Japanese role-playing game developer Vanillaware has made a name for itself, specializing in titles sporting two-dimensional graphics such as Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade in a market dominated by three-dimensional videogames. The year 2013 saw the Japanese and foreign release of their latest title to date, Dragon’s Crown, for the PlayStation 3 and Vita, the latter version which this review covers, and proves to be another solid game from the company.
When starting a new game, the player can choose to create a character from a variety of classes and races, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. In the game’s sundry dungeons, the player may come across bones that they can either revive for a price at the hub town’s church or bury, with rewards occasionally granted when burying the remains of deceased warriors. The player’s created protagonist can have a maximum of three A.I.-controlled allies to accompany them in dungeons, where they engage in side-scrolling beat-em-up arcade-style gameplay with various enemies, the player able to open locked treasure chests and doors thanks to a thief that always accompanies the player.
As the game progresses, the player ultimately gains the option of choosing one of two branching paths after advancing far enough in a dungeon, each with a boss at the end of different levels that indicates their relative difficulty. The player’s character and his or her companions start out with two lives when beginning a dungeon, although one can obtain an extra life for everyone by obtaining a score of thirty thousand or more. Lives deplete and fully restore a character’s health when they reach zero hit points, and once a character is completely out of lives and dies, the player has the option, if their money allows, to revive them to full health.
However, being low on cash will cause countdowns to appear for the player’s character and his allies, and when the clock runs out, the player returns to town, with their companions deceased and permanently lost. Whether the player is successful in a dungeon or not, they must frequently repair their equipment, though mercifully if it breaks in the middle of a dungeon, most of the time the equipment is not permanently gone and is still repairable, so long as the player has the money. Allies’ equipment can break also after extended use, and while the player can’t repair confederates’ gear, odds are they’ll likely and constantly acquire new allies of various classes to revive at the church and put into their party at the local tavern.
Normally, if the player goes into a dungeon without any companions, allies from the tavern will randomly join the protagonist’s adventure, although the player can turn this option off for each of the player’s three ally slots, a requirement for a few missions that net the player both money and experience, the latter typically earned after finishing a dungeon, successful or not, for occasional level-ups. Leveling nets the player’s character a skill point they can put into a variety of class-specific and universal skills such as increased maximum HP and health recovery when collecting coins gained from enemies and treasure chests.
The battle mechanics generally work well, although fights in dungeons tend to be a tad chaotic, and it can sometimes be difficult to determine where the player’s character is on the battlefield, which locks into place when fighting normal enemies, what with the cacophonic animations and flashing that accompanies combat. The protagonist may also occasionally lose his or her weapon and be unable to retrieve it for a few seconds, though melee classes can actually fight half-decently without weapons at times. The endgame bosses and especially the last one of the main quest can be daunting as well, and while the main game level cap is thirty-five, the player can continue to acquire skill points from quests to empower their characters. Ultimately, the battle system helps Dragon’s Crown more than hurts.
The game’s controls are near perfect, with the ability in the game’s hub town to teleport instantly between its various facilities, with easy item management as well and the inability to manage ally equipment and items sparing the players plenty of character management time, not to mention a linear structure that always keeps players moving in the right direction. While there is no pause button in-game, the player can easily put the PlayStation Vita into sleep mode if they need to break for a real-life occurrence. The flaws in this area are generally negligible and include the inability to view playtime outside saving, but otherwise, interaction is close to flawless.
The weakest area of the game is undoubtedly its narrative, which consists mostly of backstory and Bastion-esque narration of the title’s events, and sports little to no background for the various characters acquired alongside the protagonist. The localization is mostly spotless in spite of some minor awkward sentences, but even so can’t mask a paper-thin plot.
One of the best areas of the game, though, is its aural presentation, with great voicework and a score from Hitoshi Sakimoto that never disappoints. The graphics utilize Vanillaware’s renowned two-dimensional style, with beautiful colors and plenty of outstanding character and enemy designs, although the animation can be choppy at times. In the end, a superb-sounding and looking game.
Finally, the main quest is short, taking around fifteen hours to complete, though post-game content can naturally boost this time, alongside acquiring every trophy, with consequential excellent replayability.
All in all, Dragon’s Crown is for the most part another superb Vanillaware title that hits most of the right notes with regards to its classic arcade-style gameplay, control, sound, and graphics, although there are admittedly some weaknesses such as a tad bit of grinding at times and the minimalist plot. Those that can look past these faults, however, will likely have a great time with a game that nicely captures the spirit of classic arcade beat-em-up games.
+Solid arcade-style beat-em-up gameplay.
+Looks and sounds great.
+Plenty lasting appeal.
-Bosses can be difficult without grinding.
-Story is minimal.
The Bottom Line:
Another great Vanillaware title.
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Slightly Hard
Playing Time: 15+ Hours