Dragon’s Crown is a modernized Golden Axe done in an amped up Frank Frazetta art style. It’s a love letter to the fantasy genre complete with thinly guised references to Gandalf and Conan the Barbarian. It’s a 4-Player hack-and-slash RPG with online or offline functionality. It’s crazy. It’s beautiful. And it’s turned up way past 11.
The story’s simple: you have to save the world from a dragon. To do so, you fight your way through monster-filled levels, grabbing a bunch of loot on the way, and eventually fighting some very inspired bosses. You’ll level up your character, choose their special abilities, and push a lot of buttons.
Speaking of pushing buttons, the combat is fairly simple—just one main attack button and a secondary one that does different things for each character. Moving the analogue stick different directions while hitting the attack button lets your character do different attacks which can be chained together for combos. There are jumping attacks, running attacks, and dodges also thrown in the mix. Plus there are potions, scrolls, and a variety of weapons you can pick up and use. And like Golden Axe, you can occasionally ride mounts! For instance, you can pounce on enemies with a massive saber-toothed tiger, or burn their buns with a fire-breathing lizard.
All six characters have very different fighting styles, which gives the game great replay value. There are two magic users, a Wizard and Sorceress. The Wizard has destructive spells, the Sorceress supportive. There are three brawlers: a Fighter with a focus on defense, an Amazon with a focus on offense, and the Dwarf who can pick enemies up and use them for weapons. And if long-range is your game, there’s also an elf armed with a bow. You cannot have a fantasy game without an elf armed with a bow.
The game’s visuals are lush, almost to the point of being decadent. Some of the best hand-drawn art you’ll ever see on screen. From the meticulously detailed backgrounds to the characters on screen themselves—this is a work of the finest video game craftsmanship.
Combat can be a little overwhelming at times. Especially when there are four players and multiple enemies on the screen. But the mobs are usually easy to beat, and only the bosses will give you any trouble. All in all, the game is quite forgiving. It doesn't seem like the programmers set out to make a tough game.
Although the game is a million times more fun with your friends, it’s still a blast on its own. In order to fill out your party so you have a group of four, you can resurrect bones you find in levels and add them to your group. Every level has bones, so as you get stronger, you’ll find stronger allies to add. Luckily, the AI of the computer-controlled characters isn’t half bad. I wouldn’t say they’re geniuses, but I’ve seen way worse. And the game's not that hard to begin with, so you should be okay.
You can play the game online, but not right away—you’ll have to unlock it. It’s a whole other ballgame online, as the action gets ramped up to the nth degree. You can also pick up the bones of fallen players, and add them to your group offline. I somehow ended up with a level 97 character, when my guys were still in their late 20's.
Vanillaware (which may be the most ironically named company ever, since their games are anything but vanilla) has been perfecting their craft since they first stormed on the scene with the mesmerizing Odin Sphere. They followed that up with the flawed, but visually arresting Muramasa: Demon Blade. Dragon's Crown is their most ambitious game yet, and also their best. It’s fun, over-the-top, gorgeous, exciting, and most of all, the game has a lot of heart. Read: was not created in a boardroom by greedy soulless executives.
Note: I feel like I must address some people’s complaints about the exaggerated female character designs. Yes, the female characters are blown out of proportion to extremes that would boggle most. If that offends you, here’s my advice—don’t buy it. This is a V-I-D-E-O G-A-M-E, folks. If you want sensitive, mature works, watch art house movies. I work for an industry (anime and manga) that is often heavily focused on fan service, so it didn’t bother me. In fact, I thought it was hilarious. It’s so extreme, it’s hard not to laugh. Then again, I have a sense of humor.
Hint: Get the PS3 version! Not that the Vita version is bad, this art is just so beautiful, you really want to see it on a big screen.
by Urian Brown