The side scrolling fighter has spent many a year in the dark but seems to have had a mini revival recently. Code of Princess and the compilation of Capcom Dungeon and Dragons games are already upon us and now Dragon’s Crown is here to lure us back into the ways of bashing monsters senseless in the name of gold and potions.
The first thing that hits you about the game is gorgeous art style. Everything is presented in beautifully drawn 2D with some of the richest environments and settings we’ve ever seen. Characters and enemies are also highly detailed and all the heroes look unique and different from each other. However, the representation of female characters is somewhat questionable. We can certainly see female gamers being put off by the over sexualisation of some of the characters.
Portrayal issues aside, there is a fair bit of variety in the different characters on offer. Each comes with a handy recommendation as to the level of player skills required and a distinctive weapon and skill set. There’s something for everyone with characters ranging from warriors and mages to archers and hammer swinging dwarves. Each class has a large group of unique skills, along with a more generic skill set, that can be levelled up to further fit the player’s individual style.
Most of your quests will start in town and here you can visit the adventurers guild to accept missions. There are also the usual array of shops to visit, a church to get characters resurrected, the tavern which serves as your hub for organisation and the palace. More areas unlock as you progress through the first part of the game and you can quick travel to any location in the town via a handy pop up map. Once a mission has been accepted you can head off to the teleport gate to warp to the appropriate dungeon.
Dungeons are far more varied than you might expect, with each area containing a wide variety of enemies and traps. Some are filled with mutated fungus while others contain orcs, lizard men and giant spiders. There are also monsters to ride (a nice homage to Golden Axe), and numerous secret places and loot to hunt out.
The main way of finding hidden items and areas to is to move an on screen cursor around the screen and click on things. This works on the PS3 by using the right analogue stick and via the touch screen or stick on the Vita. It’s an idea that doesn’t really seem to fit as you can find yourself moving the pointer over every inch of the screen to see if you can find anything. That said, it rarely gets in the way and unless your OCD is likely to kick in, it won’t break the flow of the game.
Combat itself is satisfying and fairly varied. Once you start unlocking skills there are a wide range of moves and techniques you can use to build massive combos. The further through the game you get the more careful you have to be and button mashing certainly won’t get you past the higher difficulties and later levels. Moves like the sliding take down become invaluable and you’ll learn what you can and can’t block quickly or suffer the consequences.
The game opens up to online play around half way through and then it becomes a much richer experience. This is a game designed to be played by four good players and this allows for high score runs to be attempted for loot and bragging rights. For single players you can add other characters to your adventure to give yourself a fighting chance. Most of these characters are picked up as piles of bones in dungeons and then need to be revived in the church back in town. This, along with the need to appraise treasure you’ve found will be a constant drain on your gold.
You also need to pay attention to the status of your armour and weapons. As you attack and take damage they degrade and will eventually break. Losing your equipment in the middle of a dungeon is likely to lead to certain death, so it’s important to keep things maintained. This isn’t such an issue normally, but when you get the chance to continue from one dungeon to the next without heading back to town its needs careful consideration. Why would you do this? To raise your score of course.
Overall, Dragon’s Crown is a roaring success. The PS3 and Vita versions integrate nicely with cloud saving and there are no noticeable performance issues when switching to play the game in its portable format. There are some questionable choices with the art style surrounding the representation of female characters but aside from that this is an excellent adventure. It’s the best side scrolling fighter since Guardian Heroes and we can’t think of much higher praise to lavish upon it than that.