. Since there is only one attack button and one ‘special’ button, which changes based on the character you pick, the game lends itself to creating these combos for yourself perfectly. No need to memorize lines of heavy->heavy->light->heavy->quarter circle forward->punch input commands, just wail on a guy, send him flying, and catch him with more punishment before he drops so your combo doesn’t do the same.

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Dragon’s Crown offers six different classes to choose from, and I mean different. The Fighter, Wizard, Sorceress, Amazon, Dwarf, and Elf (each named indecisively by either their name or race) have very different play styles, which can be even further differentiated by the skills you choose when you level up, allowing you to specialize in various aspects of that class. The fighter is a sword and board swordsman with fast attacks and a strong block, the wizard has various offense-focused spells such as calling down meteors, the sorceress is a support-based mage with huge ass titties skills like polymorph, the Amazon is a berserker-esque class who gains attack speed and damage the more she attacks, the dwarf is a bearded god, mainly a grab based character whose attacks are reminiscent of wrestling moves, and the elf, a swift archer who only melees with her feet.

All of these classes have very distinctive strategies for taking on enemies. In general terms, the mages want to stay back and bombard the enemy with spells while maintaining enough breathing room to regen mana; the fighter, dwarf, and Amazon excel when they’re surrounded by enemies with their strong AOE attacks like the Amazon swinging her huge axe or the dwarf meteor-spiking a goblin into the ground; and the archer is a bit of a mix, shooting arrows from afar, then dashing in to retrieve them, throwing some back flip axe kicks along the way. Even with these general roles, however, it’s far from the only way to play the character. The elf has options to spec into a more melee oriented role, gaining extra ass kicking power based on her boots, or more of a rogue, with skills that let her draw a knife and get extra damage on rear assaults. The dwarf has the option to spec into an explosive specialist, summoning fire barrels and causing fire damage on attacks, or a brawler, getting extra damage when he drops his dual-wielded hammers and starts throwing bows. With all the options you’re guaranteed to find something that suits you regardless of the play style you prefer.

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Just as diverse as the playable characters are the enemies. Mages, spiders, goblins, golems, the whole fantasy roster is here each with a unique attack set, and each has different ways you have to deal with them. Timing your own assaults around the enemies attacks is important as death can catch you off guard in this game if you accidentally take a strong hit when you’re at as much as half health. Where the enemy design really excels is the bosses though.

This game does bosses right. This is easily some of the best boss design I’ve seen out of a game in a long time. Every boss in this game is unique in both artistic design and fighting mechanics, and almost all of them are hugely original. One boss around half way through the game is a demon gate. It’s literally just a gate with a face on a castle that spits spells. You’re taking part of a castle siege and have to bust the gate to advance your army; the adds are simply the enemy militia that it lets through when it decides to open up. You even get a cannon that you use to help bust down the gate, provided you don’t let the enemy army destroy it. Another one of my favorite bosses was the giant brawl with pretty much an entire cove of pirates over a genie lamp. Yes, you get a genie, something I’ve only dreamed of before. If you get your hands on the lamp you can use the genie to help whittle down the pirate onslaught, however if you drop the lamp and the pirates pick it up the genie will attack you instead. It makes for a fun game of smear the queer when the enemy has the lamp or a game of frantic defense if your ally gets a hold of it. I don’t want to spoil too many, but almost all the bosses have this level of creativity in their design.

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The levels themselves are a collection of beautiful locales with a good amount of variety in the interactions available. There are a number of optional side rooms off the main linear path through any given level that offer additional challenges, secret chests, puzzles, as well as having specific activities you have to do in these side rooms to complete side quests. They each present a variety of gameplay mechanics such as dark rooms that you need a torch to safely traverse, water in which you can’t cast fire spells, pillars to topple onto enemies, and at one point you even have to ride a magic carpet away from a lava wave, which makes me wonder why they didn’t just get Robin Williams to voice the genie and turn this into an Aladdin spin off – then the story would have had at least one interesting character.

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Story

This is where the game begins to falter. The story is downright uninteresting. Something along the lines of a crown that controls dragons but it actually doesn’t and there actually isn’t a dragon but there really is you just have to summon him but wait you can’t but never mind you can etc etc ad nauseam. The characters hardly ever actually say anything, instead everything is presented to you by a narrator who tells you what’s happening and what your actions did. It ends up feeling like a pen and paper RPG where the decisions I make don’t actually do anything and the DM is reading straight from a campaign Christopher Paolini wrote before he got published. If you’re expecting any sort of attachment or deep characterization you’ll be disappointed.

This really wouldn’t be a big deal, beat ’em ups aren’t really known for their story, but it’s the fact that they funnel everything you do through the narrator and try to give it some sort of story significance for the first half of the game. All I want to do is play a level, get some loot, distribute some skill points, and go on to the next level, but after almost every boss battle, which they pigeonhole some sort of story significance into, I have to go running around the main town listening to people’s problems as if I actually give a shit. So it’s not just that the story is bad, but that the story is actively inhibiting me from beating people up. Not really an intuitive feature in a beat ’em up. Basically just be prepared to slam X a bunch between levels for the first half of the game, because the story really isn’t worth it.

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At least the game has good PLOT.

On top of this, because every level is tied to some plot shenanigans, the narrator repeats whatever part of the story that level is related to every time you play. Even though in subsequent plays the context is totally lost, he’ll make sure you know exactly why you’re killing all these goblins and what you’re looking for. This is honestly a minor complaint as the narration is easy enough to ignore, but it’s worth mentioning due to being forced to replay parts of levels to complete quests and having to hear it every time.

However, after you get over the exposition hump about 5 hours in the gameplay takes full precedent. You can even run multiple levels in a row and get some nice bonuses to the experience, gold, and item drop rates the more levels you do consecutively, actually encouraging you to simply play the game. There’s even a cooking minigame in between levels, which really doesn’t do that much aside from some minimal stat boosts, but I feel like mentioning it because it’s a fun kind of silly and I haven’t cooked since Cooking Mama came out. It’s a pleasant and short break, which is well welcomed after the intense boss battles.

Speaking of silly, however bad the story is in this game, the writing itself isn’t totally terrible. The plot and characters are suffering, but it’s not written poorly. There are a few witty jokes that the narrator makes during levels and the notes that fallen adventurers leave behind can be rather humorous.

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Annoyances of mention

The game is on both the Vita and the PS3, however it has a rather large mechanic clearly designed specifically for the Vita. Interaction with objects inside of levels is done with a little cursor controlled by the right stick, so in any other game where you would walk up to a door or chest and click a button to open it, in this game you have to hover over it with your cursor and hit L1. Doing this calls forward a thief, Rannie, a huge asshole who follows you around and does nothing to help in fights but still somehow out levels you, who picks the lock and gets the treasure out of the chest or opens up the door.

On the Vita, weird as this mechanic is, it works fine because you can just tap on the chest or door to call out Rannie. My TV isn’t a touch screen though, so when I play on the PS3 I have to haul this cumbersome cursor that always gets lost on the most inconveniently far corner of the screen all the way over to the object, making sure to actually land on it, which isn’t guaranteed with the imprecise PS3 sticks, and click. When I could have just walked up and hit a button in any other game. Vanilladevspls. I did play most of the game on the Vita though, so it didn’t get too annoying, but I can’t imagine what they were thinking when they thought the cursor would be a good idea on the PS3 instead of porting the mechanic in a different way.

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Fuck you, Rannie. What kind of name is Rannie anyway.

TL;DR

Good:

-Beautiful art.

-Snappy animation.

-Fluid combat and combos.

-Amazing boss fights.

-Diverse classes.

-Decently difficult.

-Good quests (few strictly kill X goblins quests, most have a good level of involvement).

Bad:

-Uninteresting story.

-Weird cursor mechanic on PS3.

-Might be a little grindy sometimes if your very sensitive to that kind of thing.

-Annoying/repetitive narrator.

Score: 8/10 – Great game

Best beat ’em up I’ve ever played. If you’ve never played a beat ’em up, you should play this game. If you aren’t a fan of beat ’em ups, this might actually be the game to change your mind.

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Posted by release under PS3, Video Game Reviews, Vita | Permalink

14 Responses to “Dragon’s Crown Review”

  1. anonymous says:

    >scroll

    >scroll scroll scroll

    >more scrolling

    jesus fuck it never ends

  2. Ohtnkr says:

    I like how you’re doing reviews on games. I never noticed it before and may have missed any postings for it, but are you planning on doing more game reviews consistently in the future?

    Off that topic, Sounds like it’ll be a good game. I’ll be picking this up in a few days for my PS3. I have to agree though, the artwork looks outstanding. I haven’t even played the game yet, so I’m itching to see all the stuff the Dragon’s Crown has to offer.
    by the sounds of it, this is a huge step up from Muramasa.

  3. loli says:

    This sounds awesome I’m going to go buy it right now which is what I’d say if it was actually out yet.

  4. AnonMkII says:

    I loved both past Vanillaware games and have looked forward to this one. I’m not sure about the whole multi hero aspect, but it should be fun no mater. With the frame rate issues they had with Odin Sphere on the PS2 I’ve always secretly hoped for a re-release of the game, but I know it’ll never happen for such a small (as in sales) game. I really liked the plot in Odin Sphere and thought Murumasa was a little weak. Looks like they’re going in the wrong direction in this area. After Norse, Japanese, and Medieval fantasy histories I wounder what’s next for Vanillaware? China? India? Something Tribal? My guess would be Middle Eastern. Think 1k Arabian Nights.

  5. Phillangees says:

    Good review gave me a reason to take a look at this game… Er well play it, it is nice to look at though.

  6. FRP says:

    As a huge plan of Odin’s Sphere, I’ve been really really interested in this game. However, I don’t own a PS3 so I’m going to have to play it on a friend’s console.

    • FRP says:

      lol plan….

      Sigh. Obviously I meant fan… But seeing that mess up, I kinda want to leave it as is without explanation.

  7. Stalker Fairy says:

    http://commiesubs.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/dt.png

    Kinda win. Note sure whether I liked Arrow in the knee or a good day to die better.

  8. Retrobrigade says:

    So, were you ever a professional critic or journalist? Or did years of fansubbing just make you REALLY good at writing, to the point where you just had the skills?

    I’m just trying to figure out why this is the best review I’ve read for this game.

  9. not_telling says:

    Reminds of those old Dungeon & Dragons arcade games.
    Are you going to release this?