By Alex Irish / May 21st, 2018
|Title||Dragon’s Crown Pro|
|Release Date||May 15th, 2018|
It’s highly probable that a lot of people missed out on Atlus’ Dragon’s Crown when it came out five years ago on PlayStation 3 and Vita. Developer Vanillaware’s action-RPG epic was originally released at an awkward transitional phase between one console generation and the next. Luckily, Dragon’s Crown has returned in an enhanced Pro edition, bringing back everything fans loved before with a fair few technical enhancements. For returning adventurers and newcomers, Dragon’s Crown Pro is every bit one of the developer’s best games and deserves a second look.
If you previously missed out on Dragon’s Crown, think of it as a classic side-scrolling hack-and-slash brawler coated with handcrafted visuals and a storybook atmosphere. You and up to three other players choose a fantasy-inspired character class, picking from Warrior, Barbarian, Dwarf, Elf, Wizard, and Witch. From there, prepare to explore a range of dungeons to collect loot, fight waves of enemies, and get powered up to save a kingdom and recover the titular Dragon’s Crown.
Dragon Crown‘s story takes an interesting approach for an action RPG. The tale is narrated to by an off-screen narrator who relates everything in the third person, not unlike from the pages of a classic storybook or a dungeon master in a tabletop game as in Dungeons and Dragons. The story progresses even while in levels, relating motivations and actions while the combat action unfolds. Every encounter and boss fight has a story reason for happening, rather than being there just because.
Combat in Dragon’s Crown Pro can be divided into melee and long-distance attacks. All the classes to choose from are split into these play styles, also readable as beginner-friendly and expert-level ways to storm the castle. Classes like the Amazon and Dwarfs are good choices for starting players with their focus on melee attacks and powerful axes and hammers, while Wizards and Elves will appeal to more patient players with their long-range spells and arrows.
Everyone still gets to pick up spare weapons and items in the environment and perform a graceful dodge roll, regardless of class. The action can get a touch messy when things get chaotic, making it hard to discern what’s going on as a swirling vortex of visual effects and characters swamp the screen. If you plan to stick with one class during a playthrough, you’ll gradually be able to recruit allies recovered in dungeons (as fallen piles of skeletons) and feel free to mix and match. The AI does an admirable job of controlling your partners in any case.
You can fight through entirely solo, but as a beat-em-up, the heart of Dragon’s Crown is its couch co-op, a highly enriching experience. Fortunately, online play is also available. That net play is a nice option for those who want to team up with high-leveled players, albeit you’re at the mercy of waiting on matchmaking and latency.
The amount of things to do in Dragon’s Crown is staggering. The general gameplay loop runs thus: complete a mission, then return to town to buy items, repair weapons and gear, recruit and revive allies, accept side missions, and further progress the story. You’ll enter dungeons with a load out of gear and fight hordes of monsters and beasts one room at a time. Some of those encounters require a touch of strategy more than normal brawling (the ghosts can only be defeated by fire, for instance). Bosses above all require the most strategy, meaning you’ll need to learn their patterns and jump and dodge around to whittle down their enormous health bars. They can be daunting, but bosses are the most impressive encounters to be had.
The ebb and flow between calm town segments and high-energy action is what holds Dragon’s Crown together. You’ll need to earn loot and cash to survive the steadily rising difficulty. There are also perks you can unlock to upgrade your character with class-specific or generalized abilities and powers. With all these options available, there’s still no risk wandering aimlessly as the main story progression is generally linear.
Later into the adventure, however, you’ll be given the option to clear alternative paths in every dungeon. These alternate pathways boast new objectives and especially higher-leveled boss fights. With level gaps between you and the boss being as much as 10 levels apart, they are essentially required if you wish to complete the game’s ultimate goal of collecting various gems to unlock the path to the final boss. Every dungeon, no matter the difficulty, takes roughly 10-20 minutes to complete depending on difficulty and how much you explore off of the path. So too will you keep coming back with the game’s many side-quests, with objectives that range from simple (collecting spider webs) to opaque (searching a library’s bookcase to find a hidden entrance). They’re practically vital if you want to gain experience, money, and extra skill points. Dragon’s Crown Pro will take roughly ten hours to complete if you stick to the main story, but can easily slide into 20 or more if you want to 100% complete every side quest, grind out every class of fighter, and unlock a host of collectible artwork.
It’s the strong action RPG design of Dragon’s Crown that shines through, although a couple of elements don’t work as well, namely runes and the art of cooking. Both suffer from vague and confusing controls that slow the pace down and are unintuitive. Otherwise, normal combat controls and interactions with the environment are generally smooth, with only the dash move being too finicky to activate accurately with an analog stick.
Dragon’s Crown is a visually rich game with an emphasis on painterly naturalism. Every dungeon is so distinctive, you can practically see atmosphere and details with paintbrush-like strokes from every surface. Character designs hold up nicely, from the wizened Wizard to towering chimeras and oxen beasts that lumber towards you. Everyone animates equally with an impeccable amount of craft and detail, you’ll think it was hand-animated. The orchestrated score is just as rich as the art direction, although you won’t hear it too often over the cries of battle and clashing of swords, magic spells, and such. If you know Vanillaware’s earlier works, you know you’re in for a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears.
With all this said, there’s one elephant in the room regarding Dragon’s Crown: the character designs, particularly the female variety. Upon its original release, Dragon’s Crown quickly gained criticism for its focus on, uh, its fairly endowed women. Classes like the Amazon and the Witch particularly stick out with their exaggerated builds, with special notice of the Witch’s, erm, chest area. Even the non-playable female figures including the town’s busty shopkeeper, near-naked mermaids, and even faeries are unquestionably fetishized. The artistic choices behind Vanillaware’s character designs, in this and frankly the rest of the studio’s oeuvre, will not be to everyone’s tastes. Whether you let it detract from your enjoyment of the overall experience is up to you.
So what does Dragon’s Crown Pro add to the base experience from 2013? Not much outside of a host of technical upgrades, to be truthful. In addition to running at 1080p, Dragon’s Crown now supports a full 4k resolution for those with the proper monitor. The resolution increase makes for a much cleaner image than before. Funny enough, Dragon’s Crown could already utilize scaling to analog tube TVs, a testament to how strong the art style is and allowing subtle animations and smaller details to shine. All the sumptuous music is now fully orchestrated, lending a feeling of dynamism to the experience. Dragon’s Crown Pro also boasts no loading between missions and runs at a faultless 60 frames per second, and any slowdown is used for stylistic purposes, not for technical mishaps. And for veterans of the original Dragon’s Crown on PS3 and Vita, cross-save support is surprisingly included to let you pick up your save like it was only yesterday.
Dragon’s Crown Pro remains a great package that holds up five years later. It’s all about these delicate elements that make a cohesive whole that can now be experienced on more modern hardware. Make that double if you have access to a 4K TV and PS4 Pro, where Vanillaware’s artistry shines brighter than ever. It’s also one of the most accessible Vanillaware titles available, a hack-and-slash whose mechanics are mostly easy to understand and there’s no chaff distracting you from the main story. Ignoring some dated aspects and some divisive character design choices, if you have an itch for brawlers and action RPGs, Dragon’s Crown Pro is still worth checking out after all these years.
Review code provided by developer
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