Developer Vanillaware, whose past works include Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade, have built their reputation on primarily making 2D sidescrolling games with gorgeous hand-painted art. Their latest title, Dragon’s Crown, is no exception. Every character and background look meticulously detailed, and are a wonder to look at. The actual gameplay is a tried-and-true beat-’em-up brawler, which works in some aspects better than others. Despite some of the core gameplay suffering from repetition, Dragon’s Crown is overall a very competent game that provides fun while looking great at the same time.
Taking place in a medieval fantasy setting, the game does have a plot, but the way it’s presented leaves a bit to be desired. All of the main story beats are delivered by a single narrator, with character portraits displayed while he describes the latest events via voice and text. The meat of the story revolves around multiple parties searching for the titular Dragon’s Crown, an artifact that is said to bestow great powers upon its owner.
While the main characters do say the occasional line during actual gameplay, I feel that it was a bit of a missed opportunity to not have them say anything themselves during these cutscenes. The fact that there’s only one person providing the voices doesn’t help. Despite this, I don’t consider this aspect that important in the grand scheme of things, especially since I think most of us expect brawlers to have little to no plot at all.
Players start by picking a protagonist from one of six different characters, who range from a sword-wielding knight to a fireball-shooting wizard. Each character has some unique elements to how they play, which definitely encourages replay value as a result. The only real downside is the fact that within each save slot, of which three are available, the six heroes don’t share the same quest. In other words, if you get through some of the game with the wizard and want to try the knight, you’ll have to start from the beginning.
The crux of the gameplay has you navigating through several sidescrolling environments, along with a hub you return to after each level. There are several options that you unlock at this hub, including a guild where you can access character upgrades and sidequests, stores for equipment and items, and a temple, where the interesting resurrection feature is implemented.
Scattered throughout each level are the bones of fallen warriors. You can collect these, bring them back to the temple, and resurrect the fighter for a small fee. Afterwards, you can head to the tavern, which also functions as a save point, and add the revived characters to your party as AI-controlled partners for the next level. It’s a handy features that gives players who don’t want to play actual multiplayer (Online and local play for up to four is supported) an edge in battle, though a small annoyance is the fact that your lineup resets back to just you after a level is finished, and you must visit the tavern again to recreate your party.
The actual gameplay is standard brawler fare. You move to the right, occasionally pick up items or find hidden paths, and fight plenty of baddies along the way. There’s a good amount of variety in the drones you’ll encounter, but since you have to stick to one character if you want to make any progress, the core fighting system can grow a little tiresome. A lot of enemies don’t put up that much of a fight, and the fact that you can pick up health-restoring food or buy healing potions at stores gives you a major advantage.
Despite this, the boss battles at the end of each level are definitely interesting. They range in size from being a bit bigger than you to filling up most of the screen, and while a lot of their attacks follow a pattern that’s easy to learn, it’s still more engaging than fighting most of the basic enemies.
There’s also an impressive amount of character customization and progression for a game like this. Adopting RPG-like stat elements like attack and defense numbers, experience and leveling up through slaying enemies, and an equipment system that incorporates the loot you find in each level, there’s a lot of incentive to keep playing.
It also helps that there’s a lot of eye candy. While the color pallete can feel a bit dark and muted at times, the painting-like art style looks great, and every character and environment have clearly had a lot of time and effort put into making them look appealing. Actual character animations could be smoother, but they still look fairly good.
It’s worth noting that the game is available for both the PS3 and Vita, and supports transferring your save file between the two systems via cloud storage. The downside to this is the fact that Sony’s Cross Buy system is not supported, meaning you won’t get one version for free if you buy the other. This double-dip system is a bit puzzling, and will probably make the save transfer feature a moot point for many gamers, but as I was provided with both versions of the game for this review, I can say that it works perfectly fine.
The game also plays identically on both systems, with the exception of the Vita’s touch screen being implemented into gameplay. You can touch various chests and doors in each level for an AI-controlled thief partner to pick locks, as well as touch sparkling parts of the background for more hidden goodies. This works pretty well on the Vita, but its PS3 equivalent, which has you use a cursor via the right analog stick, feels a bit clumsy.
Despite this, I’d recommend getting the PS3 version if you can only choose one of them. The game can get very frenetic at times, especially when multiple characters are involved, and I occasionally found myself losing track of my character on the Vita’s smaller screen.
While the core gameplay of Dragon’s Crown can feel a bit basic here and there, its numerous other features and great presentation help to make up for some of that. All the character-building elements, along with such features as sidequests, add some much-needed layers to what is at its heart still a traditional old-school brawler. If the genre has never been your thing, you may not like the game, but those who still enjoy a good beat-’em-up will find quite a bit to enjoy.
This review is based on the PS3 and PS Vita versions of the game, which were provided to us for review purposes.
Dragon's Crown has gameplay that can grow tiresome at points, but a lot of hidden depth and an appealing presentation help to make the experience engaging.