Dragon’s Crown has had a difficult journey on its way to store shelves. After it was announced back in 2011, news for the game went dark and the game’s Western publisher dropped out of the running. Then when Atlus picked the title up for release, many juvenile controversies were raised over something the developer has been doing since they started making games. However they say that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so has Dragon’s Crown become an excellent game that everyone should be picking up?
Dragon’s Crown’s storyline is unfortunately not one of the game’s strong points as it mostly serves as a system that gives players incentive to continue forward and unlock new aspects of the game as they venture through numerous dungeons. Players will meet new allies and enemies as they make their way through countless bosses as they complete a pre-determined set of missions and optional side-quests.
There is however, more to the game than meets the eye, since players will be able to navigate through the nine areas provided in the game and then through the “B-side” of these stages to not only encounter new enemies and hidden areas, but also face off against different bosses ultimately leading up to the game’s final boss.
While minimalistic, the way that Dragon’s Crown presents its story is similar to what one would experience from a Dungeons & Dragons table-top adventure and provides just enough structure for players to engross themselves in the game.
Dragon’s Crown is clearly a beat’em up style game based in a fantastical medieval setting. Players have the option of choosing between six different classes, each of whom feature unique combat abilities and skills. There is the Fighter, the Dwarf, the Wizard, the Amazon, the Sorceress and the Elf to choose from and while some beat’em ups may simply reskin the same fighter so that, while they look different, they play the exact same, Dragon’s Crown is the exact opposite of that.
Before we even consider class customization and character differences, it is worth noting that calling Dragon’s Crown a simple beat’em up would be doing the game a disservice since it is far more than that, as it features status effects, air combos, juggling, ranged and melee differences, dodging and much more, including the ability to ride animals into combat and wield limited use items. Each class has special abilities to make them useful in combat, though it is worth noting that the two magic using characters probably play the most similar to one another in the entire roster.
The Elf, my personal pick, is versatile with swift close-range combo attacks that can lead to air juggling and punishing ground slams as well as a bow that deals superior damage to enemies. However the Elf’s arrows are limited and must be gathered from defeated opponents or boxes to replenish her supply. This is then accented by the way that players will be able to level up characters and unlock skills to further customize their experience.
Each class is given character specific skills as well as “Common” skills that are shared amongst the classes. This means that even if you were to venture into combat with four different Elf characters, each one may have a different set of skills and playstyle. However shifting focus away from the Elf for a bit, every class is capable of being useful in combat, since the Fighter has the ability to block, the Dwarf can throw enemies and the magic users can summon allies to fight alongside the party. It is also worth noting that there are numerous character slots available to each save file, allowing players to shift their class around if they feel like trying out the other classes.
As you venture through the various dungeons, players will see enemies scale to their level in a way that makes it so every level is always a dangerous venture. Even some of the beginning areas scale up to the player’s level which means that even some of the early levels can be as fun to play as some of the later dungeons, making older dungeons feel like less of a chore and more like something to conquer once again.
Those concerned about the multiplayer aspect of don’t have to worry too much about fighting alone, since players can find bones of dead adventurers in dungeons. These bones can then be resurrected into adventurers that will travel alongside the player through these fights, as AI companions that will take the place of other players. These companions do not level up however and their equipment can break and disappear however, meaning that players must manage their party or else find their allies under-leveled and under-equipped for new challenges.
Once the player completes the game, there is the option to restart the game and enter into a harder difficulty level, which raises the level cap on the player’s characters. On the basic Normal mode, characters are capped at 35, with Hard Mode and Inferno Mode allowing players to level up to 65 and 99 respectively. There is even a bit of PVP available for gamers who want to face off against others online, or bots if they feel like, and a randomly generated dungeon named Labyrinth of Chaos that expand the game’s playtime to staggering levels.
It is worth noting that while this review is based off of the PlayStation 3 version of Dragon’s Crown, I was able to try out the Vita version as well. The Vita version of the game appears similar to the PS3 version minus some drops in visual quality and some slowdown during intense moments but it also features a touch screen option. This touch screen allows players to reveal extra loot in dungeon levels as well as tell your trusty thief friend what doors and treasure chests to unlock.
The same can be accomplished on the PlayStation 3 but rather than being able to simply tap the objects, players must navigate a pointer across the screen with an analog stick and use a shoulder button to tap any objects they want opened or examined. It is also worth noting that there is no cross play between the two systems, which is disappointing to say the least since it fractures the userbase, but thanks to the aforementioned companion system, it isn’t too much of an issue.
As far as aesthetics go, anyone familiar with what Vanillaware has done in the past should know what to expect, and that is a breathtaking art style where it appears that everything in the world, including player characters and enemies, are hand drawn from scratch. The characters each feature an exaggerated character trait similar to what one would find on old movie posters or old Dungeon & Dragon’s style artwork and there are a number of color palette swaps for each character in the game.
As far as enemies go, fodder opponents are varied well enough and while there are a few duplicates here and there, each enemy has a unique look to it, especially with boss battles against some truly inspiring looking opponents. The combat is fluid and fast paced, with no slowdown on the PlayStation 3 version of the title even when all four fighters are battling enemies at the same time.
As I mentioned above, the story of Dragon’s Crown feels like a genuine Dungeons & Dragons adventure and the main reason for that is everything in your adventure, including preludes into dungeons, quest discussion and more is narrated by the narrator and the only times that characters make any noise is when they are fighting or performing in game actions, creating a game that feels like a dungeon master is controlling everything as you make your way through his game.
The game’s background soundtrack is impressive and fits the medieval fantasy theme of the game, with numerous epic sounding dungeon tracks as well as some calmer themes for when the player is navigating town or inside of a building.
Vanillaware, and for their part Atlus, have given gamers something special in Dragon’s Crown. Despite a minimalistic storyline, the game is positively glowing in every other aspect. The way that the title presents itself with its unique art style and storytelling paired alongside fast paced, gratifying combat makes Dragon’s Crown easily the best, if not the best, side-scroller beat’em up to grace the gaming world.
Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.