Review: Dragon’s Crown
When you’re in the over world in an RPG, you are in a different state. Possibilities open up, enemies squirm in front, and the possibility of a voyage is present. Over worlds are tranquil states, places between the battles of dungeons and the storyline of cities. In Final Fantasy 3 achieving the over world is a delight. Ni No Kuni it’s empowering, but dangerous. In RPGs this is where the majority of grinding occurs. In a tranquil place where you think you’re doing something else.
In Dragon’s Crown you do it in tight linear tunnels. Dragon’s Crown is an RPG in a subtle sense. Loosely based off Capcom’s famous Dungeon and Dragon’s beat’m ups, the game takes place in a single city with a shop to recruit fellow warriors, a place to resurrect them, an upgrade parlor replete with fix ‘m up shop, and of course an Adventurer’s guild. The guild plays surprisingly little way in the game’s storyline, instead the game chooses a D.M. Who in tells you the story as if in a role playing session. The story is standard fantasy fare with a little poke here and there on the storyline. The city is incredible well laid out and a joy to use. It’s easy to get around and get things repaired.
What makes Dragon’s Crown unique, and refreshing, is that instead of being a 3D RPG, it’s instead a stat heavy beat’m up. Fans of Golden Axe and Final Fight take note: the genre is not dead. The game’s kinetic combat is full of swoops and whirls. My Elf is fully capable of dashing across screen at a moment’s notice and her arrows while sparse also replenish quickly. The game perfectly balances the tension between over powered ranged attacks and the peril of melee. What it does wrong is fail to provide enough choice in the skill tree to make your character feel unique. You quickly fall Into a grind of fairly predictable enemy behavior. Later unlocks, so far, do not introduce new abilities although my archer can go down the frost, poison, or rapid attack path of damage, all of which are abilities I unlocked by level 9 the play style stays fairly similar. The character are more were the game makes up for this, they are varied in the extreme. The bosses can be gruesome and a bit clever, a few have predictable wind ups you must dodge, others ask you to deal with adds while someone tanks the boss’ damage. A few even include mechanics with the environment. With the wrong party, you can die quickly, never take squishies into the red dragon’s den, but if you can pick your friends right and the party knows the boss most can be done quickly. In other words it’s an RPG.
Now imagine this: you and your friends sit down with your ps vitas or a ps3 and a few controllers and roll some party members. A Dwarf comes on board, a Warrior, an elf, and a bizarrely proportioned Sorceress. The Tanks take the damage, the Sorceress provides DPS and an the elf flips around killing little adds and providing some needed poison shots and evasion. The situation is stellar, it’s just you have no idea what’s going on. Dragon’s Crown has incredibly lush visuals. It is drawn with an admiration of D&D that goes beyond the ordinary. The environments are beautiful, the characters larger than life, and your little elf or Wizard will get knocked back, chewed on by ghouls, annihilated by one hit boss attacks, however you can quickly get covered over by the other characters on screen and all the game offers is a simple colored ring to help differentiate your characters. At times I have spent 10 – 15 seconds trying to find my character on screen. Add to this that it’s hard to gauge when a ranged attack is on the Y axis as the target and you begins to get the idea. The game often becomes a melee fight with ranged being at a slight disadvantage. The design of RPG manuals is lush, but confusing, the game needs a way of simplifying the in screen chaos so you can take better evasive action during an epic fight. However after a few hours of play most of these moments of confusion subside as you become accustomed tracking your self and prioritizing the enemies on screen. Parties become strategic, magic users take out ghosts, elves stick to the smaller adds while tanks take on the bigger foes etc.
The match making works, after beating the lost woods and getting a dragon trophy you can now play online with other players. You need to collect 9 talismans to reach the next story point, and this means replaying the same 9 dungeons you just did only with real actual players. The replays offer little variety, a boss b is required for the talisman hence groups whole heartily choose B over A even when slightly under powered. But basically the game makes you replay the first levels with out bots. What’s worrying is that the a.i. For bots is rather bad, they rarely evade obvious boss wind ups and up one hit and on the floor, hence the talisman quests essentially require co-op as much as Hunted: The Demon’s Forge required one player to take the dark path of sledge addiction for the other to progress on the good ending. If online co-op dried up players will have to range together friends and do it locally, the bots can not make it past the B bosses, in fact the last 2 A bosses might take down your party and cost you all of your gold. [Update] if you run into this problem go to the church resurrect higher level tanky bots and you should be ok, but the first ancient dragon still ate about 9 level 35 bots before I got him down. Btw to access online co-op go to the gate, press start, and choose the first option.
Oh yeah and to add to the game’s troubles, it got lambasted by Kotaku for it’s depiction of women. But let’s not focus on the true, but negative. The game has varied characters, the Fighter and the Amazon are genuinely different, the elf and sorceress, the wizard they all have unique play styles. It’s a brawler, but one with unique traits. The narrator is well voiced and the game can be told with a variety of voices and the animations are solid. Once you acclimate to the online play storming a dungeon with 4 others is a blast. The game displays your damage clearly so you know if you’re out ranking other players, the leveling system is a breeze and cooking is tons of fun. The game does a lot of things right, it’s just not built, at this moment, for the long run. In my last group people were already running like MMO dungeon runners from ghosts to check point. That said, the 4 player brawler is a genre usually relished to nostalgia, Vanilla Ware has made it relevant again even if the flaws that haunted Final Fight are still somewhat present in this game. For the limitations the format provides, Vanilla Ware has done a great job expanding on the formula and providing a unique and memorable experience. I can’t wait to level up my Dwarf and finish the game again.
Update: Dragon’s Crown is also a game of a game. It marries Diablo loot collection to the mechanics of old school coin ups. The more you die, the more you spend. In these moments if rather brilliantly plays on our own expectations and turns the coins in the slot metaphor into a desperate gambit to pay attention to your other party members and then to click them in time. Continues are surprisingly pricey things in the later bot levels, after I finished 9 I spent some time farming coins before even trying the online play. Additionally, the click to loot mechanic is awesome and probably works well on vita. Parties compete to be the first to click the chest or activate the runes. The rune based magics are helpful and one of the better co-op mechanics I’ve seen. It’s not invasive, and it lets a more experienced player show off their runes and knowledge with some well placed clicks. So it’s really a game that relies on previous knowledge of games and uses the device nicely, it’s just becomes bland in the same way Golden Axe does after awhile. The game play doesn’t feel strategic the way an RPG does, instead it feels impulsive. This is partly do timing, the game is fast paced, but it’s hard to shake the feeling you”re doing the same thing time and again.
Update Epic Elf:
Beat the normal level today so unlocked epic elf I.e. the elf d.m. Voice pack and the next hard more. 9 more grinds and I can fight the next dragon. Replaying the same 9 levels is a bit annoying, but they are thankfully short so the grind isn’t a big deal. Multiplayer was down due to my shitty Internet, so I just had to use bots to fill out my party. Collect those bones! When you’re at the boss they make all the difference. I am not so sure the game is really about the levels as much as the character. I would love to see all the things the sorceress can do and my elf can now climb to 65 in levels meaning more health and damage. The game is really about the spectacle of the player and less the meaning of the level, although side quests do unlock some extra rooms. I still need to write down the runes I have yet to utilize, have all of them now. All in all a fairly short grind for bad ass ness. Seeing the characters is the real delight, but finding normal difficulty parties is now hard. Hopefully hard mode will reveal a few new players to me and multiplayer is working tomorrow. I still object to Vanilla Ware’s mmo style re-use of content, but the levels really aren’t that bad and maybe hard mode will show some new stuff in the levels. In a quest with another elf last week we ended up in a new room with slimy zombies that attacked us and are weak to fire. My whirlpools are powered up by water. All in all a fairly friendly grind just one that really needs content outside of the player to make it feel fresh. A little more Torchlight 2 style randomness would be appreciated. The storyline is about as deep as 90s fighting game, but I am enjoying myself and would love to see what unlocks at higher levels. Give it a go, but once you’ve seen the 9 you’ve seen 90% of the game’s exterior, it’s what’s inside your character that counts.
Ok so hard more adds a few new creatures a goblin that can turn you into a frog, and captains. Captains are tankish big guys that are primarily up scaled versions of knights. They do have slightly different move sets and change the dynamic of the game from break up and kill to everyone take down the captain. The ghouls have more frequent red ghouls and the bosses get adds and a little bit more armor. Leveling is quick, I shot up to 40 in an hour a gain of 8 levels and gained 4 more levels the next hour. So 7 ~ 8 ish is about right so expected about an hour and a half of grinding for 10 levels. That seems fair. I also discovered a new ability with my elf and upgraded her damage output slightly. Hard more is killing me sometimes, but weapon wear becomes less frequent 40+ weapons seem to go the distance. The game froze the second hour at a black screen so lost possibly 3 levels to that and one talisman. Hard mode primarily asks of you better creep control although the furry of spells from the magic users with the plethora of abilities on screen creates some serious clutter. I should power up to 50 by tomorrow and hopefully have the talismans for dragon 2 by Saturday or Sunday. P.s. the new enemies do change the game play, whenever that goblin wizard appears everyone gets on him and forgets about the adds.
one way to think about it: Dragon’s Crown is to beat’m ups what Borderlands 2 is to fps or Torchlight 2 is to action RPGs. It lacks the dungeon variety of torchlight 2, but the loot mechanic works and for a core group of players this game will become as compulsive as an MMO. For me at least taken the incredible lack of other games in it’s genre, Dragon’s Crown is worth the price if you need a beat’m up to play with friends that happens to have some real depth and hacking to it. I mention hacking because you can set up skills that compliment each other quite easily and supplement them with further abilities and potions. However, where Borderlands 2 and Torchlight 2 have massive amounts of content Dragon’s Crown is only slightly longer than the arcade games it quotes from. I am slowly developing a theory behind the game’s development: Index is bankrupt and I believe Dragon’s crown was originally cross buy, but those plans were canceled. Vanilla Ware’s games have rarely premiered at full retail price. They are usually in the 30 usd range on release if I am understanding correctly. I updated my review with a few more positives because I am beginning to think Vanilla Ware didn’t intend this game as a full price title, but rather ended up having to sell it as one. With a bankrupt corporate parent and the canceling of cross buy (had this game been cross buy it would have been a steal for both versions and the current price) the indications point to some corporate Tom foolery on Index’s part. Had this been 30 usd, it would be brilliant, but I still have to say buyer beware: it’s over 50 usd to grind the same 9 levels even if everything else rocks.
Update: having fun as the Sorceress and enjoying the game a whole lot more playing as a character I like. She has spells activated by scrolling through the equipment list and each wands gives her a different set of elemental abilities. Huge tits are more grotesque than alluring, but over all I get this woman, she does a good job as support and deals out some awesome Aoe damage. Leveling up the elf is a serious grind right now, hopefully infernal opens up some more exp.
Rerunning the first 9 is a breeze with higher level bots. My team of 35s are practically one hitting some bosses and the Sorceress provides them with food. All in all a good time and I could see myself getting more into the support role.