Dragon's Crown: First Impressions

I stroll out of the pub with sword in hand, armor gleaming in the afternoon sun. I march forward, passing local youngsters and merchants as I make my way to the castle. Too late to react, I notice my companion racing up from behind and, in an instant, she launches herself into the air, slamming into me butt-first, my sword flying and my body clattering across the ground. “What the hell!?,” I yell. She only offers an evil laugh in return. Welcome to Dragon’s Crown.

For the past few evenings, my special lady friend and I have poured half a dozen hours into Vanillaware’s latest offering for the PlayStation 3 (and Vita, if you are so inclined), Dragon’s Crown. I picked up the console version of the game so she and I could play together more easily, as I’m a fan of the genre and she loves pretty much anything Vanillaware releases.

While we haven’t spent nearly enough time in the beautiful world of Dragon’s Crown to offer a proper review, we’ve certainly been enjoying ourselves these past few nights. For the uninitiated, Dragon’s Crown is a side-scrolling beat-em-up, similar to classic games like Gauntlet and Streets of Rage. The basic premise is simple: Move across the screen and lay waste to pretty much anything that moves.

What Vanillaware has done with Dragon’s Crown is pretty special, though, bolting on RPG elements and additional systems that help keep the game fresh. For starters, there are six classes of characters to choose from, each with their own sets of attacks, skills, weapons and abilities. I wanted to go the old school route, so I decided to fall back on the Fighter class, good for anyone who enjoys heavy damage and massive combos. Jenn is a fan of magic, though, and so opted to do battle as the spell-flinging Sorceress.

I had no trouble at all getting a hold on the Fighter, easily mixing attacks, lifts, smashes and the like as I flew around the screen in a whirlwind of death and destruction. Jenn informs me that the Sorceress is pretty tricky to master, however, as figuring out creative ways to use and combine spells hasn’t been all that intuitive. To be fair, the game lists the Sorceress (along with the Archer and the Wizard) as expert classes best suited to support, so we can’t say that we weren’t at least warned beforehand.

You wouldn’t know she’s having trouble, though, as lovely bolts of electricity, green orbs of death and the like are constantly flashing across the screen, giving all manner of orc, goblin and dark wizard a rough time.

There’s a small town to explore in Dragon’s Crown, giving you the chance to take on side quests, explore the main story, repair and purchase gear, learn new spells and abilities, etc. That’s also where you can act like a jerk and attack your fellow party members, as I illustrated in this article’s opening.

As I said before, there’s a nice RPG element to the leveling system, allowing players to build their character into the type of fighter that suits them best. You can also bring bones back from the dungeons and have them resurrected into a new hero who, in turn, can be selected to join you in battle in the event that your full party of four is not in tow.

The meat of Dragon’s Crown, though, lies in the dungeons themselves. Full of enemies, treasure chests, hidden loot, secret areas, bosses, mini-bosses and traps, these beautifully illustrated environments are overflowing with things to do. There’s even some light puzzle solving from time to time, as well as additional objectives and interactive elements.

Where you’ll have the most fun, though, is the combat. While most classic beat-em-ups offer a simple attack button, a jump button, and maybe a dodge or special attack, Dragon’s Crown offers all of that and more. Attacks can be altered based on which direction you’re pressing on the joystick. You can slide in to cause damage, pop baddies into the air, continue your combo while soaring and them slam them back down to earth for a finisher. Each character can also carry various helpful items and additional spells, easily accessed with a D-pad pop-up menu to keep from fiddling with a pause screen. And then there are the available mounts and sub-weapons you can pick up off of the ground, too.

Think of Dragon’s Crown’s combat as a sort of 2D God of War and you’ve got the basic idea. In short, you can get by just fine by mashing buttons, but there’s a whole extra level of depth and strategy available for those who are willing to experiment.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is basically what Dragon’s Crown is all about. You accept a mission, adventure through a dungeon, then return to town to collect your rewards, upgrade your character and prepare for the next battle. Wash, rinse and repeat. I imagine it could feel pretty repetitive after you’ve dumped a large amount of time into the game and exhausted all of the six classes but, for now, Dragon’s Crown is proving to be an absolute blast.

Ryan Winslett

Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.