Every new console announcement is usually accompanied with a deluge of game announcements. Some of these are new entries in storied franchises; some are brand new IPs. Most of these game announcements eventually see release, but in rare instances, some titles will disappear into obscurity. These so called “vaporware” projects seldom recover from this state of limbo and are quietly cancelled. One such game, Dragon’s Crown for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, was once thought to be doomed to this eternal gaming purgatory, after its initial publisher backed out.
Luckily for PlayStation fans, Atlus USA stepped in and decided to publish Vanillaware’s newest game. Famous for it’s PS2 classic Odin Sphere and Wii classic Muramasa, the developer showcases its fantastic art style with one of the best games in the PlayStation ecosystem. It takes the tried, true, and nowadays stale side-scrolling beat-em-up genre, injects new life into it, and makes it into an addictive and deep experience worthy of your time and your dollars, regardless of which platform you pick it up on.
Dragon’s Crown casts you in the role of one of six classes: the fighter, elf, wizard, dwarf, amazon, and sorceress. Each character uses his or her own unique fighting style, giving players plenty of reason to take another romp though this game. Certain characters are geared towards more experienced players, while others are designed for first timers. Most players on their first run through will lean towards the fighter, with his balanced stats and forgiving attack and defense.
Attacks are carried out in a rather simple manner. Harkening back to the days of old arcade beat-em-ups, Dragon’s Crown boils down the attack to one main button, and one other button for a power smash. Rather than rely on combo memorization, different attacks are executed with different directions and through character upgrades. The leveling system unlocks new abilities for characters throughout your quest, but most of these upgrades are stat based rather than new attacks.
The game’s level and progression system is a nice touch that motivates players to engage in tasks outside the main quest. While the main quest’s baddies and tasks will give your character experience, every completed sidequest will automatically provide 1 skill point to the player. This skill point can be used towards upgrades that affect either just your particular character, or any character that you create. This balance between specific vs. broad upgrades provides incentive to upgrade both, as the character specific upgrades are usually stronger. However, they will do nothing to benefit your other characters.
One facet of the game that cannot be overstated is the absolute beautiful art, animation, and visual style. Vanillaware has outdone their best work, creating a game that truly feels like a painting in motion, a look that many games strive to achieve but hardly ever reach. Each character has his or her own personality, animation, move set, and style, even if some of the proportions of said characters are a bit preposterous.
The world is structured around a main hub town, with specific locales and missions being accepted outside of town. There are numerous places and dungeons to visit, and the world variety keeps the game fresh enough. Each dungeon is perfectly paced and bite sized; most won’t take more than 20 minutes to complete. This rhythm makes the game easy to play on the go, helping it succeed as a handheld game in addition to a major console release.
Dragon’s Crown truly shines at refining and making an old gaming genre feel fresh and new again. Modern games, such as Double Dragon Neon and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World The Game, have tried to modernize the side scrolling beat-em-up genre, but with only moderate success. Most of those games were spent recovering from an attack that knocked you on the floor and left you vulnerable. Dragon’s Crown rarely places the player in such a state of vulnerability, keeping the pace and intensity up. Frustration has been replaced with flow and progression, keeping the players engaged far longer than the previous mentioned games, which tired me out only after a few levels. Local co-op on the PS3 and online multiplayer on the Vita make the game a blast to play with your friends; it’s just a shame that it takes a while to unlock. The lack of cross-platform multiplayer also may disappoint.
The loot system is a novel concept and adds to the games addictiveness, but I mostly found it to be arbitrary and somewhat confusing. About halfway through the game, I found a set of armor and weapons that I used for almost the entire remainder of my journey. Keeping the stats and names of the loot a mystery until the player pays to unlock it is unique, but I often found myself selling it off and not even pursuing new items.
Overall, Dragon’s Crown is an addicting, beautiful brawler for the PlayStation faithful. No other game on the market currently has as much style and depth, while still maintaining fairness and incentive. The lack of cross-buy and cross-platform multiplayer may upset some, but the support for cross-save makes it an experience that you can easily take on the go. Dragon’s Crown is one of the best games this year on PlayStation, and it easily cements itself as one of the premier Vita experiences. Don’t pass this one up.