|System: PS3, PS Vita|
|Release: August 6, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence|
by Shelby Reiches
Vanillaware spoils me. Every time I get a hankering for classic, 2D-action sensibilities, they’re there to indulge my fantasies with smoother controls, a fresh take on a familiar formula, and (without fail) the gorgeous art of George Kamitani. Dragon’s Crown, though, is a bit outside the comfort zone of the studio behind Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade (and its recent Vita Rebirth (http://www.cheatcc.com/psvita/rev/muramasarebirthreview.html)). Whereas both of those confined players to a flat, 2D plane of movement, Dragon’s Crown expands things with an old-school Z-axis. How old school? The basic framework of the game is pulled from Final Fight, Streets of Rage, and Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara(click here for review).
The change to the action isn’t the first thing that strikes one about Dragon’s Crown, though. That would be the art, which is still very distinctly couched in Kamitani’s extremely detailed, intricate style, but his character designs are a little more typical Western fantasy this time out. There is little on its face that bespeaks the sort of anime sensibility present even in the Norse-influenced Odin Sphere, with more realistic head-to-torso proportions for player characters, even if those characters’ other “proportions” are exaggerated to the point of being obscene.
They still move brilliantly, though, even with the larger, denser backgrounds and added axis of motion. This is the first Vanillaware effort designed with current-gen consoles in mind and it shows. Kamitani’s artwork takes on a new life with the added depth of this new perspective, and the game’s levels seem a bit less like beautiful paintings and a bit more like living, animated worlds. This applies equally to the stone streets of the city, the running waters of a harpy-infested river, and the dank underground of a trap-laden sarcophagus.
There’s more variety here than in past Vanillaware action games, too. With half a dozen characters, each with their own weapons to collect and equip as well as a unique special ability, there’s an avatar to fit anyone’s playstyle. Want to hang back and fire at foes? Take the Elf, who supplements her limited quarrel of arrows with a smattering of spells. Or go whole-hog magic with Sorceress or Wizard. For the more melee-focused, there is the Fighter, the Amazon, and the Dwarf.
In contrast to traditional fantasy tropes, the Dwarf is not a short, tubby warrior, but a stocky, muscle-bound berserker, and the only character who can pick things up and use them as improvised weaponry. This is beneficial for after he has used his smash attack, an ability shared by the Amazon that does extreme damage, the character is temporarily weaponless.
With so many characters to play, you’ll likely want to tackle the journey with a friend or, in the case of the extremely social, as many as three fellow spelunkers. Dragon’s Crown supports both local and online multiplayer on the PS3 and online play through the Vita. It does not, however, allow for cross-play (and is not a cross-buy title), so those who want to play on both systems will have to purchase two copies of the game, and won’t be able to play with their friends on the other system.
This is somewhat frustrating, especially since Dragon’s Crown seems like such a natural fit for that sort of service. Characters level up with use, and the appeal of being able to take your beefed up, decked out Amazon from the PS3 to the Vita, bringing it with you wherever you might go, is readily apparent. But would you want to bring the game with you anyway? Does the core gameplay hold up?
Having spent only a brief time with it, it certainly feels that way. While fairly simplistic, Dragon’s Crown’s combat does have some enjoyable variation by way of verticality, born of juggling and jumping, a few special attacks that can be activated by combining the attack button with directional inputs, and a manic energy that surpasses even that of Muramasa, which is already fast paced. The frenetic pace of Dragon’s Crown’s combat has more to do with its multiplayer focus, which fills the screen with players and enemies going every which way, pounding on one another in high-def glory. Adding to the already visually busy environment is the thief, who can be directed to pick locks on chests and doors, and is your constant companion throughout your dungeon crawls.
While Dragon’s Crown offers a fairly basic, old-school-inspired experience, the quality of its presentation and the fluidity of its action are certainly enough to justify at least a second look, as does the fact that the stunningly beautiful art (as well as the core game) is absolutely identical on both the PlayStation 3 and the pint-sized Vita (as Muramasa Rebirth proved, Vanillaware art translates well to the handheld’s OLED screen). There is only one question remaining: Which version will you buy?
Date: July 2, 2013