Dragon’s Crown, under the watchful eye of the not-so-benevolent press, received a great deal of negative criticism before being made available to our lovely consoles, both home and handheld, to truly give it a think before passing judgement. With its release under a week away, did Vanillaware‘s latest offering deserve to be observed with such spiteful scrutiny for its appearance or is there more to it than meets the eye?
Dohohoho. Get it? Transformers reference? Well, that’s simply a small sample of what is offered, because Dragon’s Crown is fundamentally rooted in adulation. From the open sequence where Atlus’ name is proudly materialized, we see a fairy fly across the screen and light up the blue and red logo. If this sounds familiar, it’s all too similar to a sequence of a well-known fairy magically creating a very popular name from nothing—that is, where Tinkerbell elegantly wafts across the television to magically create the “Walt Disney.” From here, Dragon’s Crown presents itself as a vessel of blandishment every step of the way, crafting a beautiful-yet-tattered realm to save from some unspoken, malevolent force.
Under the guided eye of Art Director George Kamitani, Dragon’s Crown acts as a piece that heavily hearkens other works and finds footing as a solid action RPG for those not so rooted in popular culture. The grand vistas that accompany Vanillaware’s latest draw from Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel’s inspired works, from an interpretation of the Tower of Babel in an instance to regularly referencing the mundanity of day-to-day living, infusing it with a sort of subtle elegance.
To sum, Dragon’s Crown is radiant, and you can read more about its inspirations here. Though, its allure is not simply limited in scenery, as character designs, both ally and enemy, are galvanized, though exaggerated to certain extremes. From the large-bosomed sorceress to the ripped-beyond-ripped dwarf, there’s no shortage of embellishment when it comes to player characters, with even more sexually-charged examples available with quest-related characters who credit the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bronzed and built Conan the Barbarian and oft-seen fantastical and endowed visions of lore, like spirits and mermaids.
Further still, even enemies play on similar tropes, with scheming goblins that attack you from afar with crossbows and explosives, and robust, trident-wielding lizard men out for a skewer. There is simply no lack of nearly laughable instances of stretched imaginations, even if we’re seeing commonly depicted entities of fantasy.
The true heart of Dragon’s Crown, outside of the obvious eye candy, lies in its fast and furious play. Combining the merciless onslaught of enemies you would find in arcade brawlers and steeping with tried-and-true role-playing elements, this action-packed title is sure to please players with both hours to spare in a session or those who only have twenty minutes to enjoy.
Forgoing story-driven contextualization and character development, Dragon’s Crown instead opts as a one-two punch of bite-sized levels that can be completed in nearly no time at all with the oft-seen grinding mechanics readily implemented in most role-playing titles, spicing things up with provided quests that encourage you to discover new tactics or increase the challenge of revisits to the seemingly paltry nine stages. With three difficulty levels to conquer, an online coliseum to challenge opponents from across the globe, and local play on a home console for up to four, there’s a lot to do with one character and having a total of six to explore, each with largely different play styles, offers a great deal of replay value.
That’s not to say that Dragon’s Crown is a superb value in itself, lacking what feels like an essential feature in Cross-Play, walling PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita players from one another, except through the ability to use your save data on both platforms. The lack of Cross-Buy also might come as a kick, but understanding the game’s troubled history with multiple threats of cancellation, the publisher’s parent company in a state of bankruptcy, and being Vanillaware’s most expensive project to date, hunkering down and picking a single version of the game might be a wise decision for those who wish to slay some dragons, but not spend $90 total.
Though the game functions wonderfully on both platforms, the PS3 version offering a more comfortable control scheme, Dragon’s Crown was indeed designed with the Vita in mind. Taking advantage of the touch screen for looting on-screen items, activating magical runes, and partaking in the lascivious cooking mini-game in between lengthy quest outings has never felt more natural, deeply contrasting the clunky right control stick movement on the console counterpart. The Vita version feels more “definitive,” though that’s certainly up for debate.
Needless to say, despite any shortcomings, Dragon’s Crown is likely Vanillaware’s strongest offering to date, subtracting any of the useless muck that might detract from the true core of the title—the intense action. Coupled with a brilliantly realized sound design in both sound effects and soundtrack, with several more-than-able composers collaborating behind the scenes, this game is incredibly hard not to recommend.
Dragon’s Crown is developed by Vanillaware and published by Atlus under the Index Corporation.
A download code for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita versions of this title was provided to The Paranoid Gamer for review purposes.