Dragon’s Crown – Review
Dragon’s Crown is a 2D fantasy action RPG developed by Vanillaware. It was released in 2013 for PS3 and Vita. Up to 4 players fight their way through various dungeons and labyrinths in order to collect treasure and defeat the 18 bosses of the game. It supports online play, same screen co-op as well as cross-play with the Vita.
At it’s core, Dragon’s Crown is a classic side scrolling brawler, inspired by Golden Axe. The player is able to move forward and backwards along a plane. You make your way through each scene from left to right while fighting enemies and searching for treasure.
The overall feel of the game is very similar to a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, you start off at a town with several shops, a tavern and an adventurers guild. From there you venture out to explore various dungeons, complete quests and fight monsters.
As you make your way through the dungeons you gain experience and treasure. Once you end your adventure and return to town you are able to level up, spend skill points and equip your new equipment you found during your adventure.
The gameplay itself does take some time to get used to, beginners will often lose themselves in the chaos of the battle. The game does have several options available which allow you to choose what is displayed on screen as well as keep track of your character.
The combat varies greatly depending which character you choose to play as. I found the Fighter to be very repetitive and dull, it wasn’t until I switched to the Dwarf and gaining the ability to throw enemies and change tactics that this game really got it’s hooks into me. I have since played through the game as the Elf and Sorceress, both of which completely change the way I played the game.
Each character has their own set of unique skills and style, and they all feel very different from one another. Once a class begins to feel boring it’s easy to switch to another character and completely change how you play the game. The characters available fall under four main categories: Melee (Fighter, Dwarf, Amazon), Ranged (Elf), Offensive Magic (Wizard) and Defensive/Support Magic (Sorceress).
Similar to Diablo or World of Warcraft, Dragon’s Crown is definitely tailored to the ‘end-game’. The story mode on normal difficulty is fine to play through, but the game doesn’t really hit its’ stride until you have built a character who is able to take on the higher difficulty dungeons and bosses.
This game benefits from multiple play-throughs, given that there are only 9 dungeons (albeit with two separate paths in each one) the main story line can be completed within a couple of hours. Making your way through each of the difficulties (Normal, Hard and Infernal) will take at least 5-6 hours and give you a level 70+ character.
Vanillaware patched in the abilities to start a character from level 15 and gain the skill points from completing quests without having to repeat them for each character. These changes made it a lot less repetitive to level up each character to the point where you can start playing end-game content. Another great addition which was added after release was Ultimate Difficulty and the Tower of Mirages, which increases the level cap to 255 and generates and infinite number of dungeons. This means that theoretically a dedicated player will never run out of content to play.
The real fun of the game is when you are able to string together multiple dungeons into one adventure to gain huge bonuses. At higher difficulties this becomes a test of equipment choice and management, as well as player skill. Giving the player these incentives to keep playing was a smart move, I’m very often caught into the ‘just one more dungeon’ mindset while playing Dragon’s Crown. Returning to the Inn after a long adventure and seeing your character gain 10+ levels at once and then sorting through your hoards of treasure is one of my favorite parts of the game.
The majority of the enemies throughout the game are the types of monsters you would expect to find in a fantasy RPG game. Undead skeletons, orcs, goblins and giant spiders can all be found in various levels. There are several enemies like the Living Mud or Dopplegangers which require different approaches and tactics. At it’s heart this game is a classic side-scrolling beat ’em up, providing the player with a choice of classes and skills means that they have a choice about how to play it. So even if the core game-play doesn’t change, the way you play the game will.
While the game does throw a decent variety of enemies at you throughout each dungeon, the main draw of Dragon’s Crown is the boss battles at the end of each section. The bosses all feel unique and are designed and animated with a lot of care.
There are 18 bosses which are at the end of each dungeon path, with the final boss of the storyline being the Ancient Dragon. A lot of these monsters come straight from DnD Monster Manuals (Gazer or Wraith), while others are well-known creatures from other legends (Medusa, The Kraken or a Harpy). There is also one boss called the Killer Rabbit which is taken from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Most bosses have weaknesses or strategies which help you defeat them, some of them have different stages or timelimits to beat them in. So while the core gameplay for each one is the same, each battle feels slightly different.
What makes this game stand out to me is the art and the presentation. Every character, enemy, boss and environment was drawn and animated beautifully by hand. This really adds a unique feel to every scene you come across.
I can’t even comprehend the time it must have taken to create all of these amazing animations, and to top it all off there are 54 extremely detailed pieces of art that you can collect throughout the game. Dragon’s Crown is without a doubt one of the best looking games I have ever played.
The narration which occurs throughout every dungeon is another strongpoint of the game. JB Blanc provides the voice for the narrator, and the way it is written and performed fits really well into the Dungeons and Dragons campaign vibe that Vanillaware where going for.
Every few areas you get a description of the area as well as some of the lore or backstory, similar to the descriptions and Dungeon Master would provide during a DnD campaign.
Dragon's Crown is an exquisitely hand-crafted masterpiece. The art and animation alone makes it one of the best looking games on Vita or PS3. The combination of the gameplay, art style and narration really nails the feel of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.