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I had heard of Dragon’s Crown before but nobody ever seemed to talk about the gameplay. All I heard about was the art style but never the gameplay. I had no idea it was a beat ’em up with RPG elements. I didn’t even know there was an enhanced version. Jeremy and I went to a game store and I saw it sitting there on a shelf and I thought “what the hell, I’ll give a shot”. So I bought it. Developed by Vanillaware and published by Atlus, Dragon’s Crown was released for the PlayStation 3 and Vita in August, 2013. Jeremy, Matt, and I teamed up and played Dragon’s Crown Pro which is an enhanced port, released for the PlayStation 4 in May, 2018. It supports 4K, contains a newly recorded soundtrack, and online cross-play and save compatibility with the PlayStation 3 and Vita versions which is very cool.
The story is set in the Kingdom of Hydeland. Apparently, it’s in the same fantasy of GrimGrimoire and Odin Sphere, two games I’ve never played. The story revolves around the legendary Dragon’s Crown and you’re goal as the hero is to retrieve it. You choose one of six adventurers and can team up with AI partners or other players to vanquish evil in search of the crown. The entire story is narrated by one guy and he does a really good job. He’ll describe events, what characters said, what you can see, kind of like a dungeon master of sorts. I can’t say the story is incredible or that any characters are particularly well developed but considering I thought this was just some kind of fancy beat ’em up at first, I’m surprised the story is even as interesting as it is.
Like most games released nowadays, the game box did not come with a manual. However, there is a very detailed manual in-game and it’s quite informative. I would highly recommend reading through it, at least to get a better understanding of the different playable characters. The difficulty is decided by whichever character you choose. You can select a Fighter, Elf, Wizard, Amazon, Sorceress, or Dwarf. And each character has different stats and specializes in different abilities. You can name your character but change little about his or her appearance, only their color. You can also enter different messages for your character. It’s your standard fantasy stuff so if you’ve played almost any fantasy RPG ever, many aspects of the characters and RPG elements should be familiar. All characters can walk, jump, dash, evade, guard or block, slide, and attack with various button combinations. You can even ride beasts in specific areas. For some reason, none of the characters are capable of opening chests and doors but accompanying your party is a thief named Rannie and his only important purpose is to open shit. I really don’t understand this but he will also collect any treasure lying around. At a certain point during the storyline, a fairy will join your party and she’ll point out secrets in the environments. If you push the right thumbstick or slide your finger along the touchpad during gameplay, a little hand appears on the screen and you can click on things. This is mainly for clicking on objects in the environments like treasure spots, rune markings, or objective items. You also have to click on chests and doors to command Rannie to open them.
The gameplay is very much like a beat ’em up. You move from area to area, killing monsters. Dragon’s Crown is like a sidescroller with a 2.5D perspective. Unfortunately, the camera can be a bit jerky wonky with multiple players. You may have to go left but the others are going right and if you don’t coordinate, none of you will have the camera in an ideal spot so communication is important. The first half of the game has you going from dungeon to dungeon, slaying monsters, bosses, and completing quests. Doing basically anything in a dungeon rewards you with points. Collecting treasure which can be found in chests or in the environments themselves also adds to your score. At the end of dungeons, your total score is converted into experience and when you earn enough experience you level up and get stronger. When you level up or complete requests which are just like side quests, you earn a skill points that can be spent on skills. There’s two types of skills. Character-specific skills and common skills which apply to all characters. Skills can be upgraded more than once and some skills require you to be a certain level before they can be purchased or upgraded. During your adventure through a dungeon or multiple, you start with a certain amount of life points. When your health is completely drained, you die and will need to spend a life point to respawn. You can acquire additional life points by reaching certain scores.
I don’t want to spoil anything but half-way through the story, the game really opens up and basically allows you to do whatever you want. Playing by myself, it took me about six hours to get to the half-way point but I was taking my time. During that first six hours or however long it takes you, the game will introduce you to all of the mechanics, dungeons, and characters you can interact with. There’s a town that acts as a hub world, it’s where most interactions with NPCs take place, and it’s where you can prepare yourself for adventures. For the first half of the story, you’ll leave the town through a gate and decide which dungeon you want to traverse through. In the second half of the story, the stables open up allowing you to do the same thing but at a cost. At this point, the gate is unstable and will take you to a random dungeon. However, you can travel from dungeon to dungeon without going back to town. The dungeons also reveal alternate paths and you unlock network abilities which allow you to team up with other players online. If you don’t go back to town and decide to continue to another dungeon, you’ll receive bonuses like increased score, treasure rank, gold, and effectiveness of spoils. Your items do degrade over time so you’ll either want to bring multiple bags of equipment or just go back to town to repair everything. You can select another bag of equipment when choosing which path you want to take through a dungeon. Sometimes, you’ll be forced to camp between dungeons and when camping, you can cook food which can then be served to each party member. You have a limited amount of time but eating food grants you extra HP and increased percentages to attack, defense, and your score for the rest of your current adventure. Camping is not optional, you actually have to sit there and either cook or wait for the timer to reach zero. It kind of sucks that you can’t skip it but the bonuses you get are worth it.
The town itself contains several locations you can visit like a temple, inn, shops, and the adventurers guild where you can obtain new side quests and spend skill points. Throughout dungeons are bone piles and you can collect these and then resurrect them at the temple. These resurrected heroes can then become allies and join your party. You can also bury the bones and possibly be rewarded with an item. You can have up to three players or AI teammates join you. You can choose your allies at the Inn but you don’t have to, especially if you’re playing solo. Resurrected AI teammates will jump into the action at some point during gameplay and stick with you until they die and/or you part ways with them. Unfortunately, they don’t level up and you can’t really customize them so every now and then I would clean house and only keep the ones at the latest and greatest levels. You’ll acquire plenty of treasure throughout the dungeons which can be spent in shops. You can buy potions, scrolls, rings, and Runestones which are basically a necessity and will be needed to complete certain requests. You have to spend money on items, to resurrect heroes, to repair equipment, and even on prayers at the temple. Praying is not free. Prayers grant you temporary bonuses and you can only have one prayer active at a time. I think my biggest gripe with this game is how the preparation for multiple characters works, at least if you’re playing with others locally. You each have to enter the different establishments individually and do what you need to do. For example; you can’t have one character learning skills and another buying equipment. You all have to go, whoever enters the establishment does whatever, then the next character has to go in and do their thing. You all share experience, money, and a general stash if you will but you have to do most things in town one at a time and wait for the other player or players to finish before you can proceed. When playing solo, it’s not as bad but when playing with others, having to wait for everyone may test your patience.
You can walk up and down but you’ll always be facing left or right. When you enter a dungeon, you go from room to room, clearing out enemies. There are doors that lead to different rooms which usually house quest objectives or resources. When you unlock the alternate paths they’re usually more challenging than the standard paths and you’ll have to watch out for different environmental hazards like fire, crushers, and spikes coming out of the ground. Some dungeons have sequences where you’ll ride something like a magic carpet or boat and have to avoid specific hazards and enemies. Throughout the dungeons are crates that can be broken which usually reveal food items and eating food will restore your health but to eat, you must be standing still. You’ll come across special equipment that can be picked up and used for however much ammo it has. You can use a crossbow, throw bombs, set enemies on fire with the fire thrower, use a great shield to defend yourself against major attacks, and in one dungeon, use a magic lamp to unleash a Genie. These all do a good amount of damage but beware that some enemies do carry these items and will use them against you.
Dungeons do contain plenty of chests that contain treasure and equipment like armor, accessories, and weapons. Sometimes chests are traps but more often than not, they contain treasure. You won’t know what the treasure is until you’re ready to go back to town but the chests do reveal the rank of treasure. “S” being the highest rank meaning the gear is powerful and “E” being the lowest rank. This is basically a loot system. All of this treasure is considered spoils and when you’re ready to go back to town you can decide to appraise, obtain, and/or sell your spoils. Some gear is only for certain characters so that can be sold right away if it doesn’t apply to anyone in your group. Appraising items costs money and it’s the equivalent to “identify” if you’ve played most other RPGs. You don’t know what the gear’s properties are or any of its stats until you appraise it. You can also appraise items in town if you really want to. All equipment has level requirements you must meet before they can be equipped and you can equip one of each item type like one weapon, one shield, one set of potions, gauntlets, earrings, and belts. Different characters can equip different things and how many items you can equip is limited to how many slots you have in your bags. The game does get harder as you progress and what I’ll call the end-game content will require more attention be payed to your equipment because being equipped properly or not can be the difference between cutting through enemies like butter or getting slaughtered.
You can replay through any dungeon at any time whether it be for fun, for experience, for new gear, or to complete various quests. The completion of side quests rewards you with artwork which can be viewed from the Gallery. However, the real reward is the skill points you get and there’s plenty of side quests to complete. You’ll have to find secret rooms, kill a specific amount of enemies, collect items, and other typical stuff you would expect. But the gameplay is actually a lot of fun. The controls are responsive, the hits, blows, and strikes, feel satisfying, and magic characters can summon creatures, cast devastating attack spells, and, honestly, this game is very accessible. Anybody can pick this up, mash buttons, and win. But the further you progress, the more challenging things become and your score is based on your performance. The end-game stuff will really challenge you and in fact, the game has a form of new game plus which literally increases the difficulty for your character and unlocks new content. So actually learning how to perform certain moves, knowing when to evade, and when to guard will become extremely important. But if you’re just interested in getting to the end credits, there’s enough here to keep you playing without beating you down to the ground, assuming you don’t try to rush through only the main quest. The dungeons are populated with all kinds of creatures including wood golems, orcs, demons and hellhounds, goblins, thieves, and one dungeon pits you against pirates. This game covers many aspects of typical sword and sorcery fantasy. I love it, actually. At the end of every dungeon is a boss and because of the multiple paths, every dungeon has multiple bosses. Most of the bosses are big and powerful and may even hurt you a bit during your first battle but once you memorize their attack patterns, they’re not so bad. Being at a high enough level and having the proper gear equipped can make boss battles a lot easier, too. Enemies and bosses can stun you, cause you different ailments, knock you down, and even knock the weapon out of your hand which can become frustrating. Some enemies can fly, some enemies come spawning out of what I’ll call generators but not many, and other enemies can only be killed with specific weapons or spells. For example, ghosts can only be killed by fire.
I think I can safely say I’m not a huge fan of the runes mechanic which is a major part of the gameplay, unfortunately. Once you buy the runestones, you’ll have them equipped at all times. You have to click on the runes in the environments and combine them with the runes on your runestones, and the problem is trying to click on three runes during combat. Especially because some of the effects of the rune combinations are designed to aid you in combat. Plus, you have to know what combinations result in what. You can visit an establishment in town which provides you a list of what combinations do what but who’s going to memorize that? I would suggest having a guide handy or do what we did and just try different combinations until one works. There’s a good amount of them and trying to click on runes when the screen is moving, your getting attacked, and everyone is getting in your way can become very annoying. I don’t mind the level of interactivity this game actually has but the developers should have implemented a better way to activate rune effects. Most of these effects are temporary but helpful and result in different things like granting an extra life point, double score bonus, increased attack and defense, wind spirit protection, a magical circle of recovery, and all kinds of other stuff including opening secret doors in the environments which is usually required to complete certain quests. But trying to remember or memorize the combinations for each is just tedious.
After you beat the game for the first time, you can continue your adventure in a new game plus of sorts. In addition to that, you unlock the Colosseum and Labyrinth of Chaos. The Colosseum allows up to four players to fight each other. The Labyrinth of Chaos is like a random dungeon generator. You can progress through multiple floors which are filled with random areas ripped from the dungeons seen in the storyline. You never really know what enemies will appear or what boss you’ll have to battle. When you complete a floor, you’re rewarded with treasure and high ranking pieces of equipment. This is a great mode to farm for experience, gold, and gear because the difficulty increase is reflected in the storyline dungeons. The boss levels have increased, the enemies are tougher, and you’ll need to hone your skills to be successful.
I know I’ve heard of some people giving up on Dragon’s Crown or dismissing the game because of its art style. Everything about the visual presentation is hand drawn. Actually, to me, it looks like a painting. Personally, I think it looks incredible and that includes the artwork you unlock for completing requests. The artists truly did a fantastic job with the presentation. However, most of the characters are oddly proportioned and I think that’s what many people took issue with. The female characters in particular are extremely sexualized. I, personally, can get passed it because it doesn’t affect the gameplay but it is very noticeable. The Amazon’s upper thighs and ass are just ridiculously large and it’s amazing that the Sorceress doesn’t have back problems due to her massive breasts. I do like many of the visual effects like the way explosions and magical effects look. One big problem we have the visuals is that it’s very easy to lose track of your character when there’s a lot of shit happening on-screen. There’s not enough visual identifiers to make the characters stand out during hectic battles. And it doesn’t help that other characters of the same class as you basically look exactly like your character, except for maybe a color change. As for the audio, the music in Dragon’s Crown is actually quite fantastic and memorable. The orchestral songs perfectly compliment the action. The sound effects are loud and you’ll hear all kinds of clashes and clangs, booming explosions, and the characters will say things during combat but the dialogue can become repetitive after a while. On the technical side, the game ran fine. I played through it solo on a PlayStation 4 Pro and Jeremy, Matt, and I played through it cooperatively on standard PlayStation 4 with no hiccups.
We had a great time with Dragon’s Crown but it does have some issues. Preparing for battle needs to be streamlined, at least when talking about local co-op, because forcing players to equip shit, enter shops, and basically interact with anything one at a time becomes very tedious. Also, when the screen gets busy, you may lose track of your character which can result in you taking damage or even death. But considering how much content and replay value is in this game, these are small prices to pay in my opinion. The controls are solid, character movement and attacks are fluid, and each strike and impact feels satisfying. You’ll actually feel like your character is getting stronger the further you progress thanks to the experience and leveling and all the skills you can apply. This is definitely one of the greatest beat-em-ups I have ever played and there’s always a reason to keep going whether it be to conquer a dungeon, complete a request, or simply to improve your character and acquire better gear.
Dragon’s Crown Pro is an amazing game and I would highly recommend it to anyone. If you enjoy the beat-em-up genre, there is really no reason not to check this out. It’s not a perfect game by any means but the good certainly outweighs the bad and the gameplay has an addictive quality. Dragon’s Crown successfully blends beat-em-up gameplay with RPG elements in a way that’s both fun and addictive, leaving me hungry for more every time I stopped playing. If you’re looking for more than just a typical arcade-style beat-em-up, Dragon’s Crown may be just what you’re looking for.