Fans of Vanillaware and George Kamitani will instantly recognize the Dragon’s Crown art style. The distinct, hand-drawn world of Hydeland comes to life just as it did in titles like Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Even to passers-by, the fantasy environments and imaginative character design demanded attention. Even more impressive is how smooth the whole thing runs. The screen can be populated with enemies and action without losing its pace. Obviously, this makes combat look and feel even more vibrant.
Though Dragon’s Crown doesn’t need next gen hardware to look wonderful, it would amount to nothing if it wasn’t fun to play. The game evokes memories of classic beat ‘em ups like Golden Axe, Double Dragon and Final Fight. Enemies flood the screen and they must be beaten to a pulp for the screen to advance. Combat is very similar to traditional fighting games where attacking in different directions results in different moves.
Because combat is on par with traditional fighters, mapping out the finer details of each character class will be initially rough for some. Spamming the same couple of attacks is possible, but advanced techniques make for better combos. Learning what works best isn’t exactly easy when being pummeled by enemies. And with six playable classes, there’s going to be a lot to learn.
The Sorceress focuses on crowd control magic like ice spells. She can also resurrect piles of bones to fight alongside her. The Dwarf has good offense and defense while using grapple attacks to throw enemies. The Elf is the ranged class of the game, using quick speed and her bow. The Wizard is similar to the Sorceress, focusing on fire spells and can transform boxes into golems. The Amazon is fast and agile with her powerful kicks but lacks quality defense. Finally, the Fighter is the all-around class with good damage and defense but has the ability to throw down his sword for an area-of-effect attack and become faster without his sword. As to be expected, each class is a capable fighter on their own but feel uniquely different. After experimenting with each, it’s nice to see that every player will have a character that matches their individual play style.
A surprising amount of focus has been given to the loot and treasure system. The most obvious feature of the loot system is that items found are used for equipment and upgrades. At the end of each level, players are not able to see exactly what kind of equipment they collected. Equipment is instead given a letter rank indicating quality. From there, players can choose to either sell the equipment for money or have it appraised for a fee where its details will be revealed. While appraising a higher quality item can be expensive, the cost might often be worth it. It’s a gamble the player will have to take but there’s no reason in having a low quality item appraised. Instead of resurrecting a pile of bones, they can also be taken back to town and sold for treasure.
To help players in their quest for treasure, a thief will follow the party around unlocking chests and helping open up secret areas. Using the right stick as a hand cursor will direct the thief to a location or item he can investigate. Though most of the action takes place on a flat plane, it’s interesting to see how Vanillaware incorporates secrets into the art and level design. Additionally, treasure and gold influences the score and experience gained at the end of a level. That’s right, Dragon’s Crown uses a score system, and it is a satisfying payoff for the end of a level. The end of level screen gives players a list of their accomplishments with multipliers and experience rewards. Beating a boss without losing health, not dying, playing on higher difficulties and more will boost experience significantly.
Dragon’s Crown has a lot to offer players but is has even more for those who want to play online. Those who want to fly solo can have their fun and even get some computer A.I. to jump in for some company. But since the game features drop in/drop out online and local multiplayer, it means finding help will not be a problem. Don’t expect a full party to get a free pass to victory, though. Difficulty scales with the amount of party members. That being said, having a full party is something that can’t be beat. Playing with four unique classes changes up the gameplay and injects combat with a little madness and a lot of strategy.
Moving from the PS3 version to the Vita version yields virtually the same experience. Nothing has been lost in the transition. The Vita’s small screen does a fantastic job of letting the amazing visuals stretch their legs without feeling boxed in. One of the only notable differences is that the touchscreen can be used for selecting things and for pointing out stuff for the thief to interact with. Disappointingly, there is no Cross Play for Vita and PlayStation 3 players, but Cross Saving does remain intact.
Though it’s in Japanese, Atlus has released a new trailer showing off some features of Dragon’s Crown. Cooking food, player-versus-player combat and lots of new footage can be seen making the game out to be even deeper than originally thought.
Dragon’s Crown releases on Aug. 6 for the PS3 and PS Vita. Check out the new trailer below.