DRAGON’S CROWN REVIEW: AN ODE TO GYGAX

If you get your video game news either by word of mouth from your friends or through TV commercials, you likely haven’t heard of Dragon’s Crown.  However if you peruse the internet like the rest of us, chances are you’ve seen some facet of this game.  Whether it be the game’s incredibly gorgeous art style, the outrage about the game’s portrayal of women from tumblr users and feminists withing the gaming community, or perhaps you’ve seen one of the many adult comics of the female characters that, strangely, existed far before the game was announced.  If you’re uninformed about the game, then strap yourself in, because there is a lot to praise about this game.  Since we at NUReviews like to focus on the things that really make a game great or not, our insight and personal views on the controversy of this game will not be affecting our review score.

Let’s start with the presentation of the game, because when it comes to the presentation, there is nothing that I don’t love about this game.  All the art is classic Vanillaware style, which if you’ve played Muramasa or Odin Sphere, you know what I’m talking about.  Hand drawn, beautifully colored backdrops and characters that animate as fluidly as a flowing river.  On the Vita’s screen everything looks amazing, and once upscaled to your TV screen on the PS3, everything just pops that much more.  All the effects in the game look as good as the characters and backgrounds, though when you can have four playable characters on the screen with all those enemies, things get a little blinding.  The story is told in a fashion similar to a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons, and by similar, I mean exactly.  The story is told through cutscenes of barely static characters against backdrops, all voices and text are read by a singular Narrator entity like a Dungeon Master painting the scene for their players.  In Dragon’s Crown you play as a random adventurer who has come to a new land with their thief sidekick Ronnie in search of adventure and treasure.  You learn that the king of the land has gone missing searching for the Dragon’s Crown, a mystical crown that gives one the ability to control dragons, in hopes that it will help him defend his kingdom from encroaching war.  Meanwhile, an evil group of magicians have been attempting to revive the Ancient Dragon, a powerful creature who has supremacy over all magic, and threatens the life of the entire world.  Aside from the six playable classes and your rouge side kick, there is a cavalcade of NPCs that you will meet along your journey, some run shops or other places that aid you on your quest, others are simply mission based and provide you with information about your current mission or an alternate route after a certain point in the game.

The gameplay is a mix of simplistic beat em up gameplay with RPG mechanics, similar to the D&D beat em ups like Shadow Over Mystara.  You control your character’s movement with the left control stick, allowing your character to move both left and right, and into and out of the foreground, similar to Castle Crashers.  Pressing the Square button unleashes a normal attack, while the X button lets you jump and the Circle button triggers a special.  The special depends on your character, for instance the Wizard can use Circle and a direction with the control stick to unleash different magic spells based on their staff, while the Dwarf simply slams his hammers into the ground in a manly fashion.  Holding the Square button will also perform some form of character trait, in the Dwarfs case it hardens your defense, while the Sorceress and Wizard use it to recharge mana.  You can use any items in your inventory by scrolling to them with the left and right buttons on the d-pad, then using the down button to use the item, however this happens in real time, so be sure not to get hurt while you’re doing it.  You can access and change your equipment any time you’re in town, but you’re stuck with that set the second you enter a dungeon until you finish.  In town you can also buy items such as potions, which allows a limited use in each given dungeon, but will automatically refill themselves up to a certain point upon your return.  This however leads to my biggest problem with the game, the menu system.  By yourself, the menus are of no concern, however the more players you have the more of a hassle it becomes.  Only one player can access each menu at a given time, and every other player must wait for their turn to do what they need to do.  This becomes specifically troublesome when buying/repairing items (which uses gold from the same pool that every player uses, better hope your buddy doesn’t use the last of the gold to repair his weapons before you get a chance to), changing equipment, learning skills, and accepting quests, which each player in the party has to do individually else they won’t get the rewards.  This is easily the hugest problem the game has, for as a four player co-op beat em up, everything in the game should be fluid and match the flow of the action segments, not cause everyone to stop in their tracks for a few minutes while they wait on their friend to decide between repairing their belt or buying a defense up potion.

The action segments of the game are fairly linear, it’s essentially like any other beat em up where you have to move from point A to point B while scrolling to the right side of the screen.  Some rooms in dungeons will have secret passage ways that you can access by touching (or on the PS3 version, clicking using the right analog stick and the L2 button) something in the background or fulfilling certain requirements in the room.  When you come across a chest or locked door, simply touching/clicking it will command your rouge to go unlock it.  Doors will lead you to alternate rooms where some enemies or treasure will be waiting for you, while treasure chests will give you random amounts of gold and a treasure rank.  Each treasure rank (which ranges from E to S) turns into a single equip-able item at the end of the dungeon, which you have to appraise to learn the true abilities of, costing you a handful of gold to do so.  By picking up coins and other trinkets that fall on the ground, you increase your score, which gets turned into the group experience points once you finish.  At the end of each dungeon is a boss fight, and after a certain point in the game, each dungeon gets a harder, alternate path that you have to complete to further the story.  Along the way you’ll encounter piles of bones that you can pick up with the Triangle button (or if you’re a Sorceress and posses a certain skill, you can turn these bones into an undead minion).  If you take these bones to the church in town, you can resurrect them into AI controlled allies to accompany you into dungeons when playing solo (which, if you don’t have friends or are playing on the Vita, you’ll be doing until about 5 hours into the game).  The AI for these characters isn’t the best AI in town, but they get their job done…sometimes.

Now you may have been wondering what I meant when I mentioned the controversy around this game at the beginning of the review.  Well let me give you a quick run down, basically there was a huge upheaval about this game when it came out due to it’s portrayal of women.  There were claims that the game’s depictions were “sexist”, and reviewer for Polygon Danielle Riendau claimed it to be “distracting…It’s obvious, one-sided and gross”.   One of the writers from our “favorite” site Kotaku even called the Sorceress, who is depicted as a young woman with a slim figure and massive breasts, as a “lolicon fantasy”, because that’s what lolicon means all right.  With just as many arguments and claims that it is sexist, there have been just as many defending the game.  Many point out that it’s part of Vanillaware’s art style, in which large breasts are used as a symbol of fertility and life, and often associated to characters who dabble in Necromancy such as the Sorceress.  My personal opinion on the art style that most of it is within good taste, a lot of the character art used for cutscenes or unlockable art match a certain artistic theme similar to medieval paintings.  While the Sorceress and Amazon’s proportions might be to the extreme, I would never call this game sexist, as it treats men in an extremely similar fashion, drawing many men in unreasonable shapes or proportions (such as having a chest three times the size of their head).

And now we get down to brass taxes, the final summary and score of the game.  In the amount of time that I’ve had to play Dragon’s Crown I’ve had a blast.  It’s been great fun playing single player, and when I played local co-op with my friends we all had a good time (when we weren’t dealing with the menu system).  I’ve just gotten to when the game opens access to the rest of it’s goodies, such as online play and the expanded, harder dungeons, but I can tell I have much, much more in store for me in the coming hours.  Despite it’s couple of flaws, the game’s art style, story presentation, and gameplay are beautifully done and make for a game that exceeds many expectations.  However, I probably wouldn’t recommend this game to everyone, if you wouldn’t get committed to it you’ll likely get tired of it quickly.  With that in mind, I give Dragon’s Crown for the PS3 and PlayStation Vita an edited score of 4 out of 6 stars.