This review is based on the PlayStation Vita version of Dragon’s Crown.
Allow me to just come out and say that I have been waiting for a fun, deep, loot-driven RPG to release for the PS Vita since I picked one up the week it released. Finally, Vanillaware has given me what I desire most in the form of Dragon’s Crown. Or at least what I thought I desired…
I have to admit that I was apprehensive about purchasing Dragon’s Crown at first. With the next generation of home consoles on the horizon (my PS4 preorder looming over my head…) and my first child mere weeks away, spending my hard-earned cash was not what I wanted to do. I went on a total media blackout so that I wouldn’t get convinced to pre-order and eventually buy Dragon’s Crown. The day it released I was listening to the PlayStation Blogcast and it happened to be the episode in which they heavily discussed the title. That did it. Well, that and permission from the wife to spend $40 did it.
Now that I’ve explained my situation, I imagine you’re wondering if I think that it was worth it? The answer to that question is ‘yes.’ Now, before you run out to your local retailer or the PSN store to buy your copy, allow me to explain why I like it so much.
The story in Dragon’s Crown is interesting enough, although it certainly serves to further the experience rather than weave a great tale. Essentially you are an adventurer who travels to the country of Hydeland to explore its many ruins and surroundings with the hope of gaining fame, glory, and booty. You join the Adventurer’s Guild and take miscellaneous quests as well as follow a main story quest. It’s all well and good, but the story is simple and designed to give reason behind your character’s many skirmishes throughout its bite-sized dungeons.
The player is given the option of six character classes, each defined by their own unique skillset and abilities. The Fighter is just that: your typical tank character able to be a damage sponge while dolling-out hurt in a rapid manner. The Dwarf is the second tank character but with a greater emphasis on damage output. The Amazon is yet another melee character, but she differs from the previous two in her agility which is heightened at the expense of her defense. The Elf is a ranged character who attacks with a bow rather than engage in melee combat. The Wizard focuses on destructive spells to win fights, he plays a valuable artillery role. Finally there is the buxom Sorceress who plays a magical support role to the party. I feel like the characters do a great job of complimenting each other. My preferred party was two melee characters supported by the Sorceress or either the Elf or the Wizard. Although any combination of the six could work.
Two of the characters in particular, the Sorceress and the Amazon, have drawn a lot of negative attention in the past few months. The Sorceress has breasts that are entirely disproportionate to her body-type and wears very revealing garb. The Amazon is so grossly over-the-top sexualized that she actually appears deformed and becomes more of an ugly distraction than titillating eye-candy. Oh, and she’s wearing next to nothing. Personally, I think that it is rather too bad that these design choices were made. Sure, to each their own, but I feel as if the design of these two characters is far too off-putting for some players to overcome. I feel like I would be too embarrassed to play Dragon’s Crown in a busy, tight-quarters public place such as a coffee shop or an airplane knowing that these two characters would be prominently displayed on my screen.
One thing I will say about these characters, the Elf included, is that all three playable female characters are strong alternatives to their male counterparts. Each character plays an important role in the party and none of them feel any less strong than any other character. They were well-designed, appearances aside.
While there are some questionable character design choices, the hand-drawn art and animations of the 2D sprites in Dragon’s Crown are mostly jaw-dropping. The backgrounds and character animations are flawless. One of the reasons I decided to purchase the game for my Vita rather than my PS3 was the Vita’s beautiful and vibrant OLED screen. I am not disappointed. The colors pop and the game simply looks incredible on Sony’s handheld.
It also plays well. Personally, where I think Dragon’s Crown sees the majority of its success is in the gameplay department. I played my first playthrough as the Dwarf and it was a joy to play. The 2D, side-scrolling, beat-em-up action was refreshing and never really got stale for the 22 hours that it took me to play through the story. You might be thinking that the game looks like a button-masher. While it’s a viable way to play (and actually how I had to win the final fight…), the game gives each character enough diverse actions that Dragon’s Crown is much deeper than that. The controls are also very tight with one exception. Throughout the game there are additional pickups such as crossbows and torches that your character may equip and use for a limited number of times. You equip these items by moving your character over them and pressing the triangle button. For me it was hit or miss. It was especially frustrating in the heat of combat, where it was also difficult to see what you were standing over (if, in fact, you were standing over anything at all).
I also mentioned that Dragon’s Crown is loot-driven. While you are out adventuring, gold and trinkets add to your score total which, at the end of every adventure, becomes your experience points. There are also chests to unlock and bosses to defeat that give you randomly generated loot that is scaled and color-coded by quality. I should also add that there is an item degradation aspect to Dragon’s Crown. So be sure to stop and repair your items between adventures.
You are also given the choice to identify or sell any of the loot that you gain after an adventure. So there’s a bit of a gamble every time that you pay to identify an item that it might not be worth as much as it cost to identify it. It also gives you the option of keeping items that may not be applicable to your current character for use with future characters of a different class. That being said: the loot is level-based. So don’t expect to play through once and then outfit the rest of your characters with the best gear available right out of the gate.
When you are not playing online (I’ll get to Dragon’s Crown’s online options in a minute) you are able to select up to three other NPC classes to join you on your adventures. These NPCs are found in the form of bones throughout the dungeons and can be resurrected (or buried if you don’t want them) back in town. If during the course of an adventure your NPC dies, you can use gold to resurrect them and they will drop back into the action. One problem that I didn’t see a workaround for was with degrading NPC equipment. There are a few NPC characters within my employ that are high-level but who are equipped with broken equipment that I’m not aware of how to repair. This can be problematic a nuisance, but you are always able to go search for more companions to resurrect.
After you get to a certain point within the “main quest” (for me it came at 8 hours in) you unlock an online mode that gives you the ability to join a friend’s game, join a stranger’s game, or open up your game to either of the two. The times that I played with strangers worked well enough until I got back to town only to realize that some of my quest objectives hadn’t returned with me. Joining with a friend, on the other hand, was a real bother the times that I attempted it. There were several connection issues that kept hampering us from enjoying playing together. Even when we did finally connect, if I wanted to go back to town after the adventure, we were forced to try to reconnect right before going back out. It’s troublesome, but if you can overcome the smaller issues it works well enough.
Overall, I am thoroughly impressed with Dragon’s Crown. After completing the main story, you have the ability to play through with the same character on two more unlockable difficulty levels. There are also two new areas that unlock, another dungeon and a PVP arena. When you combine that with six character options, you’re looking at the ability to put a ton of hours into this game. Dragon’s Crown truly is a complete package for the PS Vita; one that, while it may not be a system-seller, is most certainly going to make any Vita owner glad that they played it.