|System: PS Vita, PS3|
|Release: August 6, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence|
by Joshua Bruce
When I first picked up Dragon’s Crown, I didn’t expect much. Of course, there were its obvious strong points–simple gameplay, unique art direction, and no shortage of women with enormous breasts. But I never really expected the game to be much more than that. Fortunately for me, I was wrong.
You start Dragon’s Crown by choosing a character class from a group of unlikely companions, all gathered around a table at the local tavern. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and some are more balanced than others, such as the Fighter class, which I chose to begin my journey. You are then introduced to a thief named Rannie through a short flashback tutorial mission. Basically, Rannie handles the looting and lockpicking so you can focus on more important things such as destroying everything in your path. I like that.
After getting the tutorial control formalities out of the way, you and your companion begin to explore the town. The town is a simple set of shops and other locations that all serve a specific purpose. You are exposed to each through short quests that require you to visit each location to learn of their uses. This early portion of the game is still a tutorial, but it feels like much less of one because you are performing quests throughout to essentially unlock all of the town locations. Once this is finished, you are ready to really begin adventuring.
If you have played an RPG before, you will find yourself right at home. The leveling system is pretty standard fare–gather experience by completing quests, level up, and assign skill points. However, there are a couple of fresh gameplay elements that I found quite enjoyable.
The first is the resurrection system. Throughout your travels, you will find the bones of adventurers that have met an untimely end. You collect these to later take them to the temple in town. At the temple, you have the option to resurrect the bone piles for a nominal fee. Once resurrected, you are able to add these characters to your party to fight alongside you on your quests. So instead of having static characters to choose from to create your party, you have a limitless amount of random characters with different attributes, levels, and skills that can be used in different ways. The only character that stays with you indefinitely is Rannie, your rogue companion, who doesn’t take up a spot in your party queue. This system adds something the RPG genre sorely needed: a wholly unique spin on a stale party system.
In addition to the fresh party mechanics, Vanillaware added some interesting tweaks to the straightforward combat system as well. Combat is pretty self-explanatory, you hit the square button as fast as possible and use the left thumbstick to direct your attacks in the vicinity of foes, which is simple enough. But the real changes in combat come to managing your party during battle. Instead of endless healing and buffing spells, each character in your party has a certain number of lives per quest (which can be increased by praying at the temple in town.) When a character dies, they will automatically resurrect themselves as long as they have lives left. But if they don’t, the player can use gold to resurrect them and keep the fight going. I found this coin-op throwback refreshing, and I loved how it enabled me to fight enemies well above my skill level. It did cost a small fortune to do so, but it was worth it.
Rune magic is another example of a new take on a stale concept. Runes have been in countless RPGs for years, but I have never seen the concept approached in this way. Basically, you can purchase runes from the town to be used in dungeons. In a dungeon, you will happen upon pairs of markings on the walls that seemingly have no use. At first, you dismiss them as just a decoration, but they are later revealed to be much more important. Combined with the right rune, these markings can execute many magical conjurations, such as bringing stone to life or creating a cache of projectile weapons for your party to use. While it isn’t required to use rune magic for most parts of the game (in some dungeons, it is a requirement to unlock or use certain things), it is a fun and unique way to give you an edge in combat.
But it’s not all about the gameplay. Vanillaware’s hand-painted art style shines throughout every facet of this title. Backgrounds, characters, cutscenes, and even the world map are all hand-painted. This creates a vibrant visual flair that is rarely found in a 2D game, or any other game for that matter. It’s not that the graphics are better than other games, because technically they’re not. But the stylization and artistic vision this game represents is something truly special.