Let me get this out of the way right now: yes, I am going to talk a little bit about the controversy this game has created and give my two cents worth on it. Now that I have gotten that out of the way, Dragon’s Crown for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita! This was one of my most anticipated games for quite some time now. I remember hearing about it back at E3 during 2011 and was really excited, since I am a huge Vanillaware fan.
I love their art style and how they are willing to stay with the 2D style of game design and not make something fully 3D just because that is what everyone wants. Sure, I would love to see what they could do with full 3D models combined with the company’s beautiful art style, but doing what they want to do is probably a good thing. If we forced them to make something they don’t want to make, then we would end up with a half-baked game with no soul to it. Anyway, I am so happy this game is finally out, and if you are a fan of Capcom’s Dungeons & Dragons arcade game, you will love Dragon’s Crown.
The set-up for the story reminds me very much of a D&D session, since, compared to other Vanillaware games released in the States, it is not very story-oriented. You pick from six different characters ranging from the easy-to-get-into Fighter, the small but bulky Dwarf, the swift long-range fighter Elf, or maybe you want to play as two of this game’s more infamously designed characters like the Amazon or Sorceress. After you choose your character, you are then sent into the world of Hydeland, where catacombs and labyrinths lie beneath the cities of man. Magic users are on the search for an artifact known as the Dragon’s Crown, an artifact that is rumored to let the wielder control dragons. There is much more to the story than I am letting on, but, like I have said many times before, this game is all about the gameplay and immersing you into the game’s world. It’s a fun world to be in and a beautiful one to look at, resulting in a unique experience.
This is where the gameplay gets unique for an RPG. There is no denying that the gameplay is of a 2D side-scrolling, action beat em’ up that was inspired by Capcom’s Dungeons & Dragons. Then again, this game does have the same guy, George Kamitani, who worked on those games directing this one. Like I said earlier, you play as one of six different characters who each have their own unique playstyle. The Fighter, a.k.a. my favorite character, can deal massive damage and has the highest defense of any character, thanks to the shield he carries. While other characters like the Wizard, Sorceress, and Elf can fight close range as well, it is recommended that you use those characters for long range combat.
The overworld you travel in has a tavern where you can do things like save your game, switch characters, and recruit AI-controlled partners who, by the way, you resurrect from the temple. You get the idea. The temple lets you revive the bodies of fallen players or bury them in hopes of obtaining an item. The item shop in this game also lets you appraise items you find in dungeons, buy potions, sell your potions, weapons, and items, and repair your weapons that have been damaged in battle. We will get to that part in a second. You can visit the wizard’s shop to buy magical items and look up some nifty spells that you can pull off if you have the right magical symbols and runes. If you want to find some missions to tackle outside of the town, just go to the adventurer’s guild! Outside of the town, you can enter a gate that will take you to the different locations where you will be fighting monsters of all kinds and huge bosses. Each character has their own fighting style and move-set to tackle each of the monsters and boss encounters easily.
There are many things to watch out for while you are going on your merry way to kill a monster. One thing to look out for is your weapon and armor durability. If you use them too much, they will break and you will need to go back to the item shop and get them repaired. Also, be on the lookout for hidden areas and alternate paths. During the second half of the game, you will be able to take two different paths leading to two different boss fights depending on which route you take. You will also be coming back to the locations to finish side quests. After you are done fighting the monsters of the world, you can use the skill points you accumulate to give your character class specific abilities or abilities any class can learn. For my play time as one character, and doing about half of the side quests, it took me about 18-20 hours to complete. You can probably get things done a lot faster if you miss out on the side quests, but you get some experience points, skill points, and money for your troubles.
Now, multiplayer works like this. You can just play by yourself, AI partners, or random players will drop in to join you on your quest. You can also join friends on random adventures that are already going on. If your friends die, you can take their bones and bring them back as your personal AI-controlled minions. Even after you beat the game, you will unlock two more difficulty levels, a PvP arena, and a labyrinth that houses many challenges. There is so much this game has to offer, and it’s funny how they got all these features on a budget of one million US dollars.
Graphically, this game is beautiful. I love the traditional 2D Vanillaware art style since it is always a consistently great look, no matter what console it is on. Since we are talking about the art design, let me give you my two cents worth on the whole controversy surrounding the game’s art style. I think the issue has been overblown for a couple reasons. We have had women with "Jessica Rabbit" figures for quite some time, or need I remind you of the Rumble Rose or Dead or Alive games? These kinds of designs have been around long before this game was made, and after. I mean, why did this game bring up the controversy when the girls from Dead or Alive have been in shameless fanservice games revolving around playing beach volleyball in skimpy outfits? Plus, the Sorceress and the Amazon, the two characters that are the vocal point of this controversy, do fight and actually do stuff. They aren’t women in distress who have to be saved from a dragon. I also find it hard, with how all the characters are designed, to take this game seriously. It isn’t super story-oriented and is more focused on the overall gameplay experience. It’s like watching Machete -- you really don’t care about the characters too much; you focus more on the action sequences and how the overall action movie is executed. I also feel like the entire over-exaggerated art style gives the game its own identity. It doesn’t need to look like every other RPG out there like Final Fantasy or Dragon Age.
It is Japan, after all. It’s like complaining or asking why US game developers like to make so many games about white guys with guns: it’s kind of a cultural thing. Sure, it might need to change, but since a majority of people don’t like change, it’s going to take a while. I am not saying people who complained about this are wrong and shouldn’t be offended, but I think it was blown out of proportion. Can I see why some people take offense to the art style? Yes. Did this controversy need as much press and attention as it got? Heck, no.
Anyway, the music is also well-composed and lovely. There were multiple people involved with this game, but I could only get info on three composers. The first one is the ever-so-popular Hitoshi Sakimoto, composer of such games as Final Fantasy Tactics, Radiant Silvergun, Murumasa: The Demon Blade, Orge Battle: Let us Cling Together, and you get the idea. The second composer I could get info on is named Manabu Namiki, who composed for games like Mushihimesama, Opoona, Gradius, Castlevania, and Contra Rebirth, and Metal Slug 6. The final composer is named Masaharu Iwata, who both of the composers I just mentioned have worked with before. Masaharu Iwata has composed music for games like Might and Magic, Shadow Hearts, Magical Chase, Baroque, and a lot of the games I mentioned above like the Vanillaware Library and Final Fantasy XII. They definitely knew how to get that fantasy vibe for the music. The voice work is a little corny, but you can choose between Japanese and English voice-over artists for the characters, so it’s no big deal. The English voice cast has some noticeable names in voice acting like Patrick Seitz, Yuri Lowenthal, Erin Fitzgerald, Jamieson Price, Cindy Robinson, and Eden Riegel to voice the individual characters. Once again, you just have a fantastic presentation.
So, any problems? Well, only a few, and they are minor complaints. I wish the durability of weapons and armor wasn’t an issue. It’s just another layer of tedious backtracking to the item shop to get your equipment repaired, but you can always go through about two or so locations and not have to worry about item repair. I also wish that you could have more power in choosing which rooms to join, because I have had to go right back into town because I kept ending up in a dungeon I didn’t need to be in. However, you can easily get around this by being in one of those random rooms other players can join, so it isn’t too big of an issue. The biggest complaints come from two things. One, two of the bosses have time limits attached to them. Later in the second half of the game, you will have to get 9 talismans, and two of them can only be obtained if you can kill those two specific bosses before a superficial time limit tells you when you can’t. It gets obnoxious when you get so close to killing them and then fail because you didn’t kill them fast enough. That is a bit bothersome. The other complaint, also very minor, is that the things you do with the right analog stick are a little cumbersome if you play the PlayStation 3 version and not the Vita. You can tell the actions you do with the right analog stick, like finding secret treasures and activating rune magic, was done with the Vita’s touch screen in mind, but I got used to it and it never really became a deal-breaking issue.
Final Verdict: Vanillaware's best game
All in all, this is a fantastic game, and you all need to get it. It is one of the most fun and refreshing experiences I have ever had on my PlayStation 3, and it is a fresh take on a unique genre that we don’t see anymore. The game right now is about $50 for the PlayStation 3 version and $40 for the Vita version. I would even consider this to be Vanillaware’s best game. If you are looking to fatten up your PlayStation 3’s library, you should get a sword and shield and venture forth in search of the Dragon’s Crown.