A fantasy painting set into motion with engaging RPG-lite mechanics.
Posted by Brittany Vincent (September 04, 2013)
Vanillaware has long been praised for its lavish, ornate games and the aesthetic value of its creations rather than their practicality or realism. In an age where dismal sci-fi landscapes and unimaginative dirt-encrusted visions of war prevail, an injection of fantasy (with an extensive color palette) is a sight for sore eyes. Indeed, upon firing up the developer's latest opus, Dragon's Crown, one wonders how the only takeaway from this gorgeous product could possibly be the size of a particular character's breasts or derriere.
What's truly luscious is the classical oil painting-like visual style. To become embroiled in arguments picking at design decisions when there's such a strong case for excellent art direction is frustrating, especially when there's a deep and satisfying side-scrolling adventure with plenty to offer to longtime Streets of Rage or Golden Axe fans, and well-rounded RPG-lite mechanics to satisfy players looking for something a little meatier than the standard fare. Dragon's Crown is deserving of a hearty recommendation, especially if you appreciate the fantastic.
Don't let the timeless and brilliant illustrations fool you, however. Dragon's Crown is built from tried-and-true methods handed down from game after game generation: the beat-'em-up. Simply speaking, it's your goal to reach point B from point A, moving left to right as needed. As monstrosities and other unsavory individuals jump out in your way, you tear into them, leaving behind a trail of bloodied enemy carcasses in your wake. Mechanically speaking, it's kid's stuff. Fortunately, Dragon's Crown ups the ante by altering the landscape of typically interchangeable character classes. Rather than relegating players to samey warriors and plodding barbarians and the like, the game offers a plethora of avatars, each with their own unique play style.
For instance, if you go questing with a warrior, expect to bash skulls in on the front lines of combat, absorbing damage like a tank. The Elf, however, uses a bow for ranged attacks, forced to continually restock her arrow supply in order to keep attacking. Similarly, the Dwarf is most useful for grappling and carrying enemies about each play area. Depending on your preference for solo or multiplayer action, you'll find that some classes are very clearly meant for support, while others carry the rest of the team. The Wizard class is especially useful for hanging at the back of a group and launching an offensive while teammates absorb the brunt of the damage by the ravenous mobs.
It's refreshing to see noticeable differences in the way each class is meant to be played, and it becomes a driving factor for multiple saves and playthroughs. Since there aren't actually many levels, that's a good thing. Giving players a reason to return, whether putting emphasis on the alternate routes and subquests of the treasures unlocked at higher ranks, is always a positive decision.
The meat of Dragon's Crown, of course, doesn't lie within character assignments or figuring out which one fits you or your friends. It's the combat. The game boasts an impressive range of abilities for each class. Not only do they feel great to execute, but they're also visually arresting. RPG-lite progression ensures you have room to grow so things can't stagnate as early as they would otherwise, so it's frustrating that there are some missteps that mar an otherwise first-rate experience.
Most of the time, you can simply spam attacks to proceed. With some enemies, there's just no room for strategy. With the exception of some truly magnificent boss fights, you can get away with spamming regular attacks in order to come out on top. Because of this, I found that taking short breaks from the game became necessary when playing alone. Since cooperative play is absolutely where the game excels, you'll need to try it at least once or twice to feel as though you're getting your money's worth. Formulating battle plans with friends to tackle more difficult sections on harder modes is satisfying and exhilarating, and it's never felt so natural, especially in a modern release.
Dragon's Crown is nothing short of gorgeous, from its macabre illustrations to its sometimes hilarious character animations. Luckily, it's more than just a spectacle, combining the addictive nature of a role-playing game with the drop-in and drop-out stylings of a great party game. Though many will of course remain divided as to whether or not a bouncing bosom is trying too hard, those who decide to take the plunge will be rewarded with a sophisticated yet accessible cooperative journey that begs to be played again and again.
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