"As a nod to its fore-father Golden Axe, the kinetic pace of the game calls for 'Go!' prompts and, of course, swarms of orcs, goblins, and boss fights along the way."
During a time when downloadable titles are trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to side-scrolling beat'em ups, Dragon's Crown keeps it simple, while introducing a complex RPG system behind the hood. It's arcade style fun with the depth of Diablo-esque looters. Being able to choose from six different classes, including Fighter, Amazon, Elf, Sorceress, Wizard, and Dwarf, gives up to four players, on or offline, the chance to form a deadly team and trek through the beautiful storybook-inspired world of Hydeland.
Dragon's Crown isn't trying to break the genre's mold, but simply attempting to make it appealing again. It has gorgeous art direction and a presentation that is surprisingly lush and detailed. The backdrops and hand-drawn landscapes as are just as breathtaking as the action itself. As a nod to its fore-father Golden Axe, the kinetic pace of the game calls for "Go!" prompts and, of course, swarms of orcs, goblins, and boss fights along the way.
"This isn't a beat 'em up for the faint of heart. You won't be able to play the game online until you have completed the first nine stages solo."
The gameplay can get fairly hectic. With four, player-controlled character models jumping around on screen at any given time, not to mention NPCs that can tag along with you on quests, the game can get Super Smash-like in terms of the number of things going on. Each character possesses special skills that are specific to each class, while common skills can be learned by all classes. These skills can be purchased in town, which is your main hub between quests. In town, you may also purchase or repair magical items, weapons, or armor. You can also appraise and sell loot that you have collected on your journey.
Looting and grinding is an integral part of Dragon's Crown. Though the game is only nine stages long, you will need to play through multiple times to unlock different paths and collect time-trial talismans in order to unlock the final stage, unlock Inferno mode, and raise the level cap to 99. This isn't a beat 'em up for the faint of heart. You won't be able to play the game online until you have completed the first nine stages solo. Even playing through on solo though, you will find bones in the stages that you will be able to resurrect at the cathedral in town and use as allies to help fight alongside you.
One design decision for Dragon's Crown that was glaringly tacked on for the PS3 version works drastically better on the Vita. In the Vita version, you can tap the screen to have your NPC locksmith or fairy unlock a chest, reveal hidden items, or revive a downed party member. On the PS3, you have to use the right-analog stick as a cursor in order to perform these tasks. This minor inconvenience turns major when the screen is full of enemies that are hellbent on killing you and you have to move the cursor frantically over a creature to have your team target it or have a lock picked by pressing L1.
"Fairies, wizards, warlocks, Prime Ministers, guilds, stolen scepters, you name it. Every fantasy cliché can be checked off the list."
My only other quibble with Dragon's Crown is its story. Repugnantly generic. I found myself skipping through nearly every cutscene because there is truly nothing you haven't seen here before in a fantasy setting. Fairies, wizards, warlocks, Prime Ministers, guilds, stolen scepters, you name it. Every fantasy cliché can be checked off the list. You are made to believe all of this is interesting via a narrator ala Dungeons and Dragons. It wasn't. A game with this much RPG complexity could simply loose the story in favor spending more time explaining the idiosyncrasies of combat and how to properly level up your character.
It took nearly thirteen years, but Vanillaware finally got Dragon's Crown into the hands of gamers. Was it too little too late? Hell no. When the industry is constantly rehashing the old, its refreshing to see an original IP that can not only invoke the same childhood nostalgia that I felt for classic beat 'em ups, but entice me as an adult with its deep looting and RPG mechanics. Grab a few friends, it's clobbering time.
Review by: Michael Engle | Reviewed on: Playstation 3