|System: PS Vita|
|Pub: Ignition Entertainment|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
Vanillaware may have singlehandedly resurrected our infatuation with sprites back when polygonal graphics were the norm. They were the makers of Odin Sphere and Oboro Muramasa (a.k.a. Muramasa: The Demon Blade), two games that looked more like moving storybooks than anything else. Their high-resolution sprites appeared as if they were painted right onto the screen, and their high-speed action and deep difficulty kept players coming back for more. Now, it looks like they may be doing it all over again with their upcoming Dragon's Crown.
Dragon's Crown is Vanillaware doing what they do best: making 2D games that are so pretty your eyes tear up with happiness. However, where Odin Sphere and Muramasa were essentially 2D platformers, Dragon's Crown is actually more of a beat em' up. In fact, it looks like a tribute to Golden Axe if anything.(Actually, it's more of a direct tribute to Princess Crown, an action RPG that Atlus made for the SEGA Saturn, but that reference is perhaps too obscure to be valuable.)
The game takes place in a mostly 2D world, though there's depth to each stage. You can walk up and down to put yourself on the same plane at your opponent, but only as much as you would have been able to in games like Final Fight or the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat em' ups.
The stages themselves are absolutely beautiful. From dark caves to lava pits to forbidden dark fortresses, each looks like some sort of masterpiece fantasy painting that you would see on the front of a Magic card. Just like all the other elements of the game, high-definition sprite animations make them come alive.
There are six characters in the game: Fighter, a slow-moving brute clad in full plate mail; Amazon, a quick but strong close-up warrior wearing pieces of string for an outfit; Elf, a ranged fighter and the only realistically dressed female in the whole game; Dwarf, a small but extremely aggressive character that focuses on damage before anything else; Wizard, a character that focuses on special abilities and area-of-effect attacks; and Sorceress, a character who focuses on quick single-target magic and what appear to be status effects.
Each character will be able to attack, defend, and use magic and special abilities. Each character also has varying degrees of strength, movement speed, life, and so forth. As you play through the game, you will gain experience and level up, gaining new skills and customizing your character through additional stats, skills, and found/purchased equipment. Each stage will have branching paths to choose from and multiple quests to undertake. For example, you can barge into the evil overlord's fortress ready to bust some heads, or you can sneak around back and steal a powerful artifact from him without his knowing.
You can choose to play Dragon's Crown online with a party of fellow adventurers or offline by yourself, but even offline play has some online elements. Taking a page from Demon's Souls, Dragon's Crown allows other people's playthroughs to affect your game. As you wander around the world you will find piles of bones representing where other characters have died in combat. You can take these piles of bones back to town to revive them as NPCs. Players can leave dying messages on their corpse either warning people of danger or advertising their character's usefulness as an NPC. Not only that, but you can apparently have a lot of NPCs following you around in the game. The designers have said "more than 10, but less than 100." Let's hope for something on the higher side.
Dragon's Crown will be released for the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStaiton Vita. Both versions will be totally compatible, and saved game data can be transferred from one version to another, allowing you to take your dungeon crawling on the road with the Vita's 3G network. The designers said the game will last about forty to fifty hours, but could last much longer if you are addicted to loot grinding, leveling up, and completing all the side quests. Be on the lookout for Dragon's Crown when it releases in the spring of 2012.
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: January 16, 2012