In what could be one of the greatest combinations of retro style 2.5D beat ‘em ups and modern RPGs, Dragon’s Crown attains the feat of being extremely fun, unique and a huge timesink. If you want to stop reading right now and go buy the game, by all means, go! I don’t want to stop you, and your time is probably better spent playing this game than reading me prattling on about it. If you’re reading this before the game’s release on August 6th, however, you’ve got some time to kill. You might as well continue to procrastinate whatever other “important” things you have to do and read our full review.
First and foremost, Dragon’s Crown is a beautiful game. The art style is wonderful to look at and the screenshots don’t do it justice. You have to see this game in motion to get a full appreciation for how beautiful it really is. I never got tired of the characters, environments or effects that filled the game because they were all so pleasant to look at. This is also one of the only games that I have been excited for artwork to be the unlocks after completing side quests because each piece of art (all done by a variety of artists) is truly stunning. Dragon’s Crown doesn’t further the argument that games can be art, but rather proves that art can be games.
The game’s sound design melds perfectly with the visuals and really brings everything together. From the music in each stage to the sound effects to the narration that hides a subtle hint of dry wit, the audio of Dragon’s Crown is noticeable. But if you’re here reading this you are probably a gamer, and you probably want to know about how the game plays, right? Well alright then. You’ve forced my hand. Let’s move on to gameplay.
As mentioned above, Dragon’s Crown is a 2.5D beat ‘em up adventure with aspects of modern day RPGs such as leveling, skill points, and a level based loot system. Each of the six characters are very unique and will provide a very different gameplay experience depending on who you pick. Starting the game with a new character offers a tutorial on how to best utilize that character, however when playing couch co-op, the second player gets left out of this. From what I was able to discern, only the player one character gets any kind of story progression saved. When I selected my wife’s elf character after beating 90% of the game with her playing as player two, I was thrown back to the beginning of the story even though she was already level 28 and had completed everything with me. Choosing my wizard again remedied this and put us back to where we were but proved that story progression was saved to the player one character.
The gameplay is fun and frantic and at times can be a bit confusing, especially when you have four player characters on screen in addition to a wizard generated wood golem and the sorceress’ skeleton warrior. Despite the screen being filled with characters, enemies, attacks, and spell effects, the game rarely, if ever, slows down. I was quite pleased that the framerate maintained even during these most chaotic of moments when I have come to expect most games to take at least a bit of a hit on the speed.
Dragon’s Crown supports a four player couch co-op and online experience. While it’s great that couch co-op is supported, it can become aggravating because the menu system is not split. That means that assigning skill points, buying and selling items, and equipping gear all had to be done one at a time. As time consuming as it was with two people doing this, I can’t imagine having four players who all need to get into the menus after each map. While not a huge issue, this may very well annoy anyone who has an indecisive co-op partner.
The story isn’t incredible, but it isn’t a throwaway either. I’d say it’s standard fare for any game that includes elves, fairies, wizards and guys with swords. There’s a mysterious artifact that is said to control a great power and various factions are vying for this power, with a few twists and turns thrown in there for good measure before we get to the end. Sound familiar? Yup, it’s Fantasy 101, and yet somehow, even after hitting all of the cliches, it works. Or perhaps it’s because of these cliches that it works. Dragon’s Crown never takes itself too seriously and even offers a particular nod to one Dread Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog from another tale full of dry wit, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The side missions do a little bit more to narrate and give life to the world, providing text that was quite interesting to read through in addition to obtaining the artwork that I previously mentioned.
The game consists of nine stages. Upon completing these nine stages you are only halfway done. A secondary “B-path” is opened on each stage which must be completed in order to proceed to the final area. Each of the secondary missions takes place within these nine stages as well and ranges from killing 30 wood golems to finding the secret room in a specific stage. While I worried that limiting the game to nine levels could cause the game to get boring, I was very mistaken. Dragon’s Crown consistently throws new things at you in each consecutive level to keep the game fresh and interesting. I was particularly impressed that each of the boss fights were quite different from one another and always provided a new challenge at the end of each stage.
The online portion of Dragon’s Crown is not unlocked until after you have beaten the initial nine stages. This ensures that anybody you are playing online with has at least gone through some portion of the game and is familiar with the general mechanics of how the game plays. Online is very smooth and, upon selecting a stage, will drop you in with other players that are playing through that stage. This also works the other way around where players would drop into my game as long as I was playing with open slots. At the end of the stage players can either choose to continue the adventure on another stage or return to town. The matchmaking system will then sync up new players with those that continue on to replace those that chose otherwise. This is a very fun way to randomly play with online players for a period of 10 to 20 minutes before changing out partners and playing with new people.
Dragon’s Crown is going to keep you busy for a long time. After beating the game the first time, you unlock a Hard mode to continue leveling your characters. Hard mode then gives way to Inferno mode which allows your character’s level to reach 99. With my Wizard rounding on level 32 and nearly 17 hours clocked in upon beating the game on normal, it looks like Dragon’s Crown will offer well over 120 hours of play to anybody that is looking to do a full clear on all three difficulties with all six characters.
You’re probably wondering whether this review was for the Vita version or the PS3 version, however, it was actually for both. While most of my time was spent with the PS3 version of the game, I did take the time to sit down and play around with the game on my Vita for a few hours as well. I can say with confidence that Dragon’s Crown is literally identical across the PS3 and Vita, with the only differences being that the PS3 features couch co-op and the Vita offers some touch controls. Dragon’s Crown is not a cross buy game, has a combined trophy list between the PS3 and Vita, and reportedly does not feature cross play between players on the PS3 and players on the Vita. It does, however, feature cross-saves, which means that I could take my Vita to work to level up my character a bit on lunch break and come home to play the PS3 version with all of the skills and gear that I had acquired while I was away. While most probably won’t fork over the $90 required to grab both versions, those who do will be able to better whittle away the many hours that it will require to fully complete this game.
Dragon’s Crown is, hands down, one of the most beautiful and fun pieces of art that I have ever interacted with. The visuals alone would be enough to justify a high score, but the gameplay cements it in place, minus some confusion when the screen gets really busy and some minor annoyances with the menu system and story progression in couch co-op. While it feels a lot like a retro throwback beat ‘em up title, Dragon’s Crown maintains a freshness throughout that never grows stale.
PS3 and Vita review codes provided by publisher.