You have to hand it to the creative minds behind Dragon’s Crown; their decision to produce a side-scrolling, multiplayer focused game akin to the arcade titles of yore is a bold one. With big-budget action releases all vying unashamedly for your last remaining coins, it takes a team with real nerve to attempt something so retro while still shooting for the full price at retail. The world of Dragon’s Crown is not for the faint of heart any more than it is for the single player, so you’ll want to buddy up right away if you wish to see the journey through to its end.
Developer: Vanillaware, Atlus
Publisher: Atlus, NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), PlayStation Vita
Players: Single-Player, Multi-Player
Genre: Action Role-Playing Game, Beat ‘Em Up
Release: (EU) October 11th 2013, (JP) July 25th 2013, (NA) August 6th 2013
You might be shocked to discover that online play isn’t available from the outset, meaning that a friend in the same room is the way to go. Local play has been largely forgotten these past few years due to the surge of online gaming, so it’s a nice touch (and a very old-school one at that) for this option to take precedence. Those itching for internet play will have to plough through around six hours of the story in order to unlock the online component, just as the game tasks you to collect specific items from more challenging bosses.
Combat is generally the order of the day in Dragon’s Crown, with each of the six characters displaying their own set of strengths and weaknesses; melee specialists pack more of a punch, for example, but are more likely to suffer enemy strikes as they’re forced to get in close. The heroes level up through fighting and as quests are completed, though you might want to grind on occasion by tackling a few of the side quests available from the guild. It can sometimes seem like a game of numbers, but the way you play and the company you keep, such as any AI companions in your party will serve as important factors throughout.
Controls are precise overall, but you might be less inclined to use the cursor (a bizarre decision here) to search for hidden objects and activate runes. It’s a fiddly system but a necessary one for the player, as you’ll need to unlock chests for gold and loot before opening doors that bar your way forward. From the menus through to the way a second player interacts, very little is immediately intuitive, presenting a rough learning curve as you attempt to work out how to perform the staple actions of gaming. Tip: Player 2 will want to activate the same side missions as Player 1 by going in to the guild separately, which also counts for adding skills and visiting the shop.
Equally as strange yet far more divisive is the art style, which exhibits a hand-painted look and doesn’t skimp on the details. Characters are exaggerated and sometimes grotesquely so, making it an acquired taste that will turn off certain members of its target audience. Enemies on the other hand can really impress, and it’s hard to find fault when burning foes atop a flame-spitting dinosaur. Music remains strong throughout and works in tandem with the world to build up a strong fantasy atmosphere.
One of the biggest failings lies in the storytelling. Narration laid over barely animated pictures is crude yet forgivable, but the rambling exposition – as skippable as it is – fails to engage or develop any kind of lore. It’s easy to see the game in its entirety as a throwback to the likes of Golden Axe, but with the more recent trappings of skill points, high-def visuals and online gameplay. It’s just as easy to imagine a better story with interesting dialogue and unique voice actors for every face you meet.
Dragon’s Crown commands patience and a willing friend or two to warrant the price tag at launch. Fans of single-player outings can quite comfortably pass this by or wait for a sale, safe in the knowledge that their money is best reserved for any one of this season’s heavy hitters. It’s a testament to how far gaming has come that we can say that while simultaneously hailing Dragon’s Crown as one of the best releases from this outdated genre. The interface is troublesome and grinding becomes a must later on, but with great sound, responsive action and a focus on local co-op, those in search of swords and sorcery might just find a worthy adventure in the end.
6.5 – Above Average. Fun but it is let down by some questionable design choices. While it has its own identity, it doesn’t go beyond its own limits.