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Dragon's Crown Review


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On 07/31/2013 at 03:00 PM by Nick DiMola

Ignore the controversy; this game deserves your attention.
RECOMMENDATION:

Beat-‘em-up fans shouldn’t miss this one.

They say beauty is only skin deep, but this is just not the case with the latest output from Vanillaware. Beyond the gorgeous visuals, Dragon’s Crown offers layers of complexity on top of what is typically a very simplistic genre. Side-scrolling beat-‘em-ups have largely stagnated since the days of the arcade, but George Kamitani and company have grafted on dungeon crawler attributes as well as the company’s signature deep and fluid combat systems to create something wholly unique. Quests, loot, and frequent leveling make it hard to pull yourself away from this finely crafted adventure.

Despite offering all of this depth, Dragon’s Crown is quite conscious about not dumping it all on the player at once. In the very first level, you’re offered a simple tutorial that explains the various attacks you have at your disposal, which naturally differ across the game’s six unique characters. It also showcases how you open chests and scour the environment for hidden treasures that increase your score, money, and experience at the end of the level.

I started as the sorceress, which is recommended for expert level players. While I managed to make my way through the first level and best the first boss, it wasn’t exactly a simple task. Using magic and running out of MP mid-battle left me vulnerable; clearly I needed a companion to cover me in the times when I was exposed. My wife Chessa jumped into the fray as the amazon, which was a great pairing as she is a melee based character that could get up close and personal, allowing me to stay out of the direct line of fire. Understanding the mechanics of teamwork and playing to each other’s strengths is one of the most basic layers of depth offered by Dragon’s Crown.

The levels are also significantly deeper than your typical beat-‘em-up. Branching paths, hidden rooms, creatures you can ride on, and environmental events/effects all vary up the simple left to right scrolling we’ve become accustomed to. Some light puzzles even spring up here and there if you’re paying close enough attention.   Once you join the Adventurer’s Guild, you’ll also unlock quests, which will bring you back into the game’s nine core levels to perform specific actions.

As you open chests in each level, you’ll unlock gear that will improve your various stats. However, the gear must be appraised to be used, so you must often make a judgment call on whether or not it’s worth the appraisal fee to enable the gear for use. Luckily each piece of gear is categorized from S to E to give you a general idea of whether or not it’s any good. While it’s a fairly simplistic system, it proved to be both interesting and fairly exciting due to the gashapon-like nature of it.

Another in-level collectible that plays a bigger role in the game are the bones. Scattered throughout each level, you will retrieve the bones of fallen warriors. Back in town, you can resurrect them for a small fee and bring them with you on future adventures. When online mode eventually unlocks, you can pick up the bones of human players who died during online play and use them as NPCs in your team of four. Like the Souls games, it’s a unique way to incorporate online players outside of the obligatory online co-operative play.

Of course, the game does go even deeper, as you’re able to add new skills to your repertoire, level up your character many times (35 in the first playthrough, up to 99 in NG+) and use runes in the environment to cast spells, but I think you get the point. This is not a simple beat-‘em-up and there’s quite a number of systems at play to keep things fresh and interesting, including two incredible boss fights per level.

For all it does right, Dragon’s Crown does suffer from a few missteps. When you manage to get four characters on the screen, all performing crazy maneuvers, along with a full swath of enemies, things get a bit too hectic. It’s easy to lose track of what’s going on and you can wind up dead without even realizing you were being attacked in the first place.

There’s also the general issue of the planar- based combat and not being perfectly aligned with your enemy when attacking. This can become a real issue during boss battles when things become chaotic and you need to score a direct hit. Not being able to use the D-Pad also compounds this issue and can often result in performing slides or other moves you don’t want because you aren’t perfectly directing the stick in the necessary direction.

Finally, connecting online can be a little slow at times. Once you get into the level, things run nice and smooth, but the initial jump can take a little while. This may be a result of primarily playing with Japanese players at the moment, but it’s hard to say right now.

I can’t complain too much though, because I just can’t pull myself away from Dragon’s Crown right now. Since we first turned it on, Chessa and I both have been hopelessly addicted. The gorgeous artwork, the compelling depth, and the smooth combat make for a modern beat-‘em-up that won’t soon be forgotten.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Julian Titus Senior Editor

07/31/2013 at 03:24 PM

So glad to hear this. I'm happy that I preordered it, too, because I have a hunch that it will sell out and never be seen again besides crazy high eBay auctions.

Nick DiMola Director

08/01/2013 at 09:08 AM

No doubt, I think this one is going to get rare. Since the review code Atlus provided was digital, I'm going to have to double dip here and get myself a physical copy + art book. Definitely worth it, I think.

jgusw

07/31/2013 at 03:30 PM

I can't wait to get my copy nex week.  I hope it's better than Odin Sphere.  I wasn't overly happy with that game. 

Nick DiMola Director

08/01/2013 at 09:05 AM

No worries, sir, I'm confident in saying that this one is better. I'm almost willing to say that it's the best work this team has done, but I haven't played their stuff that was never localized. I definitely enjoyed it more than Muramasa, Odin Sphere, and GrimGrimoire.

jgusw

08/01/2013 at 09:16 AM

Sounds good.  I have those other games, but I hadn't played Grim yet.  I thought Muramasa was ok. 

transmet2033

07/31/2013 at 03:35 PM

I feel like such a fool at this point.  I should have replaced my ps3 when I had the chance, stupid logic.

jaeblaze06

07/31/2013 at 03:41 PM

I'm very excited to get my hands on this game. Should be uploading footage on my channel! Great review though, I know my pre order is going to a well deserved studio. 

Nick DiMola Director

08/01/2013 at 09:05 AM

Thanks!

plus10steve

07/31/2013 at 05:57 PM

I'm hoping the Vita controls work well. The planar issue could be much worse there, but it looks like it has much more character than other Vanillaware games. Their games look and flow beautifully, but I often feel their gameplay is a little empty. This could definitely fill a lot of my time If their RPG elements are well placed. 

Nick DiMola Director

08/01/2013 at 09:07 AM

This game is definitely "denser" than past titles. I'm also playing Muramasa Rebirth right now and this game understands how to pack a lot more content into a much smaller space. I think it's the layering of systems that really makes Dragon's Crown so appealing. Muramasa is great, but it's kind of a one trick pony. Once you master the combat system, it's just trudging through until you get to the next (awesome) boss fight.

plus10steve

08/07/2013 at 04:44 PM

I totally agree about Muramasa. I had the exact same experience with that game. I just started Dragon's Crown, and it already feels like there is more there to love. Then again the sorceress is pretty much the possible cause of that.

Jonathan Drake

08/01/2013 at 12:33 AM

Interesting, It has been quite a while I have played a beat'em up and I kind of miss that. I have got a question though: Is this being released in physical or digital format, or both?

Jesse Miller Staff Writer

08/01/2013 at 07:30 AM

it's coming out in both formats.

Ceva

08/01/2013 at 01:57 AM

The game looks great!  I can't wait to get my preorder.  Too bad I was too cheap to not go with the Supersaver free shipping... lol.

GeminiMan78

08/01/2013 at 08:58 AM

Got this on preorder with Xillia, can't wait to play it.

Machocruz

08/02/2013 at 01:21 PM

Thanks for the bullshit-free review, if you know what I mean. Sometimes a game is just a game and should be reviewed for its gameness, ya dig?

daftman

08/02/2013 at 08:28 PM

Argh! So many good games out now. I wonder if we can swing getting this too somehow. Hmm...

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