Dragon's Crown Review
Here at The Gamers' Temple we don't generally cross-post reviews between systems. If a game is played on the PS3, the review is posted as a PS3 game review and a copy of it is not just slapped into the Xbox 360 game review list. We review what we play, play what we review, and don't make assumptions about cross-platform games on other platforms.
This brings me to the Dragon's Crown review, a review of a game that has been released on the PS3 and Vita. The game provides essentially 99% the same experience on both platforms, which I can tell you from personal experience having played both versions of the game. Rather than try to come up with two entirely different ways to say the same things, you'll find the bulk of the PS3 and Vita reviews for Dragon's Crown to be the same. Each review will differ slightly, though, in that I'll try to point out what I feel is good and bad about the game as it applies to either the PS3 or Vita version. If you have both systems, this may be useful to you since there's no cross-buy with Dragon's Crown - the only way that you can play the game on both platforms is to buy it twice. If not, you can save the time and read the review once for the system that you do own. And now that that's out of the way, let's look at the game itself...
In Dragon's Crown you take on the role of an adventurer - fighter, dwarf, elf, Amazon, sorceress, or wizard - newly arrived in the land of Hydeland. A desire for treasure, adventure, and glory leads you to the local Adventurers' Guild. If you can manage to successfully complete the quest given to you as a trial to prove your worth, you'll be admitted to the guild, and then the real adventuring will begin.
There's not a lot of depth to the story and although when story points are delivered they're all beautifully narrated, they're really there to serve as a bit of glue to stick the quests together and give you just a bit of motivation for completing these quests beyond the desire to "kill things and grab loot." This is not really a knock against the game, though, because although it has the look and some of the trappings of an RPG, in reality it's a side-scrolling action game that evokes memories of games such as Golden Axe or a number of classic NeoGeo titles. However, simply calling Dragon's Crown a modern day Golden Axe would be doing it a big disservice.
First of all, there's a real difference between the characters available for play. While they may each basically fall into either a melee or ranged attack class, unique special abilities and class-specific skill trees lend each one to a different style of play. The fighter is suited to slugging it out against enemies while the sorceress needs to keep enough of a distance to avoid taking too much damage while casting her powerful spells. In single player mode this means that if you select the sorceress you'll be making things more challenging for yourself, but in multiplayer mode it means that you have a particular role to play. The fighter's ability to block attacks coupled with his strong melee attacks make him a frontline fighter that can keep enemies at bay leaving the fragile sorceress free to unleash her devastating magical attacks.
Next, there's the combat system, which goes well beyond the light attack/heavy attack control schemes of classic side-scrollers. The combos, juggles, defensive moves, and other aspects of the surprisingly deep combat system make the game feel as much like a sophisticated fighting game as a side-scrolling brawler.
And then there's the RPG like level progression and character skill trees. New spells, buffs, and abilities help to keep the game interesting for much longer than a typical brawler and allow you to customize your character to your preferred play style.
The game's RPG elements pretty much end there, though. There's a single city that serves as the game's hub, but even calling it a city is a stretch. It's more of a collection of locations such as the game's store and the guild where you pick up and turn in your quests. These quests will send you through the game's nine dungeon levels in turn, each of which is explored by perpetually moving to the right. Well, not entirely, the game does give you the option to stray from the main path to explore side rooms and paths if you're interested in picking up some extra loot and experience. These side routes are randomized, so if you play through again with a new character or at a higher difficulty level you'll get a little variety. There's also some variety to the main dungeon levels on a second run as well, as you'll be able to unlock a second main path for each dungeon as you play though the game.
Even when you're playing the game alone, you won't have to go into the dungeons alone. You're always accompanied by your rogue companion, and while he will take cover in a fight and wait it out he does help you out in other ways. He'll sweep the area after a battle and help you scoop up the loot and toss it in his omnipresent Santa sack. He'll also unlock treasure chests and doors for you. It's obvious that the interface was designed for the Vita's touchscreen, because to direct your rogue to open something you need to move an onscreen pointer over it with the right stick and then click on the item to open. This is a rather slow and awkward process that's unfortunately also required to tap on the little sparkles of light that represent hidden treasures.
In addition to the rogue, you'll be able to recruit other AI-controlled characters to join your party. If you come across the bones of an adventurer in a dungeon, you can resurrect that adventurer back in town. All of the adventurers that you've resurrected can be added to your open party slots at the town's tavern. While you won't have any control over these characters or be able to set their programmed tactics, since the game is primarily a beat 'em up it is always a help to have additional characters wailing away on enemy health bars with you. The arcade style 'continues' available to your character should you die are also available to your companions, but the ease of their resurrection depends on which system that you're playing on. On the PS3, you're stuck with using the on-screen pointer, which must be moved the character's status icon at the top of the screen and then clicked. Trying to maneuver the herky-jerky pointer to a small area at the top of the screen while simultaneously trying to stay alive, let alone attack anything, is an exercise in frustration. I had my companion bleed out on me on more than one occasion because I could not move the pointer into place in time while doing what I had to do to keep from joining him in death.
As for graphics, the game is gorgeous. Everything, from the backgrounds, to the characters, to the monsters, is hand-drawn and smoothly animated. Playing the game is like watching a good quality animated movie, and the game's unique art style gives it a look that's all its own. The game looks great on both the Vita and the PS3, although the Vita can suffer a few hiccups when the screen is full of enemies - which I didn't notice on the PS3. The PS3 version also has the advantage of being played on a much larger screen, making it easier to appreciate the detail that went into the game's artwork.
Overall, Dragon's Crown is a very enjoyable game. If you make the mistake of thinking that it's an RPG you may be disappointed, but if you've ever enjoyed arcade side-scrolling brawlers it's very easy to recommend. Dragon's Crown takes the 1990s arcade standard genre and evolves it for the 21st Century. I'm rating the Vita version slightly higher, because the touch controls work better with the interface than they do with the PS3 version of the game.
Final Rating: 83%. An arcade beat-'em-up for the new millennium.