Dragon's Crown (PlayStation 3) Review

By Az Elias 17.09.2013

Review for Dragon

Old-school 2D beat 'em ups are a little thin on the ground these days, so when one does finally pop up, a lot of attention and excitement is swung its way. Vanillaware's Dragon's Crown has had no shortage of scrutiny over the last few months, thanks to its revival of the brawler genre and blend of medieval RPG elements. Particularly those that grew up with a fondness for classic beat 'em ups will want to read on for the rundown on Dragon's Crown, out now in North America and Europe on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.

The title screen greets with a soundtrack very reminiscent of PS1 classic Vagrant Story, setting the initial tone for Dragon's Crown in good stead. There's no coincidence behind this, since Hitoshi Sakimoto, composer of that Squaresoft RPG great, contributed the full score to Vanillaware's newest title, as well. Whilst most of the similarities between both games end at the soundtrack, though, to hear the familiar medieval orchestral vibes that Sakimoto has attributed to other RPGs in the past puts a positive first impression on Dragon's Crown. Thankfully, this positivity continues for the larger part of the game.
Immediately striking is the watercolour painting art style used throughout. One of Vanillaware's specialties has been creating some of the most beautiful 2D graphics around, and Dragon's Crown continues to prove the talent at hand. Coupled with some of the most finely-crafted and animated of sprites, this title is extremely eye-catching. The zoom-ins from the camera if controls are left untouched for a short time imply the designers really wanted to show off the detail applied, and when a game looks this good, they can't be blamed for wanting people to take notice.

Golden Axe fans will find Dragon's Crown of serious interest, as this does indeed seem to have a lot in common with SEGA's Mega Drive series. Six characters, each with their own unique set of abilities and fighting styles, are selectable from the offset, and the game itself advises on the level of difficulty associated with grasping each one. The Fighter class is seen as the safest and easiest character to play as, and is ideal for newcomers, whilst the Sorceress is regarded as one that experts already familiar with the game will want to test themselves with. The Wizard, Elf, Dwarf and Amazon make up the rest of the bunch. There is nothing stopping anybody from choosing whichever character they want to, however, and each merits playing as at least once. It is easy to see the benefits of each character type, as players will quickly begin to find a style that best suits them. Where one player may prefer the tank-like brute force of the Dwarf, another person might rather take on the supportive role of the Sorceress, keeping a distance to aid allies and hit enemies with powerful magic.

For all intents and purposes, Dragon's Crown is a loot-based brawler, designed with constant replaying of side-scrolling dungeons in mind, and whacking upon a boss at the end of each. Its crossover with RPGs means experience points are also achieved through the defeating of enemies and completion of stages, and for those that dare to risk continuing playing straight into another level after one is conquered, rather than return to town to rest up, bonuses such as double EXP or treasure are rewarded. Dungeons can be pushed through in less than 20 minutes for the most part, and well under 10 at higher levels, so it's never really a drag to want to tackle another stage directly after, but the desire to return home to equip newly-found gear and the like often takes precedence over risking further rewards, unless building EXP and cash is the current focus.

Screenshot for Dragon's Crown on PlayStation 3

It's with the town area that the adventure always starts off in and where characters return to after every stage, acting as the hub of the game and laying the RPG foundations down for Dragon's Crown. It's here that, by means of running left and right in the 2D plane of the locale, various important buildings can be entered to aid the character and progress the plot. These include: the Magic Item Shop, that can be used to buy those ever-important potions or appraise treasure to turn them into equipment to increase stats; the Adventurers Guild, which grants a place to learn and level-up skills that become extremely important in battle, as well as offer side-quests to earn extra EXP and money; and the Castle, which is an area that warrants coming back to time and again to move on with the story.

Sadly, the chronicle of Dragon's Crown certainly doesn't offer anything exceptional or memorable, and whilst unfortunate, it's understandable for the type of game it is. The story takes a backseat to the gameplay, but that's not a bad thing at all. It's rather peculiar how the story is told, as a male narrator speaks every line, and acts out each part spoken by certain characters with amusing voices. Some might grow a little tired of him after not long, but there is a downloadable narrator pack that allows the voices of each playable character to be used instead. This is only free for the first month after the release of the game, however, and will cost a small sum afterwards.

So, where Dragon's Crown lacks in its story, it more than makes up for elsewhere. What sets it apart from most other beat 'em ups is its simultaneous four-player action. Even when playing alone, up to three AI characters will join at random intervals throughout stages to form a party that can work together to thwart enemies. Of course, the number of allies can be limited, and players can go it alone if they so wish, but the game has been designed with multiplayer in mind, and by playing both locally and online, this is where a lot of the fun is to be had.

Screenshot for Dragon's Crown on PlayStation 3

Sometimes the action can get a bit chaotic, and especially if more than one player uses the same character class, it can be difficult to keep track of the right one at times, but there is normally enough space on-screen to follow the goings on, with the camera zooming out accordingly. It's pleasing to see how smoothly more hectic situations run, but the drop-in drop-out online design can cause synchronisation pauses to occur when players join or leave, which can become annoying. But without a doubt, when there's a group of players working together to blitz multiple dungeons one after the other and smash bosses in close-call nail-biting battles to haul home a ton of loot, Dragon's Crown is at its best. It's just unfortunate that the communication options are limited thanks to there being no voice or text chat. It isn't a huge problem, but it would have been helpful.

In addition to moving from room to room and beating up baddies, there are certain functions that are necessary to perform using a point-and-click finger cursor assigned to the right analogue stick. At any point during gameplay, with a flick of the stick the cursor will appear and can be moved around over twinkling spots on the maps to reveal hidden treasure. Other uses for it include unlocking treasure chests and doors that also need to be 'clicked' on and will be opened by a travelling thief companion that stays out of the battle action until the room is clear, and activating runes placed on walls through dungeons to trigger special magic to aid characters.

Screenshot for Dragon's Crown on PlayStation 3

One other important purpose for the cursor functionality is reviving dead allies whose lives have run out. When this happens, its status bar at the top of the screen will require a click on it with the pointer to revive it for a monetary fee. If it isn't revived after 60 seconds, it will be gone forever, with only the player being able to decide if it's a character worthy enough of money being spent to bring back. In the heat of battle, especially during boss fights, trying to attack or keep a safe distance whilst at the same time keeping an eye on which characters need reviving, or deciding which are worth reviving, and of course moving this pointer around with the right stick, can become a bothersome and sometimes tricky affair. It's one of those slightly annoying functions that will eventually become second nature, but there's no hiding from its initial original irritations.

Most surprising about Dragon's Crown is just how packed the game is. Alternate dungeon paths with completely new bosses, a harder difficulty, a labyrinth with countless floors to conquer and side-quests really do mean this game is never completely over. That's not including doing it all again with the rest of the character types. In a sort of MMO-type fashion, the side-quests offered consist of going to a particular dungeon to find a room or item, killing a certain number of specific enemies, or more difficult tasks like defeating bosses completely solo or under time constraints. As well as the obvious EXP and money rewards, sublime pieces of artwork are also added to a gallery, with a bit of story text that concludes the mission that it was achieved from. All of this content is quite unexpected for a game that is a brawler on the face of it, but the fact is, Dragon's Crown has an array of RPG components that really make it so much more enjoyable and a much better game because of it.

Screenshot for Dragon's Crown on PlayStation 3

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Set in a mythological feudal land of kings and queens and dragons and sorcery, Dragon's Crown's premise is an enticing one for both beat 'em up and RPG fans. Whilst the story isn't RPG standard, nobody should be playing Dragon's Crown for that. What this concoction of genres does is create a game that caters greatly to each crowd, offering no shortage of gratifying baddie-smashing, character building and hours upon hours of content, all wrapped up in one of the most marvellous art styles. Dragon's Crown is a glorious throwback to classic beat 'em ups, made that much more engaging through its RPG aspects.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (1 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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