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Dragon’s Crown Review

Posted by Stevie McDonald On Tuesday 19 November 2013Comments Off

Available on PS3 and PSV l Published by Atlus/NIS (Namco Bandai in Australia) l Developed by Vanillaware l Classified M l Supports 1-4 players

REVIEW IN BRIEF > Dragon’s Crown may look beautiful, but its fatal flaw is that it never really develops beyond first impressions. The blend of beat-em-up and RPG styles is an exciting idea, but it’s never really taken as far as it should be, resulting in a little bit of entertainment and a lot of frustration at what could have been.

REVIEW IN FULL > Described as a “2D fantasy action role-playing beat-em-up”, Dragon’s Crown appears to be a game brimming with promise beyond its nostalgic ties to other side-scrollers, such as Golden Axe. Sadly, despite the best efforts of developer Vanillaware, this potential is never fully realised.

…the storyline and interactions all play out the same, no matter your chosen character.

The game takes place in the kingdom of Hydeland, a fantastical realm where magic is rife and mythical beasts such as ghosts and goblins lurk. The king is long absent, on a quest to seek the titular Dragon’s Crown, possession of which grants the owner ultimate power. But all is not well. A secret magical coven is conspiring to acquire the relic and its actions threaten to tear Hydeland apart. It’s up to you and your party to locate the Dragon’s Crown first and stop the coven.

There are six different classes from which to choose your protagonist, each with its own unique skills and each more fantastically proportioned than the last. The dwarf, for example, is more robust and adept at hand-to-hand fighting, while the Sorceress is weaker and relies on long-range attacks. No matter which character you pick, though, the mechanics of both combat and navigation are basically the same. This makes picking up the controls easier but removes a lot of value from the skills system.

You also have the option to name your character and select an appearance from a limited palette range. Unfortunately, this is about as deep as characterisation ever gets as the storyline and interactions all play out the same, no matter your chosen character. This wouldn’t be so bad if the story was compelling enough to make up for it, but it’s incredibly bland and linear, with all action limited to A and B paths in the same nine locations over and over.

The first half of the game plays out like an extended tutorial in which you roam the land in search of treasure and complete optional quests for skill points. After each quest is compete, you return to town, the central hub of the game. This serves to introduce the RPG elements of Dragon’s Crown, where points can be used to upgrade skills at the Adventurer’s Guild or items found can be valued, bought, sold and repaired at the Magic Item Shop.

The hand drawn art looks wonderful, with every detail lovingly rendered (some perhaps a little toolovingly).

Again, despite the potential, Dragon’s Crown falls short. The upgrade system, though clear and easy to use, makes little appreciable difference to gameplay. Items have the same failing with the additional nuisance of having to always be appraised first at a cost. Gold seems to be a driving force, even more than skill points or score, as it is used to purchase and repair items, pay for travel and even buy your way back to life and into combat by way of an offering to the gods if your character dies too many times.

While there is clearly a deeper combat system of unique attacks and special skills to be utilised, it’s not a critical element of gameplay until the higher difficulties are unlocked, a good 15 to 20 hours of game time in. Until that point, there is simply no incentive to play that way versus button mashing, which can make for a frustrating experience.

There are some positive elements, though. The hand drawn art looks wonderful, with every detail lovingly rendered (some perhaps a little too lovingly). Bones of fallen adventurers can be collected on quests and resurrected at the town temple. This creates NPCs who can join your party, which makes battling bosses easier. The multiplayer option is a fantastic addition, although online co-op isn’t unlocked until the initial “tutorial” segment has been completed.

Overall, Dragon’s Crown feels a game of great ideas and details that haven’t quite been woven together into a bigger picture. While fans of the genre will definitely find at least a few hours of entertainment here, there is a lot of unmet potential to be worked around.

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