E3 2013: Hands-On: Dragon’s Crown (PS3)

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

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Dragon's Crown Logo

I have a wonky history with the beat ‘em up genre. In the nineties I ate stuff like that up. Games like Streets of Rage (and its sequels) & Golden Axe (and its sequels) were littered across early afternoons at home. I enjoyed all of those kinds of games immensely, but after that… it’s like I completely departed from the genre. I made a documented comeback with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, and I got to play just a smidge of Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara, but… I’ve looked forward to playing Dragon’s Crown immensely. I’ve been keeping an eye on the game for a long while; I kind of see it as my re-emergence into the beat ‘em up genre.

Dragon’s Crown has been a sort of “killer app” at E3 this year. There was always a line at both versions of the game (PS3 and PSVita respectively). Today, I conquered; I got a chance with the PS3 version of the game. I was joined by two other members of the gaming press and the helpful member of Atlus’s team on the show floor. So yeah, I got a look at the game in four-player co-op.

Dragon's Crown featured 3

I played as the warrior class; my character was clad in brilliant silver armor. The Atlus guy picked the Sorceress, and the others played as the Elf and the Amazon. There are six classes to choose from in Dragon’s Crown, but I only got to see the four in action. Each of us offered his or her own contribution to the fray–there is definitely enough distinction between classes to make each character useful (and offer heaps of replay value, potentially).

I watched a team of characters take out a Harpy in one of the two levels playable on the show floor, so I went with the other level, the supposedly “more difficult” one. I was immediately tossed into a dimly lit cave and stormed by a saber tooth tiger and other foes. We dispatched them with brawn, spells and other long-range attacks, and then the Atlus guy told me, “Yeah… you can ride on that one.” So, I mashed the triangle button and proceeded to use the saber tooth tiger to maul my foes from there on out. Before I continue my anecdote, however:

A bit about controls, other gameplay: Jumping, dodging, and attacking were done with simple button-presses. Dashing from one side of the screen to the other involved holding the square button down while moving forward or backward. They felt intuitive, but I had a little trouble figuring out how to dash. Perhaps I’d figure stuff like that out when there isn’t a hoard of people watching me? A minor control gripe at best; everything felt great.

The game seems chiefly concerned with collecting loot. You use the opposite analog stick to move around a cursor to point at a chest to unlock it and grab its spoils. I assume there are many more features to the hand you control with that opposite stick, but that’s the only one that I got to see. By the way–in online mode, all loot is shared, so there’s no need to worry about the more greedy folk ruining your fun.

Dragon's Crown weapons 03

Alright, back to my journey. So yeah, I’m on a giant beast. I asked the Atlus guy how many of these enemies were mountable, he said “only a few. But there’s a dragon.” I asked if it flied, and he said I’d find out before long.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t fly, but… it does breath fire. I had fun giving other folks a try at these beasts while we fought our way through the level. The boss was a dragon-esque thing that did fly, and it had friends, and… goodness, were they tough. Playing through the game was a complete blast. There were enemies you could only take a stab at while they weren’t underwater, crazy hoards of psychotic freaks, and other things familiar to beat ‘em ups, classic or modern.

The thing that makes this game a modern spin on the beat ‘em up concerns character customization (stat growth, skills you can purchase with each level-up), the focus on loot versus simply getting to the end (at the end of each level, there’s a list of the treasures you got with ranks assessing their rarity), and the… supreme sense of artistry that Vanillaware has gifted to the game.

I think my impressions got a little long-winded because I really want to sell you on this one, folks. Dragon’s Crown is a game worth waiting for, a game worth getting excited about. Never mind the controversies associated with it; this is a fantastic game that should be praised for its gameplay and the modernization it brings to the genre.

Dragon's Crown pre-order feature