Dragon’s Crown Review: Fantastical Fun, While The Fun Lasts
Vanillaware is the king of the 2D action game.
George Kamitani and his team have an unmistakable style that combines absolutely gorgeous hand-drawn 2D art with fast-paced and flashy combat, along with really interesting and sometimes very weird gameplay mechanics that you simply won’t find in any other game.
That style is immediately apparent in Dragon’s Crown, and while the game lives up to the Vanillaware standard set by Odin Sphere and Muramasa, some strange design decisions and poor implementation of one of its big hooks make it my least favorite of the three.
Platforms: PS3 (Reviewed), PSVita
Released: Aug. 6, 2013
Dragon’s Crown is a four-player, side-scrolling 2D beat-em-up, very much in the vein of games like Golden Axe, Castle Crashers, and the 50 million 2D beat-em-ups developed for arcades by Konami in the 1990s. What sets Dragon’s Crown apart from the pack is the amount of depth in its combat system and the diversity between its six playable classes.
With the exception of the sorceress and wizard, no two classes in Dragon’s Crown play alike. Each individual class has its own unique style of play, set of attacks and special moves. The Fighter, for example, is your standard melee brawler with tons of health, good damage, but poor evasion and a lack of ranged options.
Now, you might think that the Dwarf would play fairly similar to that, but his playstyle is actually completely different. The Dwarf focuses more on crowd control, thanks to being able to leap into fights with an aerial splash and Blanka-style ball roll. He also has the unique ability to grab enemies and hurl them back to the ground, hurting any nearby foes.
And then you have the Amazon, who acts as the berserker of the group. She starts out with a fairly slow set of moves and abilities, but the more hits you land on your foes, the faster her attacks become, eventually to the point where she is by far the fastest and most damaging melee character in the game.
The Elf is my personal favorite character class, as she plays like a hybrid ranged and melee character. The majority of her damage comes from her arrows, but the tricky thing about her is that she only has a limited number of them. She can replenish arrows by picking them up on the battlefield, but you constantly have to keep in mind how many arrows you have left and make sure that each one you fire counts. She also has the best evasive maneuvers in the game, which is good, because not only does it feel awesome when you narrowly escape a big hit, but it’s also required since the Elf can’t take much punishment.
The Wizard and Sorceress are the wild cards. They primarily attack using powerful magic, but these attacks quickly drain their small mana pools. Without mana, the two characters can’t even evade. To restore mana, the player must hold down the square button and recharge, leaving themselves quite vulnerable in the process.
All six of these classes are given further depth thanks to both a character-specific and a universal set of upgrades. Each time a player levels up or completes a sidequest, he or she gets a skill point to purchase either a new ability or some sort of passive buff. The class-specific upgrades serve to further differentiate the classes from each other, granting new unique skills and abilities, while the universal upgrades are more geared towards improving stats or increasing the effectiveness of the few maneuvers that are shared between classes.
Vanillaware deserves to be commended on their efforts to make each class so diverse, especially because character variety is usually a problem that many other 2D beat-em-ups tend to have. Another problem that they tend to have is how repetitive they can get, and while Dragon’s Crown makes a substantial effort to keep things fresh with some interesting ideas, not all of them succeed.
You see, Dragon’s Crown is a game that is constantly evolving as you play it. You start off the game with only a few areas in the town unlocked. When you complete a level, you’ll get a bit of story and a new part of the town will be unlocked that will introduce a new feature of the game. Sometimes these features will be as small as a fairy that follows you around and highlights secret areas, and sometimes they will be as substantial as a new magic rune system.
The most of curious of these features is online play, which also must be unlocked through game progression. In fact, it’s the very last thing that becomes unlocked after beating all nine stages the first time through. This is a shame because Dragon’s Crown truly is much more fun when it’s played with other people, and the game starts to drag after about the fifth level of playing solo. The AI companions are serviceable, but the game design demands they must be dumbed down so that you can’t get through the game just by sitting back and letting your AI companions do all of the work.