Jul 31, 2013

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Dragon’s Crown Review

Dragon’s Crown Review

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Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown has seen some controversy prior to its release from the oversexualized character artwork. Admittedly, the appearance of just about all the characters you find in Dragon’s Crown has been vamped up in some fashion. For those who might be on the fence of getting this game (whether due to the art offending you or previous experience with Vanillaware titles), we at Vivid Gamer had the chance to review the PS3 and Vita title to see if it is worth picking up.

The beat ‘em up, action side-scroller’s premise has the player journeying to uncover the fabled Dragon’s Crown, the item that stirs up intrigue in the royal court as kingdoms set to gain possession of it. But as we all know, there is a cost to having supreme power and control.

Your tale has you start out as an adventurer who visits Hydeland in hopes of making a name for yourself and possibly find some worthy loot. During your journey, you will encounter beautiful women and wise wizards. And what story is complete without some royal intrigue? Though your main task is to obtain the Dragon’s Crown and the glory and fame that go with it, many quests are available as you play through the game that provide some background on the different creatures and people in the land.

When beginning the game as a new character, you are taken through a short stage that explains how to move about and use the unique skills that each character has. There are three modes, two that are unlocked by clearing the game on the previous one. The difficulty level in the normal mode isn’t overly tough. There will be bosses that kick your party’s butt and make you rethink your strategy, though. If you have multiplayer unlocked, having a higher-level friend or stranger pop into your game will definitely be a Godsend.

Characters level up from the experience given by defeating enemies. However, you don’t get that experience until you return to the inn either from completing the stage or running out of lives/gold to be revived. Stats are randomly increased from leveling up. You won’t be able to equip some weapons and items unless you are at a certain level. Another perk to leveling up is acquiring skill points that are used to unlock and upgrade class-specific and common skills. Some of the better skills cannot be unlocked, nor can you boost skills, until you reach a certain level. An example of a class-specific skill would be the Amazon’s War Paint, a skill that allows you to summon clones to attack when you use the item War Paint. A common skill that is available to all characters is the Vitality Boost that will increase your max HP. Cost of skill points to upgrade each skill increases as the level for them increases.

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Choosing a character out of the six available might be a tough choice, as each is powerful in their own right. For the more advanced players, the Sorceress, Wizard, and Elf are good contenders if applying strategy is important to you. Newcomers to the genre will find that the physically damaging characters like the Fighter, Amazon, and Dwarf will let you get up-close to enemies without needing to worry about charging up magic points. Each character can equip certain weapons and armor that is tailored to each one as well as equipment that can be equipped by more than one. Items found in treasure chests during stages are ranked, from E (the lowest) to S (the highest).

Once you have your character chosen, it’s time to explore the town map. You will spend a nice chunk of time here when you’re not clearing stages. As you progress through the story, more shops and areas within the town will open up. The Adventurer’s Guild is where you can allocate skill points, accept quests, and view the different gallery art rewarded from completing the quests. Quests are unlocked as you progress through the story. They also reward you with skill points, gold, and artwork relating to the quest. Paying a visit to the Temple is important for when you want to revive the piles of bones found within the stages or bury them. Reviving them means you’ll be able to have more allies, while burying them disposes of the bones for good. You can check the stats and equipment of each ally before you revive them. This is helpful for when you are looking for an ally with certain skills or items. Two shops populate the town, each offering items and services unique to themselves. The lovely Morgan’s shop offers items for healing and status enhancing as well as the ability to access the loot you come across during the stages for a nominal fee. She is also the only way to repair your equipped items before they break. As for the other shop, it’s not quite like it appears. It is in this shop that you can purchase runes and items to allow you to cast magical element spells. It also provides a handy guide on what runes are needed for certain spells.

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The gate on the far right side of town (and stable, once it’s unlocked) is how you will travel to the different stages to fight the enemies and bosses of each stage. Overall, the game is linear in terms of which stages you will visit until a key event occurs and the stables/multiplayer is unlocked. Once unlocked, the order in which you go about completing the final task is up to you. Most will likely choose to go in some order while others might want to just go wherever the gate takes them. When the stables become available, they will be the only way you can choose which stage you want to go to. However, this will come at a cost of gold. Using the gate is free, but there is no control over which stage you go to.

The characters in Dragon’s Crown can move in all directions, but the game’s layout is that of a side scroller. To advance to the next part of a stage, you have to move right. From time to time, a room (sometimes hidden, though) from the top side of the screen will allow you to enter. When you are able to access the B-paths, you will traverse a new pathway that takes you to a new boss fight. Each stage has two different bosses, one for each path. The bosses on the B-path are stronger and can prove to be more of a challenge than the initial bosses you fight. This isn’t to say that the bosses on the A-path don’t give you a run for your money. But the real challenge will come from the Chaos Labyrinth, which is an endgame area. The difficulty in that level goes from rather easy to nail-bitingly hard.

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Once you have a rune or two in your possession, you can take advantage of the different spells that any character can do. To activate rune magic, you will need to look on the walls and various objects of a stage for different runes. There are two per area, with the third that you need being one of the ones on your person. Depending on which runes are available and used, you could pull off a spell that brings a golem to life or place your party under a spell of protection.

Screenshots do not do the graphics justice in Dragon’s Crown. While there are no animated cutscenes, the characters seem to breathe and offer some movement. The colors are vibrant and pop out no matter if you’re looking at the small Vita screen or a much larger TV screen. The 2D artwork for all of the characters in the game are overexaggrated. Yes, the Sorceress has a very ample bosom and the Amazon is sporting a lot less clothing while her posterior stands out. But a look at the Dwarf and Roland (one of the NPCs) will show that even the male characters are beefed up in hopes of appearing masculine. Every aspect of the art, from the characters to the many enemies and background, is detailed and so gorgeous.

I’ll admit that I am guilty of muting a game in favor of background noise, but Dragon’s Crown has one of my favorite soundtracks. Not to mention that I found the voice acting to be amazingly well done. You are able to adjust the levels for the music, vocal tracks, and such in case you want to hear one over the other.

As mentioned in a previous paragraph, you will want to take advantage of the multiplayer in Dragon’s Crown. Not only does it make some of the stages a little easier to go through, it is also a fun way to replay the stages while you are trying to level up or complete quests. This feature is unlocked roughly halfway through the game. Access to the multiplayer is as simple as turning it on when you enter the gate or stables. You can join a friend’s game or a random person’s game by pressing the Start button. There is also the possibility of joining a random game when you go to the world map. Players can drop in and out of the game with ease and it doesn’t mess up the other player’s game.

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Depending on whether or not you get distracted by the side quests or leveling up, you can spend roughly 120 hours to clear the game through all three modes with all six characters.  This breaks down to an average of 20 hours per character. As each mode has a level cap (normal is at level 35 and inferno lets you aim for level 99) and loot found in the game is randomized, there is plenty of reason to play through it more than once. Never mind the endgame content that you might feel is the real meat of the game.

As Dragon’s Crown will be available for both the PS3 and Vita, it should be noted that both versions are the same for the most part. The main difference that I found was how you could use the Vita’s front touch screen in lieu of the right analog stick to click the chests, runes, and shimmering sparks of light that highlight where score-boosting items are in the background. The PS3 version will likely be the more popular choice due to being able to see the graphics on a bigger screen.

If you feel offended by the art styling of the Sorceress, you do owe it to yourself to look past that. You’ll find what is one of the best games (in my opinion, of course) of 2013. No matter which version you go for, there is plenty for fans of the genre and newcomers alike to enjoy. There are times that you will want to put it down due to the difficulty. But it won’t be long before you’re picking it right back up.

Dragon's Crown
Platform: PS3, Vita (reviewed)
Genre: Beat 'em up, Side Scroller
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Developer: Vanillaware
Publisher: ATLUS
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
MSRP: $49.99 (PS3), $39.99 (Vita)


9.5