Vanillaware have proven themselves master craftsmen when it comes to the twilight years of the 2D brawler. Their 2016 re-imagining of Odin Sphere was well-received, fun, and beautiful. The new edition, Leifthrisir, also overhauled Odin Sphere’s core combat, making it much more enjoyable to play; somewhat justifying the hefty price tag of the remake. Dragon’s Crown Pro is a prettied-up remaster of the 2013 original, complete with 4K visuals and a live orchestral version of the game’s already beautiful soundtrack. But aside from these bells and whistles, Dragon’s Crown Pro is very much the same game as it was in 2013, for better and for worse.
The game opens with a brief tutorial, asking the player to choose one of its six playable characters. From spell-slingers to burly warriors of iron and muscle, this decision will greatly impact your playstyle. This variety is necessary since you can’t change characters mid-story, which means if you want to try another class, you’ll have to restart the adventure from the very beginning. This is somewhat rectified later in the game; after reaching a certain point, newly created characters will start at level 15, circumventing much of the game’s main narrative. Repetition is almost a staple of Vanillaware’s titles, but Dragon’s Crown does what it can to keep it at bay.
Repetition is also greatly curbed by a fantastic loot system, possibly the most important mechanic in the whole game. If you enjoy spending hundreds of hours in Diablo or Path of Exile playing the same handful of maps for better gear, you’ll understand what I mean. Dragon’s Crown places a large emphasis on loot grinding combined with an appraisal system. Every piece of loot you pick up is graded (on a scale from A to E) as harshly as an undergrad in a freshman chemistry course. You get to decide which pieces you want to identify based on grade and type. The rest you can hold onto to identify later, or sell in bulk. It’s an added dopamine hit to simply picking up an A-grade battleaxe for your Fighter; you also get to find out what kind of bonuses it may have.
Variety is further supplemented through a simple and intuitive skill tree. At the Guild Hall, you can outfit your character with upgrades specific to their class, or more general one-size-fits-all bonuses. For example, the Dwarf can do more damage while unarmed, while the Fighter can launch shockwaves when flinging an enemy skyward. These aren’t particularly groundbreaking, but they do add a nice fold to building your character; something games like this thrive on.
While Dragon’s Crown features undeniably beautiful art, akin to a caricature of renaissance-era murals with its cherubs and soft-cheeked maidens, it takes some… interesting liberties with human anatomy. The features of every character are greatly exaggerated; the Fighter has a chest the size of a fridge, and the Sorceress has breasts the size of small children. But these things aren’t created equally, and there are some distractingly sexualized women in this game.
I usually stick firmly to the opinion that enjoying media with sexist depictions of women shouldn’t make you feel bad, as long as you’re aware of it and can critique it. The issue I take with the art is that its overtly sexual depictions of women feels like shallow pandering. Much in the same way that trailers for Ready Player One feature an endless stream of cringe-worthy references, Dragon’s Crown Pro is a barrage of voluptuous maidens with nothing important to say. Even the harpies are just women with massive breasts attached to a pair of giant bird legs. Don’t misunderstand me here: by all means, draw your women sexy. Just give them some agency (think Bayonetta) so their sexiness isn’t the one thing that defines them. Show a little nuance, or else we all just end up looking like horny teenagers.
For those of you still with us, let’s talk about gameplay. Dragon’s Crown plays like an arcade-cabinet brawler a la Streets of Rage or Double Dragon. It sees Vanillaware moving away from the strictly 2D action genre to 2.5D, allowing for some vertical movement up and down the stage. The combat is intense, fun, and pure chaos. Playing with up to three other players or a party of NPCs sees the screen filled with enemies being hurtled about from flashy attacks and crippling finishers. It can seem simplistic when compared to Vanillaware’s past titles like Odin Sphere, but keeping the action clean and readable is necessary when so much is happening on screen.
Joining your merry band of adventurers is a rogue who can unlock chests and doors you find along your journey. A simple cursor is used to gesture to the item you’d like him to interact with, but the way the camera is jerked about when your companions move to the edge of the screen can make this easier said than done. It’s almost nauseating when the erratic screen panning intensifies (when fighting a giant boss, for example). Combine this with the extra dimension of movement, and the combat can become more of a wild guessing game than a strategic battle. This isn’t to say it’s not fun to wail on everything in sight alongside your allies, but it can lead to some damage that might’ve been avoided if the action were more clear.
At the end of the day, playing Dragon’s Crown Pro will find you and your choice of friends or match-made companions grinding the game’s nine stages ad nauseam for better and better loot. To spice it up a little, each stage offers a forking path which allows the party to choose a more or less difficult final boss, making for 18 bosses in total. This can lead to some interesting decision making, depending on how the group has been doing so far and how well-stocked their inventory is. I found myself barely scraping by at times. but glad we tackled a bigger, badder boss for the enhanced loot.
Dragon’s Crown Pro features 4K visuals, a re-recorded orchestral version of the original soundtrack, and has cross-save and cross-play with the original PlayStation 3 and PS Vita versions. Frankly, it’s everything a remaster of a game like Dragon’s Crown should be, and there’s enough content here to keep the grind-oriented player hooked for a reasonable amount of time. For many, it will come down to how much you enjoy the game’s combat, and how much of its repetition you can stomach. It doesn’t take long to see everything the game has to offer, but the allure of the grind and the near-perfect loot system might keep some players coming back for much longer than anticipated.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 Pro version of the game. A copy was provided by Atlus.
For many it will come down to how much you enjoy Dragon's Crown Pro's combat, and how much of its repetition you can stomach. It doesn't take long to see everything the game has to offer, but the allure of the grind and the near-perfect loot system might keep some players coming back for much longer than anticipated.