As far back as I can remember, I have had this image in my head of what I think would be the “perfect” game, at least based on my gaming preferences. I have always wanted the combination of a classic beat’em up like TMNT or Final Fight with all of the depth of something like Skyrim or Dragon Warrior. There have been many attempts over the years, some better than others, games like Guardian Heroes
, Sacred Citadel
, and even Capcom’s D&D series
(which was recently re-released), but none have quite lived up to the image I have in my head. I have high expectations as this is my “dream game” after all; surely the only way that I would ever play such a game would be if I managed to make it myself. That is how I felt up until last week, when Dragon’s Crown came into my life.
Take all of the things that are great about classic, side-scrolling brawlers and throw in the addicting experiences brought by loot-gathering and character customization and you have the addicting world of Dragon’s Crown. While it is easy to look at the game and pass it off as just another (albeit drop-dead gorgeous) beat’em up, digging deeper will prove that it is anything but. This isn’t just about jumping around and pounding on your attack button against endless hoards of enemies. Each of the game’s six playable character classes play differently ad develop their own, deep combat systems throughout your adventure. Sure, there are some simpler classes such as the fighter or amazon, who rely primarily on varying melee attacks, but the elf and magical classes are incredibly unique and varied experiences on their own. Plus, as you spend more time with your created warrior, you will earn points that allow you to develop their skills to become a more unique build of that class.
There are a ton of character options to develop, some are common traits, such as how much energy your character recoups from food or potions and basic movement things. Others are specific to each class. The two categories are event split out into two separate “skill trees", which are presented as collections of tarot cards. As you gain levels and complete quests, you are given points that you can spend to add these cards (traits) to your collection. Unless you are going to max out your character’s level and track down every single quest offered in the game, you won’t be able to get them all, so you have to pick and choose in conjunction with your “style’ of play.
Anyone who has ever played a beat’em up knows that they are better enjoyed with friends and Dragon’s Crown knows this. While the game does support online and local multiplayer (which is unlocked about halfway through your campaign), you will be offered computer-controlled partners almost from the start.However, you will have to find and earn them first. Throughout the various stages players find the bones of dead adventurer’s which you can collect and take back to town after battle. These bones can either be buried at the Canaan Temple or, for a price, resurrected to assist you in battle. Once you resurrect an adventurer, they can be chosen for your party from the town tavern. The AI behind these fighters, in battle, is actually quite adept and they prove to be very important aspects of your journey. You will definitely want to take the time to collect every pile of bones that you can find so that your available partners will continue to evolve just as your character does; this is because bones discovered on the battlefield are usually within 1-2 levels of your character, so the further that you progress, the stronger allies that you will find.
Even if you don’t select specific members for your party before heading out on a mission, the game will monitor your progress and “drop in” partners as needed. This really gives the game a cooperative feel, even if there aren’t real people controlling your fellow adventures. As soon as things start getting tough on a mission, you will see another player drop into the screen as if someone walked up and put a couple of quarters into the arcade machine. If they don’t survive the battle, you are given the choice to either let them perish or allow them to continue (for a price).
These become incredibly helpful after your first play through when you are looking to level another character. Subsequent replays, with new and different characters, are a bit faster paced than your initial run because you are given the ability to “power level” you later characters thanks to the companions that you have collected and resurrected. It is a little easier to run through the early levels at levels 2-10 with a party of 30+ characters. This really helps reduce the monotony that usually accompanies subsequent runs through games.
If you don’t want NPC’s accompanying you on your adventure, it is as simple as choosing an option to “go online” and allowing other players to join your game. When parties are formed, be it online or alone with the computer, a new aspect of adventuring is introduced to the game.When players head out on an adventure, they can choose to visit a variety of stages in succession. Following the conclusion of a board, you will be given the choice to either end your adventure and head back to town or to continue on your quest. Continuing will reward you with things like EXP or monetary bonuses, so the more stages that you attack in succession, the more rewards that you will reap. There is even an intriguing cooking mini-game featured in this portion of the game, similar to what can be found in Vanillaware’s other masterpiece, Muramasa
One of the new things that Vanillaware is bringing to the brawler-styled genre is the idea of companions on your adventure whether you are alone or with a team. Players have two assistants to help them in their journey, a young rogue (Rannie) who you meet early on and eventually a small fairy that will tag along as well. They assist you in your journey by helping you complete some of the more menial tasks that the games normally bog you down with.. The fairy is sort of your “eye in the sky” as she scouts out the area and points you in the direction of items of interest; this includes giving you hints to hidden treasures and doors as well as pointing the way for you and your party. She is mainly just a visual component of the adventure, pointing out things you should pay attention to a little more closely than usual. The rogue on the other hand is your right hand man and partner in crime.
Rannie the rogue is your companion of sorts who will be with you from the start. Basically, to put it simply, he follows behind you gathering up all of the loot and treasure that your enemies drop in your wake. You will still pick up quite a bit of coin yourself, but he runs around the battlefield grabbing every last coin and jewel left laying around. In addition to being your personal loot-collector, he is also a very skilled locksmith who you can direct to open locked chests and doors. The more you have him do, the more experience that he gains which increases his lock-picking speed and success in terms of cracking treasure chests.
He is utilized in a very unique manner in conjunction with a special cursor players have mapped to the right analog stick. Using the right analog stick on the game pad brings up a cursor of sorts that you can move around the screen; you can “click”on items with the left trigger which issues a command to Rannie for you to unlock a chest or door, or to command one of your computer controlled companions to pick something up. You can also use the cursor to click on sparkling locations on the screen to uncover hidden treasure which are literally everywhere in the game world. This is is great because is gives you something to do in the short down-times that you experience between battles. It becomes something like a “hidden picture” game as you scour every inch of the background in search of ever gold coin and jewel that you can find to raise your total score.
While you will be playing the same nine stages over and over, there are a couple of things that the game does to keep each run fresh. First off, there are a ton of hidden rooms and items throughout each and every stage. This is where that right-analog stick controlled cursor comes into play; you will need to scour the stages for every possible pathway and treasure. I am still finding an occasional surprise having already completed the game with one of the characters and substantially leveled a few more. There are a lot of hidden rooms and treasures to be discovered; plus, once you get to a certain point in the campaign, there will be branching pathways which vary the boss experience(s).
The aforementioned loot gathering is also very helpful in staving off monotony. There is always new loot to be found, appraised, and sold or equipped for your character(s). Because your gear degrades over time (although it can be repaired in town for a price), the game gives you the opportunity to create multiple “packs” for your characters, each with their own unique equipment and item set). this is a must for anyone seeking to play out multiple stages without returning to town, seeking out the game’s biggest bonuses. Once one of your setups has degraded to the point that it is near breaking, therefore drastically reducing its effectiveness, you can simply equip another pack with fresh gear at the next stopping point. It’s fun and really forces you to think and plan things out before making some dungeon runs.
Perhaps the biggest aspect of the game that helps make the same stages more bearable is the questing system offered by the game. In addition to pursuing the story laid down in the game, you can partake in a wide variety of quests from the adventurer’s guild in town. These will vary greatly both in their complexity and the time that they take to complete; plus, many of them will span across multiple stages, making lengthy adventures more than worth your time. Some of these even take multiple runs through a couple of chapters in order to rack the various quest requirements such as taking out a certain number of Owlbears or resurrecting a certain number of dead adventurers. They reward you with money, experience points, and most importantly skill points to strengthen your character’s abilities. Because of these, there is always a reason to go back to one of the various stages.
There is just a ton to offer in this game that I could rant about it forever. In addition to everything I have talked about, there are many other things such as unlockable and collectible art galleries and an online PVP component that pits your character builds in an arena-style deathmatch against other characters. If you were to ask me to find fault with Dragon’s Crown, I would have a hard time finding one. There are some minor issues to be found in the game, such as the occasional slowdown that plagues pretty much every game when things go crazy on the screen. Plus, I am sure that if you aren’t a fan for this type of adventure, the repetitive nature of the adventure would likely turn you off in a major way.
Aside from those minor grievances, I have nothing but good things to say about the game. I have loved every second of the game and am looking forward to hundreds of more hours with the community that forms after launch. Content aside, this also happens the be one of the most beautiful video games that I have ever seen in motion; despite the blatant sexual references in some of the female character designs (as I am sure you have heard about by now), the art style and animations in this game are jaw-dropping. If you are someone who likes to get good value out of the money that you spend, enjoy a good beat’em style adventure, or love deep RPG-oriented loot gathering and customization, you simply must own this game.