By Arik Yates / July 31st, 2013
Now as much as I absolutely loved this game, there was one thing that always kind of rubbed me the wrong way: the presentation of information. While at times Dragon’s Crown will supply you with a generous amount of information regarding systems, controls and such, sometimes areas of importance wouldn’t even be covered clearly or would be during questionable times, i.e. the online functionality and exp system. Luckily, if there is ever a point where something isn’t clear, the digital/physical instruction manual that comes with the game fully explains everything. Although the manual is at your disposal, I still found it bothersome at times, but then it hit me: This game is a nostalgia trip, so maybe this lack of information could be considered a throwback to the times when reading the instruction manual before playing the game was a necessity? Food for thought, maybe?
During your down time between story and secondary missions, the town of Hydeland has a plethora of things to do. And the further in the story you get, the more places you’ll have to visit. Now, if you’re in need of a magical item, repairs to your equipment, or the appraisal of spoils (equipment) found in chests, then the… voluptuous Morgan and her magic shop is the place to be. You can visit the Temple to pray – giving you and your party a chance for better loot or even survival. In town is also the only place you can change/equip armor, add health/buffing potions to your pack, and any other miscellaneous items. Always remember to check before skipping town – as it could mean the life or death of you – especially if you plan on doing a marathon-run of every level the game has to offer.
Whether it be with NPC or human companions, the marathon-run is an absolute blast in Dragon’s Crown. You can quit the level at any time, but if you continue, your chances of better gear, exp, and higher coinage skyrocket. The best part about it, is it doesn’t take an elongated amount of time. Maybe 25-35 minutes tops, and the party will be rewarded with an immeasurable pile of those three things mentioned above. After a couple of levels have been completed, your party will settle for the night around a campfire, leading the players to a very fun, rewarding cooking mini-game. Just like cooking in reality, learning how to master it is all about trial and error, so don’t expect a huge explanation before you’re thrown into the frenzy. Laid out in front of the campfire is an assortment of food and spices – it changes based on the last area you completed – all at your cooking disposal. After pointing and clicking on your desired ingredients, you must choose wisely which pot or pan you’d like to cook it in because some ingredients work better with certain cooking methods. After you think the food is cooked to the appropriate level, you slap it on your plate and devour it for a (sometimes) gratifying health and/or stat buff! It adds a whole new level of immersion to Dragon’s Crown. You and your companions are on an adventure, and Vanillaware captures the sense and emotions with virtuoso, especially when joined by actual players online.
When online, the cooking mini-game turns from a slow-paced, relaxing cooking experience to a chaotic rush to grab the desired ingredients, pots, and pans before your “frenemies” can. When your adventure resumes, no longer are you competing, but actually working together to reach that feather in hat or prize waiting at the end of the escapade. I might have just been lucky with the players I was teamed up with, but they played smart and were extremely supportive. There was never a point where I lost a connection while playing, even with the friendly Japanese players I excavated labyrinths with countless times. Vanillaware’s online infrastructure is top-notch. On the topic of NPC’s, it’s not that they’re badly programmed, it’s just at times they seem prone to walking into obvious traps, and don’t care much to try and evade or block oncoming attacks. In normal occasions of regular enemies, it’s not a big deal, but during the intense and sometimes brutal boss fights, it becomes rather aggravating. Luckily, there is a feature, that if switched on, allows human players to hop in and out of your party. If your party is full of NPCs, then the human player will simply take the place of one of them for the time being. The good thing about setting that option on is, if nobody online wants to hop in, then at least you have your back up pawns to support you. For those that strictly want to hop into an ongoing adventure, there is an option to either join a friend’s game or hop into a randomly selected one. While there isn’t an option to actually scroll through the many ongoing sessions, the random selection option is fast and efficient, so there really is no need for one. A PVP mode is also available upon completion of the game, for you competitive players out there. During my playtime, I wasn’t successful in finding an online match, but I did play the offline counterpart with the NPC’s I had in my party. You can customize various settings of the match, like time limit, item, and skill use, along with how many players (2-4) are allowed in the fight. It’s a fun little bonus mode that I’ll definitely revisit once more players start showing up online, along with the rest of the abundant post-game content Dragon’s Crown offers.
There are two things that are always apparent in Vanillaware titles: their sense of artistic style and well-crafted sound design. Dragon’s Crown does not disappoint in those departments. Luscious forestry, dark dwindling caves, and creature-ridden ruins of a long lost landmark are all illustrated in such a way that captivates you, leaving a feeling of curiosity. “What did this used to be?”, “what caused this once bustling area to become an infested enemy lair?”. No one area outshines the other either. Every venue is of equal value, and the enemy, character, and animation designs follow suit. Vanillaware has gotten some flack, though, for their presentation of women in Dragon’s Crown, but you’ve got to remember where Vanillaware drew their inspiration from for this title. Classic medieval fantasy fiction, like, Dungeons and Dragons and Golden Axe played huge roles in not only the gameplay, but also the character design – with their own added style, of course. So the majority of the men appear as gargantuan brutes, and the women are… filled in all the right places. The only characters who defy that are the Wizard and Elf who appear sharp and slim. While looking at it in the right light, no offense should be taken. Enjoy the fact that the developer is paying homage to classic fiction. Even the enemy design is phenomenal. The wide variety of beasts and humanoid creatures fit in perfectly in the masterfully crafted and well animated world of Hydeland.
The music in this particular title holds up well when compared to the previous Vanillaware titles. I’d even go as far as to say that some of their best tracks lie within Dragon’s Crown. The overall classic medieval tone the music sometimes sports sounds magnificent as well. Whether you’re exploring forests or fighting your way out of a volcanic mine; a tune of grandiose and epic proportions will be complementing your every step. On top of great music, the sound effects of each connected hit makes a satisfyingly brutal thud, slice, or piercing sound. When it comes to the magic users, not only does their magic look deadly, it sounds deadly. Magical explosions, raging winds, and the clinking of ice crystals all sound marvelous. Now, your characters aren’t fully voiced, but they do spout out traditional one-liners each time they are chosen. While in combat, grunts, screams, and small phrases will emit from your character when they attack, dodge, die, etc… On a side-note, both Japanese and English voice overs are done well and will never detract from your overall experience. The narrator also does a magnificent job guiding you through your journey. Sometimes he’ll state fun facts about the land or inform you of your next objective; another wise decision by Vanillaware and Atlus.
When trying to describe my experience with Dragon’s Crown, a multitude of words come to my mind. Words like grandiose, adventure, mystical, and enthralling, just to name a few. The game had me in its clutches and didn’t let me go, nor did I want it to. All of the nostalgic memories of youth and young manhood added with the sheer fun-factor and top-notch design lead me to an emotional melancholy that very few games have accomplished this generation. Exploring the overgrowth in my backyard and pretending it was some kind of magical area in a fantasy land I knew deep down didn’t exist; going on adventures with my “companions” with a goal of vanquishing horrific beasts and receiving a magnificent bounty for my efforts – Dragon’s Crown reminds me of these things, and even though this fantasy I used to dwell in doesn’t necessarily exist within me anymore, it sure was great to be back.
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