Review – Dragon’s Crown

Dragon’s Crown has garnered quite a bit of controversy, which may have been a good thing for developer Vanillaware, as it certainly got the new brawler’s name out across the various professional video game sites out there. Vanillaware has mostly gone under the radar. It has a massive cult following after the release of Odin’s Sphere back on the PS2, and its Wii endeavour, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, was popular enough to be ported onto the Playstation Vita earlier this summer. It has been awhile since gamers received a pure, new brawler game. Recent releases into the near-dead genre have simply been rereleases of old classics such as Double Dragon Neon, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled. It’s certainly nice to see developers giving old genres a chance. It worked very well with Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which brought a lot of interest into the adventure game genre, and it works here. Due to the quasi-revival nature of the product, Dragon’s Crown is quite different than any game on the market. Although, the trappings of many different genres permeate the game’s core, as a relatively pure brawler, the way Dragon’s Crown utilizes and blends these elements is quite different. Oh, and it happens to be a joy to play as well.

You wouldn’t think you’d see a lot of ass and breasts while playing this game by looking at this cover. You’d be wrong.
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A brawler, more specifically a 2D brawler, is a genre that is typified by non-stop action and hack and slash. Being popularized by the likes of Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, and Double Dragon, brawlers enjoyed a bit of time in the sun during the NES and SNES eras. These games are as linear as they come. You have your character and you move to the right, killing every single thing that crosses your path with a relatively limited movepool. Dragon’s Crown doesn’t really change this basic formula up too much. Fans of the genre will enjoy being able to pick up various items to use against enemies, as well as the ability to ride two of the game’s beasts. You will pick one of six characters and you’ll be running through one of Dragon’s Crown’s nine stages over and over again as you lay waste to all of the enemies in your way. However, Dragon’s Crown has added a loot system on top of the basic scoring mechanics. A rogue character will always be with you, and you can use him to unlock doors and treasure chests along the way. These chests will contain random loot ranked D-S and will match whatever level your character is at. This is a tiny change to stage design, which makes it more fun to replay. On top of this addition, there are various points of interactivity in stages, ranging from hidden passages, to runes scattered about that can be used to create powerful rune effects such as invincibility, or a healing aura. With these minor tweaks, Dragon’s Crown doesn’t get old nearly as quickly as the standard brawler.

Everyone loves to ride the derp dragon.
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The six characters also go a long way in providing variety. You have the choices of Fighter, Dwarf, Wizard, Amazon, Elf, or Sorceress. Each character has a completely unique moveset, stat progression, and skill set. For example: the Elf spends much of her time relying on her bow and ranged attacks, while the Amazon builds up a berserker rage as she attacks which allows her to attack faster, and hit harder. There are some minor balance issues, but the game isn’t built like an MMO, and it doesn’t really matter if the Amazon has significantly higher DPS (Damage per second) than most of the cast. The point is each character is fun and varied, which encourages replay. As you complete quests and level up, your character receives skill points which they can use to customize their layout. Each character has a completely unique set of skills, as well as nearly a dozen of generic skills such as increasing maximum HP. The unique class skills are wide ranging. Some of them are of limited uses during each dungeon, while others are add-ons to your main attacking buttons. Some classes, particularly the Sorceress, have support skills, but don’t think that this is similar to a game like Dragon’s Dogma. Team balance is almost a complete afterthought, and you can safely enjoy playing with any configuration of players. Support is nice and useful, but it isn’t mandatory when player.

Lots of “support” options here.
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In total, the game has nine dungeons. Each individual dungeon isn’t particularly long, which may give the impression that Dragon’s Crown is a short game. This is far from the truth. In true brawler style, Dragon’s Crown is meant to be played over and over again, and these nine stages go very far. The important factor, is that these stages don’t get boring. For a brawler, there is actually a fairly significant amount of enemy variety, ranging from towering knights, to wood golems, or even an orc army. However, each regular enemy is dispersed easily enough. It is the bosses that provide the bulk of the game’s challenge and excitement. Each stage has an A route and a later-unlocked B route, and each route has a different boss at the end of them. These eighteen bosses are extremely well designed and Vanillaware did an excellent job of varying them. For example: you will find yourself hacking a harpy to death, which is fairly standard; you may need to defend a cannon while it hammers at an enemy-spewing gate; or you might need to kill a Chimera before it falls through three stories of a tower. Truthfully, the bosses never feel old, and the game is much richer because of them.

Just in case you want to skip The Hobbit trilogy and get right into dragon killing.
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Normally I open my review by giving you the basic premise of the plot. However, the plot in Dragon’s Crown is so barely present that it isn’t worth giving it the headlining space. Basically a Dragon’s Crown is used to control dragons and you, as a random adventurer, want it. There are some tiny elements of palace intrigue and a couple of generic NPCs here or there, but they aren’t worth remembering. Vanillaware treats the generic tale in a tongue-in-cheek manner, but that doesn’t stop it from being as bland as bland can be. That isn’t horrible though, as it gives incentive to skip all dialogue since its so useless and boring. Dragon’s Crown is purely about the gameplay, and a huge well crafted story would simply be wasted here, so I can’t fault them too much. A narrator narrates the entire game, which isn’t terrible, but he isn’t particularly good at it, and there is a ton of repetition, as the game insists on giving you the same narration even if you’ve beaten an area a thousand times.

“Good day, my boy,” the most generic wizard ever said. “None of us NPCs have a single thing worth hearing.”
You made a mental note to always skip their dialogue in the future.
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Vanillaware is known for its amazing 2D visuals. They are the reason I’d like to see more 2D games on the market. Every touch is exaggerated and embellished in the perfect way. Backgrounds feel more alive than any 3D game, and characters are adorably quirky. However, the artist’s depiction of female characters, particularly the butt-out Amazon, and the buxom Sorceress has garnered a lot of negative attention. They are exaggerations meant to imitate the old 80s and 90s style of barbarian adventure art, in the same way that the heaving masses of muscle that pass for the Dwarf and Fighter are. It was handled a little callously, but it fights with the overall aesthetic. What should be garnering negative attention isn’t the playable characters, but the NPC portrayals of women. You will frequently see an entire screen spread of a female character nearly naked and in a suggestive pose, and you are able to poke and play with her in order to make her moan and twist. If it happened once, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but it happens frequently in the game, and that isn’t good in any way. The game is still amazing to look at, but Vanillaware should have been a little more attentive to what they were portraying. I’ve seen people defend this game as a ‘man’s game,’ but let’s face facts, a huge number of female gamers are into fantasy games, and even if it were a ‘man’s game,’ that doesn’t excuse the frequent poor depictions of women.

Poke her to make her twitch.
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And a fun genderswap for everyone.
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The online system for this game works beautifully. It is really easy to slot yourself into a random stranger’s team as you progress through a dungeon. If you don’t like playing online, you can craft your own team from NPC adventurers, or even go solo, but online is almost entirely a bonus in this game. Relatively early on, you obtain the ability to chain run dungeons. Each additional dungeon you run before going back to town gives you an increased bonus to score, money, and loot. This synergizes really well with online play as it leads to fast and fun dungeon exploring with little downtime. There is a bit of strategy involved, however. Weapons are put on a durability system, meaning you won’t be able to fight your best if your axe/sword/rod breaks. This encourages you to carry spare weapons in extra bags that you can switch out, and it puts a limit as to how many dungeons you can effectively run; although, there are ways around the limit. Dragon’s Crown is not in any way a co-operative game, meaning, you don’t need to co-ordinate with other players t have fun. For those of you like me who hate using a headset and would rather play through a co-op game solo than to have to actually talk to some stranger online, this is a massive bonus.

I don’t know… this team could use another Elf.
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Dragon’s Crown is an excellent game. It calls back to a time where a basic fantasy brawler could be very successful, but it never rests on nostalgia. Vanillaware has delivered extremely tight gameplay to push a very polished game and this is much appreciated. Their unfortunate dalliance into sexism aside, the game looks beautiful and is a complete joy to see in action. The important thing about the whole procedure is that the game is fun. If it weren’t then the nine levels and a single normal playthrough wouldn’t last more than a handful of hours. Even with the massive replayability, the game will be too short for some, but, when it clicks, I can see some gamers playing this game for years to come.

Score – 8.5

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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One thought on “Review – Dragon’s Crown

  1. I personally love this game! And I don’t see anything wrong with the way women are depicted in the game. I also don’t think this is a man’s game, I’m a woman and enjoy very much all of Vanillaware’s games. I feel like the way the women are depicted in this game is similar to the way they are depicted in renaissance paintings such as those by J.W. Waterhouse, and even art nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha’s style. To me it speaks more of women being beautiful and something to be in awe of rather than as anything worrying or negative! Just my personal view though of course. But yes this game can be for anyone I think! The art in particular is very stunning.

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