Dragon’s Crown PlayStation Vita Review

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Growing up in the 8 and 16-bit era I’m inherently fond of the beat em’ up. River City Ransom, the X-Men arcade cabinet and Streets of Rage were some favorite retro brawlers. I remember the first time I saw Streets of Rage, the graphics and gameplay absolutely blew me away. Fast forward nearly twenty years and Dragon’s Crown has managed to do the exact same thing, even after two decades worth of gaming. Atlus and Vanillaware effectively blended the dungeon crawler and brawler genres in an insanely effective fashion.

Dragon’s Crown has all of the frantic, high octane action that the best of the beat em’ up genre are known for. At times the amount of combat taking place on screen blurs the line between fantastic and bewildering. The RPG dungeon crawler aspect of Dragon’s Crown helps add a ton of depth to the equation. There’s a full leveling system complete with character specific abilities. There’s both passive and active aptitudes that help make your character more efficient. A full suite of weapon and gear upgrades, along with consumable items like potions, spell scrolls and other buffs add a ton of complexity to character builds. The combination of the two genres in a high concept fantasy setting was a masterful accomplishment. Dragon’s Crown has you exploring many locations throughout Hydeland, searching for mystical talismans capable of weakening the ancient dragon that’s been awoken by a nefarious group of wizards in their attempt to secure the Dragon’s Crown and overthrow the royalty of Hydeland.

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A stable of character types are available, but I chose to stick to polar opposite sides of the spectrum, it’s typically the best way to test the waters. I tried out the Sorceress early on, yeah that Sorceress, the one with the enormous bazongas. Her appearance was more comical than anything, she’s obviously oversexed and a bit disproportionate, but her character featured a host of very powerful abilities. The Sorceress relies on spells to deal most of her damage, but her ideal function is to support the rest of your party with buffs and healing magic. I spent a decent amount of time with the Sorceress, eventually getting the buxom mage up to about level 12. The rest of my time, twenty plus hours, was spent with the Fighter. The Fighter’s core role is to charge headlong into battle as the leader of the pack. Taking the an aggressive role within a party is typically my wheelhouse. I found myself thoroughly enjoying the character. A swift melee combination, an Earth shattering ground pound, a flying cyclone attack, and the ability to block foes’ attacks made the Fighter my ideal choice. Finding the perfect combination of character classes made for the most successful team. I found taking my Fighter class into battle with an Amazon (female fighter), Elf (archer), and Sorceress made for the best results. There’s two additional character classes I’ve yet to mention which are the Dwarf (pugilist) and Wizard. Both had their merits, but I typically found myself avoiding the Dwarf due to his more fragile HP allocation.

The amount of action taking place on a regular basis was fast and furious, sometimes to the point of weariness. Keeping track of your character during the feverish proceedings was an acquired talent. The iconic boss battles I grew up with made a magnificent return in Dragon’s Crown. Giant foes like wyvern’s, powerful wizards, and dragons are joined by monsters from Greek mythology like minotaurs and even Medusa. Each one requiring different tactics to defeat. The drop in/out online and ad hoc multiplayer make this a fantastic game to share with friends. The major downside of the multiplayer lies in the fact that if you’re disconnected from the host, for any reason, you’ll likely lose your gained XP. Between the core brawler gameplay, RPG elements, and a variety of enemies, Dragon’s Crown delivers a unique gameplay experience.

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As far as visuals go, Dragon’s Crown is definitely one of the more impressive titles I’ve ever seen on the PS Vita. Vanillaware’s stunning 2.5D environments are detailed and well lit. Character models and animations are equally as remarkable. There’s scenarios in which the game world rotates on a full 3D axis while retaining it’s 2D plane. Said segments fully showcase the striking aesthetics. Collision events that result in explosions, spells being cast, and even melee animations are all fluid and responsive. I found myself completely engaged in Dragon’s Crown’s artistic direction. The framerate held true for the most part with only one or two noticeable exceptions, and that was during truly hectic encounters with nearly 15-20 characters interacting on-screen at once. Picturesque locales, meticulous character modeling, and graceful animations fully immersed me in Dragon’s Crown every time I started a session.

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Your rag tag bunch starts off rather humbly working for the Adventurers Guild and as a result of your many exploits, you end up becoming embroidered in a plot that involves the livelihood of Hydleland itself. An internal battle for the crown is compounded by a group of warlocks that awaken the ancient dragon as they attempt to pilfer the legendary Dragon’s Crown. The constant dungeon crawling in pursuit of the nine talismans becomes somewhat mundane at a certain point due to it’s repetitive nature. Side quests are available, but there really nothing more than challenges that are accomplished during your adventures. After the main plot is finished there’s two additional sets missions available that are generally more of the same at a higher difficulty. If anything, the limited plot of Dragon’s Crown is it’s one weak point. The saving grace is the commanding performance on behalf of the narrator. The colorful voice acting and strong soundtrack help to flesh out the medieval theme.

In the end Dragon’s Crown delivers a fantastic performance. Some of the best aesthetics and gameplay I’ve experienced on the PS Vita are both found within Vanillaware’s more than decade long road to release. The deep RPG-like character customization and loot make up for the lackluster plot. If you have a PS Vita, or are considering getting one after it’s recent price drop, Dragon’s Crown is a must have for the platform.

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Dylan Zellmer

Dylan splits time between games journalism, designing video games, and playing them. Outside of his deep involvement in the games industry, he enjoys It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shameless, A Song of Ice and Fire, fitness, and family.
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