QCF: Dragon's Crown

ragon's Crown is a game that was released in a volatile market. The video game industry was seeing, more or less, a dynamically progressive shift with some seriously heavy-handed feminism leading the charge regarding the depiction of women in video games. This was quite damning to Dragon's Crown's risqué (though admittedly beautiful) art direction. It was born into existence from a super-niche developer and a rapidly-fading publisher as a retail-released, 2D multi-platform game on the cusp of a next generation hardware launch. In addition, by and large, the public hasn't exactly paid much attention to it thanks to the impending Triple-A launch season. So now that all of the controversy has subsided and - more importantly - I've had a chance to play it extensively, It' time that Atlus and Vanillaware's Dragon's Crown got its final word.

Dragon's Crown is a game that has the ability to appeal to fans of several different genres and game types. The side-scrolling brawling aspect is like a hyper-robust, four-player Double Dragon. The RPG elements harken back to Vanillaware's previous (and great) Odin Sphere. There's a loot system akin to Diablo and even the narration and writing make for a delicious treat for pen-and-paper role-players.

In Dragons crown, you are on a quest to find the titular Dragon's Crown, an artifact said to have the power to control an ancient dragon said to have the power to lay waste to the entire world. Players create a character from one of six classes and will work to level them up sufficiently through various Quests that are taken on at the Guild. It seems simple enough but Dragon's Crown has a whole slew of features that really make it stand out from every other game on the market today.

For example, take the 4-player aspect of the whole game. You can have extra players – up to four – drop in and out of your game for some seriously awesome co-op action. If you're light on friends though, you can head to the pub to conscript heroes resurrected from retrieved piles of bones. You can also set your party up to have random adventurers of the ones you've resurrected drop in at certain points during your selected quest. There is even online co-op as well, making for a very flexible multi-adventurer party to take on the many quests and objectives that Dragon's Crown offers.

Gameplay-wise, dragon's crown is more or less straightforward enough. Its controls are very tight for a brawler or RPG, which makes it feel very swift. The PS3 and Vita versions are more or less identical visually and audibly as well as when it comes down to the combat but the main inputs feel better-laid out on the PS3 while the inputs for exploring your surroundings are much better on the Vita, thanks to the touchscreen. Fighting your way through the various battlegrounds and completing quests will result in experience that will level up your hero or heroine which gives way to new abilities that can be learned or enhanced at the Guild. Some quests merely require a boss to be defeated while others mightrequire a certain amount of specific enemies to be vanquished, or the collection of certain amount of specific items. Later in the game, there are even additional paths that open up which lead to much harder alternate bosses which hold the keys to seeing the end of the game.

There are also a couple of neat additional features that can turn the tides of battle throughout all of the stages that you'll be charging through. Certain monsters can be ridden and have tremendous power behind them which can lay waste to your opposition like no one's beeswax. Whether it's the savage sabre-toothed panther or the fire breathing raptor, there's nothing quite as satisfying as decimating enemy underlings in a flurry of claws, teeth and flames. There’s even a runic magic system that allows for certain effects when used, such as extra items, monster slaves, regenerating health and more.

Throughout your quest, a number of different loot types can be obtained, including new weapons, armour, accessories and, as previously mentioned, the fallen corpses of  previous adventurers of whom have met an untimely end, often with witty or funny last words. Everything found in this manner has a either a level (for fallen comrades) or ranking from E to S (for treasure) attached to them; Resurrecting adventurers is done at the church and items need to be appraised to be used. You can also sell unappraised items for less money that they would be worth otherwise, but appraised items can yield much more gold... though care can be needed to avoid wasting precious gold.

Moreover, none of that is even mentioning the great sound effects and unbelievable Hitoshi Sakimoto soundtrack. The music in this game will have you pumped up for battle and there's very little that's as satisfying as the victory fanfare. The VO matches the OST and ambiance nicely and the narration throughout Dragon's Crown makes it feel like you're playing through one of the grandest of Dungeon and Dragons pen-and-paper campaigns.

Dragon's Crown isn't without its problems though. There are some quests that are poorly explained and  others that are more or less impossible if you have helpers with you. There seems to be a very harsh difficulty curve as well, especially in the advanced paths that open up later on. You will find yourself getting frustrated with certain objectives whether it's just plain hard or there just aren't enough set pieces to fulfill a quest (good luck finding those owl-bears.) However, these are all just minor detractors from a very, very polished experience.

Controversy aside, this is easily the best Fantasy-Brawler-RPG this side of Capcom's King of Dragons arcade cab. With a wealth of quests, fantastic audiovisuals and four-player support, Dragon's Crown is  a game that no one with a PS3 - and especially anyone with a Vita - should be without.

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