Developer: Vanillaware | Publisher: Atlus | Played On: PS3 | Price: $49.99 | ESRB: Teen [Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence]
Multiplayer usually plays second fiddle to character progression and storyline in RPGs. Games like Castle Crashers and Dungeon Defenders are the exception to the rule, offering a solid RPG experience while giving players mountains of replayability with friends. These multiplayer romps are few and far between, and the ones worth your time even less so. Put together the addictiveness of a good co-op RPG with breathtaking visuals and a deep leveling and combat system and you have the trimmings for the next great action RPG.
Enter Dragon’s Crown, the newest RPG from Atlus and Vanillaware. Dragon’s Crown is an action RPG that successfully manages to not only play well, but be incredibly fun with friends and look damn good while doing it.
If there was ever any question about video games being art, Dragon’s Crown takes that debate and shatters it into a million beautifully drawn pieces. Everything in this game is visually stunning: the characters and enemies are unique and incredibly detailed, backgrounds are more like works of art than simple settings, and the interaction between the two is the icing on the cake. The daunting task of travelling to the treacherous forest becomes a feast for the eyes once you discover the woodland creatures scurrying about as you walk, or see the billowing smoke from a far off battle, or when you watch statues and barricades crumble away as you send enemies crashing into them. There are some oddities, such as every character being vastly disproportional, but these are easily overlooked. Without a doubt, Dragon’s Crown is the best looking 2D game I have ever played.
There are six classes to choose from: Fighter, Dwarf, Wizard, Elf, Amazon, and Sorceress. Naturally each boasts something the other cannot, like the Elf using long range bows to attack and the Wizard’s masterful command over magic. There is enough variety between the classes to warrant experimenting until you find one that suits your play style best.
Regardless of your class choice you’re presented with the same storyline: the King has gone missing after searching for the titular Dragon’s Crown, a helm thought to give its controller the power to command dragons. As a young adventurer you are first tasked with completing miniscule requests like searching for a thief outside the castle walls, but before long you’re caught up in royal scheming, warring nations, and the possible extinction of all life. Naturally. I felt the story of Dragon’s Crown to be its weakest bit. Everything from the development of the plot to the characters involved were cliché and predictable. The diabolical looking prince is actually a good guy; of course the crucial item needed to solve everything isn’t where it’s supposed to be; and I’ll be damned if that treasure chest in the middle of this room isn’t booby trapped. These are tropes I’ve come to expect in RPGs, but I would have personally liked to have seen more creativity in the story.
Dragon’s Crown handles gaining experience and leveling up in a very unique way. Rather than just gaining experience points from slain enemies, you also accrue points from picking up treasure, finding hidden secrets in stages, and completing each level/zone in good haste, with penalties coming from using continues.
After the stage has wrapped up you’re given a score based on your performance in the above parameters and this score determines how much experience you receive. It’s an interesting system that forces you to put more thought into how you level up versus just mashing buttons. Leveing up increases your stats like strength and HP, but more importantly you earn stat points which you can use to customize your character. Spending stat points grants special skills like new spells, increased shield effectiveness, and more to further improve your character. With dozens of skills to unlock and many with multiple tiers, you’ll be playing the game for hours upon hours before you max out just one character.
It’s not all about hacking and slashing. A deep combat system allows for various combos to be performed. The Fighter for example is one of the more versatile classes and will slide, jump, slash, and punch enemies into submission. Magic users on the other hand need to manage their spells because once they’re depleted they won’t be replenished until revisiting a town.
Beyond the general combat is the Rune system. Hidden on each screen of each stage are Runes: magically infused carvings that bestow extraordinary powers upon the user. Finding the Runes is the easy part – once found you must also arrange three of them in a successful manner to cast a spell or nothing will happen. Doing so is highly encouraged because Rune magic greatly increases your chances of coming out of battle victorious. One Rune spell grants temporary invincibility while another summons a healing ring to mend your wounds. Runes add one more layer to an already hefty amount of gameplay and make the game all the better.
Replayability is the name of the game with Dragon’s Crown. Completing the game once unlocks a higher difficulty level and increased level cap, and doing so again unlocks the highest difficulty and raises the level cap again, up to 99. More importantly, after you play through the game’s first nine stages you unlock network play.
While Dragon’s Crown can be enjoyed solo with up the three AI controlled allies, playing with friends either locally or wirelessly is the better option. Drop-in/Drop-out multiplayer allows for seamless connectivity and makes it easy to play for as long or as short as you’d like. With three other players, battling the bad guys gets pretty hectic on-screen but always remains fun. I had a hell of a time fighting ferocious Owlbears while my allies cast blizzard and heal spells in the background. You can have a wholly worthwhile time jumping online and playing through a few stages, completely disregarding progression in the story and gaining some epic loot or new levels. I did encounter a few instances of terrible lag while playing online, but it was nothing a quick reconnect to a new server couldn’t fix.
Anyone looking for the next great RPG to play with friends should look no further than Dragon’s Crown.
The controls do take some time getting used to, specifically the right analog stick. You use the right stick to move your cursor on the screen and either press R3 or L1 to interact with objects. Clicking on locked treasure chests calls out your thief companion Rannie to pick the lock and reveal the goodies inside. Tapping on enemies in this same fashion reveals information about them like their name and HP, and touching shining objects uncovers hidden gold. This is also the same method used for finding and using Runes.
The point-and-click nature of this portion of the game clashes with the heavy action based combat, resulting in a lot of awkward situations where you’re trying to fight with the buttons, move with the left stick, and click with the right. It’s a cumbersome control scheme that, in time, becomes manageable.
In the same league as the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, Dragon’s Crown implements a whimsical, fantasy-influenced soundtrack. A jolly jingle plays while resting up for the next battle in town, but a darker, moodier theme haunts you as you explore the mysterious Mage’s Tower. I found the soundtrack a great accompaniment to the overall game.
I also have to mention the game’s narrator. Much like the narrator in Bastion, most of the story is told by an omnipresent male voice. Hearing the disembodied voice say what you have to do next or where the enemy weak point is located, or even just that you have to go to the Inn is definitely a treat.
Dragon’s Crown is going to be the next great multiplayer action RPG. It has all the ingredients to be a fantastic game: in-depth gameplay, tons of customization, superb multiplayer integration, and countless hours of replayability. That’s not even mentioning the game’s stunning one of a kind art style. The few missteps the game does take do little to mar the overall wonderful experience. RPG lovers, multiplayer gamers, and players wanting a game they can play for months need to play Dragon’s Crown. It is wholly and entirely worth your time!