Long dead are the days of classic brawlers that populated the 90’s youth. Golden Axe, Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, and other games alike dominated arcades and consoles for years, but much like Pogs or Will Smith’s rap career, we've forgotten how subjectively awesome they were in their prime. Here to remedy that desire for nostalgia without the hindrances of the genre and a fresh coat of paint is Vanillaware’s newest “beat ‘em up”, Dragon’s Crown.
Dragon’s Crown focuses on a group of 6 travelers, with individual back-stories and their own reason for adventure. After they prove their worth, the adventurers are tasked with obtaining the Dragon’s Crown for the kingdom of Hydeland. This, in essence, is all that players need to know of the story. It’s such an insignificant factor in the experience that it’s very easily forgotten. But in case you do forget, the narrator will remind you every single time you go to the tavern, purchase magic supplies, repair your equipment, and just about every single time you go anywhere or do anything. The repetition is infuriating to the point of needing to mute my TV purely to save myself from the grips of repetition. I found it particularly annoying that Vanillaware would allow this constant reminder system to be active as if telling players once when they first load their saved game isn't enough. What seems more viable is to follow the story-line instead of making us feel stupid.
There’s an elephant in the room in terms of art choice so I’ll start by addressing that. I initially had no problem watching gameplay footage or screenshots of Dragon’s Crown when it was first announced. I took the game home on release day and it was abundantly clear how odd of a decision it was to give the women such large “features”. For a female perspective, I asked multiple women without previous knowledge of the game their opinion, and although we all did agree that Dragon’s Crown is an extremely beautiful and vibrant game, they found the large, mobile breasts of the Sorceress very distracting and immature. I agree. Gaming as a whole has made strides to rid itself of the stereotype as a hobby strictly for adolescent males.
The art direction makes use of exaggerated features both male and female alike, but George Kamitani (Lead artist and designer) had to have known the controversy that would arise and that it could, unfortunately, distract some players from the beauty of the world he created. Backgrounds are lush and bare resemblance to beautiful watercolors with each of the game’s 9 stages having a distinct look. Big screen TV’s are alive with vibrancy at all times and overall, I loved the art direction and think it’s one of this year’s best looking games.
Gameplay is imperative when playing a brawler and Dragon’s Crown has it in spades. Each character has their own set of abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. The Fighter, Dwarf, and Amazon offer up close and personal attacks where brute strength is a necessity in defeating your foes. The Sorceress and Wizard provide much needed support through magic spells in both the offensive and defensive, whereas the Elf uses her bow and arrows to attack from afar. This mix of character classes complement each other wonderfully because going in with all Fighters may prove to be arduous, or using only Wizards and Sorceresses will be a problem when facing hand-to-hand enemies. My only real complaint with the gameplay is the abundance of commotion that can litter the screen. With a Wizard casting Blizzard, a Sorceress casting a storm of meteors, and enemies using their magic or attacks all at once, the screen became extremely cluttered causing me to lose track of where I was on the screen. Aside from that minor criticism, Dragon’s Crown is filled with enjoyable action and the controls were easy to jump into immediately.
The multiplayer functionality provided its own set of problems. Sitting on a couch with friends was extremely enjoyable but playing online proved to be a complete disaster at times. I found myself passing over this option as often as I could. What was most astounding was the lack of chat functionality*. Some side quests that are obtained from the Adventurer’s Guild require specific criteria to be met for completion. One case in particular, I was tasked with defeating a boss and not destroying its nest. A mere seconds into the fight beginning, the nest was destroyed by my teammates who were unaware of my personal mission. If only there was a way to tell them that I was on a quest and to please not destroy the one thing I needed. Adding to this frustration was the allowance of any player at any time to progress to the next area. Dragon’s Crown was definitely built for the “couch co-op” experience which is the better of the two cooperative options.
All in all, my time with Dragon’s Crown was more than enjoyable. The fast paced action and destruction in the form of a beautiful chaos kept me busy for 30 hours and I intend to keep busy with it for many hours to come. Even with the irritancy of redundant narration, distraction of large, bouncing breasts, and lack of online chat, Dragon’s Crown provided me with more than enough reminders that, when done right, the brawler genre is back. The gorgeous vistas and fantastic gameplay that spans more than 20 hours in just one playthrough prove its worth and the price tag.
*Editor's note: The Vita does have a Chat app that allows for you and 3 friends to talk during any game in the form of cross game chat. It’s a workaround but worth noting.