As a gamer whose roots started on Playstation 1, I don’t have quite as much experience with old-school games as I would like. I do, however, remember watching my older brother play NES and SNES for hours on end. When I first started playing Dragon’s Crown on PS Vita, I was quickly reminded of those times.
Now that we got that heartfelt moment out of the way, let’s talk about the game. Dragon’s Crown is a 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up, packed full of features aimed at both the casual and hardcore. It is a game reminiscent of old-school arcade games that were easy to pick up and play but difficult to master. Developer Vanillaware has done a good job making a true-to-form hack n’ slash game.
When I first saw screenshots for this game, I thought it was just another fantasy game with large-breasted women and men with biceps the size of my body. But after spending a good amount of time in Hydeland, I have fallen in love with the art style, and it’s not because of the giant bouncing “characters” of the game. When I realized that everything in the game is hand-drawn, I appreciated its breathtaking visuals that much more. Character models are highly detailed, as are the environments, with bright colors when outdoors and dark greys and browns when crawling through dungeons. The attack and spell effects are exciting to watch and have a unique visual flair. The game looks like a beautiful painting in motion.
I played the game on Vita, and as gorgeous as the game is, I did notice some slowdown when the screen was crowded with player characters and enemies. While this happened more than I’d like to admit, the slowdown never hampered gameplay or caused me to die, so it shouldn’t sully your experience even though it can be very noticeable. One gripe I do have is that it can be very easy to lose track of your avatar, especially if you’re playing multiplayer or if the screen is cluttered with enemies. I feel like these problems may not exist on the PS3 version.
The sound design isn’t going to blow you away, but it is well done. The music is unique but familiar fantasy fare. Each class has its own unique sound effects for their attacks, as do enemies. The voice-over work is also what you would expect: deep manly voices from the males and sweet seductive voices from the females. What stood out to me from the sound design is the narration. Animated scenes reminiscent of an animated comic panel serve as the cutscenes, and the plot is delivered by a narrator in a classic Dungeons & Dragons dungeon-master style. As a D&D player myself, I was very pleased with this subtle nod to the classic board game.
At first glance Dragon’s Crown is a typical side-scrolling hack n’ slash game, but I beg you not to judge the book by its cover. The allure of this game is that it can essentially be what you want it to be. If you want to button mash and kill stuff, you can do that. If you want a challenge and learn how to best use all the abilities, you can do that, too. DC has six distinct classes, and depending on the one you choose, your experience will be vastly different. That isn’t a bullet point, either. Classes like the Fighter or the Dwarf are fairly standard classes that don’t take much skill to get through the normal difficulty with, but classes such as the Sorceress or the Elf demand more finesse and strategy with how you tackle each encounter. Each class not only has its own unique experience and style of fighting but also has its own skill tree. You level up by gaining enough experience, and you gain skill points with every level up and by completing side quests. You then must go to the Adventurer’s Guild and spend those skill points in your class-specific skill tree or a common skill tree. You can’t throw points anywhere, though; the skills you choose will define how balanced, or unbalanced, your character will become.
The world of Hydeland has nine different locations, plus a hub town. Each location has multiple paths, hidden rooms and two bosses you must defeat before you can face the final boss. Once you beat one path you unlock at least one new side quest that offers experience, gold and skill points. These side quests vary in location and objective and are different enough that most won’t feel like a grind. But if you like to grind to get more experience and better gear, you’re in luck. DC has an addicting and clever loot system. Throughout each level you will find treasure chests you can open. Based on your stats and your score in the game, you will find a piece of equipment with a letter grade. The higher the letter, the better that equipment will be. There is a catch, though: you have no idea what a piece of equipment’s stats are until you appraise it, which you have to do at a vendor in town. It’s a great feeling when you appraise a weapon and find out it’s awesome, but on the flip side you feel the pain when you waste money on a lackluster find.
The controls feel tight and responsive, and while the game does not require you to, you can use the touch screen for several things. You can touch chests or doors to open them or touch your character in town to bring up a menu for inventory and stats. Hidden treasures can be knocked free and picked up with the swipe of your finger. Across every level, you can touch runes in certain sequences that result in different things. There is also a stat-boosting cooking mini game that occurs if you choose to move from level to level (rather than going back to town after every romp). The touch controls feel natural and unobtrusive, but if you hate that sort of thing, you can use the right thumbstick to do it all with a cursor. The latter method feels sluggish and unnatural, though, so PS3 users may not have as much fun with the game as Vita users.
There is quite a bit of content packed into this game. Once you beat the story, which averages about 15-20 hours, you unlock a harder difficulty and level cap for that character. There are three difficulty settings, and upon finishing the last, you unlock Labyrinth of Chaos, which is an automatically generated dungeon with multiple floors, each one more challenging than the last. After defeating the first difficulty, you also unlock a PvP arena where you can duke it out with other players. All this coupled with the drop in/drop out co-op multiplayer of the main campaign, and each class giving you a different experience, makes a strong case for you to keep coming back.
Dragon’s Crown is a fun experience with fluid hack n’slash gameplay that’s a great addition to the Sony library. Even with its tendency to slow down and clutter the screen, this game has enough old-school fun to keep you entertained for a good while. That is, if you aren’t offended by exaggerated human anatomy.
- Developer: Vanillaware
- Publisher: Atlus
- Platforms: PS3, PS Vita
- Release: 8-6-2013
- Time Stamp: 9-12-2013