Many people will judge Dragon’s Crown by its art style. The latest game from Vanillaware is a gorgeously painted two dimensional side scrolling brawler that features lush landscapes, foreboding dungeons, and huge bosses that sometimes fill eighty percent of the screen. But it also features two female characters who appear designed simply for titillation and male characters with equally impossible proportions. The look of Dragon’s Crown stirred controversy for good reason; it both entices and potentially puts off the observer.
Dragon’s Crown is, however, more than just its artwork. The game to which these beautifully painted worlds and characters belong is, at first, deceptively simple. Leading the player from a hub town world into several different combat locations like The Lost Woods or The Mage’s Tower, Dragon’s Crown appears to be simply a game of combat, loot, and experience. However, as the game progresses, online components, player choice with regard to which path they will take in a dungeon, runes, and other interesting wrinkles unlock. As long as one has not been entirely spoiled by reviews, there is a real sense of discovery in playing Vanillaware’s latest.
This is a huge plus, but it also adds to the short list of negatives. Almost nothing is explained to the player. Avoiding the extensive tutorials of many modern games, it depends instead almost exclusively on the player to discover game mechanics and features. While this can be very rewarding, it also leads to a sense that one is never quite sure if they are playing correctly. This was especially the case for me as I took on the last boss of the game a number of times until I finally beat it after grinding to the level cap.
The grinding is another drawback. It appears obvious that Dragon’s Crown was meant to be played online with friends. However, while I had a number of online experiences, no opportunities arose to play with voice chat in a group with people I knew. Instead, when other players joined, there was a kind of controlled chaos in which we all tried to do our own thing. Generally this wasn’t too bad. But it was also unreliable. Long wait windows appeared between adventures as I sat biding time while others joined the game. There were also some syncing issues in which it was clear that lag between games was causing some strange things to happen on screen, like players not being able to pick up loot because, presumably, it had already been picked up by another player but not fully synced between consoles.
The single player experience, on the other hand, is more controlled, but requires much more time and effort. Parties are made up of four characters, with anywhere from three to none of them being NPCs. While playing alone these slots are filled, either by the player’s choice of characters, or over time by the computer, from the different classes available. So even if you start off as the Dwarf, you will see the Sorceress, Wizard, Knight, and Elf throughout your adventuring as they fill out your adventuring party. The NPC allies are fairly good most of the time, but absolute rubbish when you need them to react to specific situations as in some boss fights. This can be extremely frustrating when good online experience and communication is hard to come by and you’re trying to defeat the last boss.
When you do defeat that last boss, however, you once more find just how expansive the game is. Many more adventuring hours await past the ten to fifteen hours of the first leg of your quest. Here is Dragon’s Crown’s greatest strength. It may require you to do quite a bit to defeat its bosses. But it also keeps offering you goals in the form of an ever expanding main quest, as well as a constant stream of side-quests to facilitate leveling up.
All of this lies under the venire of the incredibly evocative art style. If we were merely concerned with games as things we played, not things we looked at, we could stop here. But the game’s style does provoke some basic questions about who the game is meant to appeal to. The Dwarf, Sorceress, and Amazon are rather exposed characters with cartoonish proportions, bouncing animations, and sometimes unnecessarily crude poses. But I must admit that very little of it bothered me. Only one full screen image, that of the female warrior monk, appeared genuinely offensive and crude to me. But also the animations involved in the Amazon and Sorceress rising from being knocked down, present them in a way that is clearly meant to suggest activities other than just standing up. It seems that the art of Dragon’s Crown, while perhaps off-putting to some, is both cartoonish and provocative in a Jessica Rabbit kind of way, but also at times a bit over the line of good taste. It is also, as experience shows, nowhere close to the whole story of this game.
The newest game from the makers of Odin Sphere is probably at its best when played with friends in a party. In that setting when no one is forcing you off screen, nor are NPC’s getting caught on one side of the screen and keeping you from running from a boss, the game seems to shine its brightest. But either with strangers, or on one’s own, Dragon’s Crown simply presents a fun, if somewhat repetitive, experience of hacking, slashing, and casting one’s way through dungeon, tower, and forest. For those who can easily grab three friends and work together to discover the world of Dragon’s Crown, the experience is absolutely worth it. For the rest, hours of fun still await, but they may be peppered through with frustrations that are outside of one’s control.
Score: 8/10 – Well Above Average
Title: Dragon’s Crown
Platforms: PS3, PSVita
Time Played: 16 Hours
We received a review copy of this game.