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Monday, August 19, 2013

Dragon's Crown Review

 Release Date: July 25, 2013
Developed and Published By: Atlus
Platforms: PS3, PS Vita
      Dragon’s Crown from Atlus is beautiful.  The oil painting-esque art style is reminiscent of Rembrandt.  One big difference of Dragon’s Crown though is an abundance of boobs and muscles exaggerated past the point of being weird.  Combat is lifted from 2-D brawlers like Golden Axe or Final Fight.  In a seemingly  a direct nod to Golden Axe, rideable raptors and thieves carrying pouches full of your treasures even make an appearance.

      The story is told by a narrator during motion comic cutscenes.  The narrator is the only person who talks during the game, besides a few quips from the shopkeepers or main characters while they are fighting. Outside of cutscenes, the narrator repeats the same phrase every time the player zones, to the point that I eventually muted the game. The narrator did a fine enough job, but anyone repeating a phrase dozens of times will annoy me.

      Nothing very surprising happens in the fairly boring story, but I think the word epic still applies; dwarves and elves alongside faeries fighting orcs and dragons seems to fit next to Tolkien (though this tale is not nearly as entertaining).  Each of the six playable classes (Sorceress, Enchanter, Elfin-Archer, Amazon, Dwarf, and Knight) has a different ending. The endings made me feel godlike; but overall, without dialogue I never became attached enough to care about the characters, or very invested in their journey to save the world.

      The four-player combat is a few steps above button mashing; pushing the analog stick different directions while attacking yields different attacks. Jumping in and out of online games is simple, seamless, and quick. The casters and archer are more complex than the melee characters in combat, but there is nothing that a moderate gamer will have trouble mastering quickly. Enemies can be juggled in the air and against walls, but it usually isn’t necessary (the one exception are the sneaky thieves who have a lot of health, and can escape very quickly). 

      The right analog controls a cursor that can be moved without affecting the character being played.  Clicking the right stick or pressing L1 will activate runes, which grant buffs.  Gleaming spots which drop treasure when clicked appear when the cursor moves over them.  The player carries four runes,  and generally two runes appear in an area. It takes three runes together to activate a buff.  A list of runes is available in town, but there is no way to look at that list in-game during dungeons.  Generally, I would just try every combination of runes until one worked.  While playing online, most people seemed to fall into this pattern also.  This cursor system seems to be designed for a touchscreen first, which leads me to believe the PS Vita version might be more enjoyable in this regard. 

     Killing enemies and finding treasure increases the score, and at the end of dungeons the score is converted into experience points.  Leveling grants basic bonuses to agility and health and all that, as well as granting skill points which can be used to learn new abilities.  Quests are also available that grant skill points and experience upon completion.  There is a pool of shared abilities, like increased health, and each character also has their own unique abilities to choose from.

      Each character can carry a few bags holding different gear and consumables like potions. Consumables are bought in bunches, and a limited supply is available during dungeons.  In between dungeons, items are restocked from the remainder of the bunch that was bought.  Once the bunch is exhausted, new consumables must be purchased from stores.

      The Enchanter’s and Sorceress’s spells are consumables that must be equipped, but they don’t have to be purchased. Rather, they are awarded once a spell is learned.  Equipped spells work very similarly to other consumables; they have a limited number of uses during dungeons, and are only restocked between dungeons. Spells are devastating, but due to the limited stock spells can’t be spammed to walk easily through each dungeon.  The casters also have weapons that can unleash a few small spells.  These smaller spells use up the weapons energy, which can be recharged by holding circle.

All six playable characters

      The archer is also unique in that she can run out of arrows. To replenish her stock she can pick up arrows she has fired, and they also occasionally drop from chests and crates.  The melee classes have unique abilities, but they are not nearly as complicated as the casters and archer.

      Upon beating the nine dungeons in the game, the player is tasked with completing them again. This time around however a second path is made available halfway through each dungeon.  There are different bosses for each path, but I still felt too much of the game was recycled.  Adding to my repetition based disinterest, to beat all of the nine required bosses I had to grind out about 10 levels.  Grinding by repeating dungeons got tedious fairly quickly for me.  The combat is the focus, not the levels, but for me the combat wasn’t elaborate enough to warrant a drawn out game.

      After beating the game on normal, you can repeat the whole adventure on two harder difficulties with more difficult enemies, a few new boss abilities, and a higher level cap.  The higher difficulties amount to just a lot of grinding through the same nine dungeons.  I got bored of the repetition at about level 75 (which took about 25 hours), but the potential for a super long grind-fest of a game is there. 

      Completing a stream of dungeons in a row grants bonuses such as increased score rates or rarer drops. Gear bags can be swapped in between dungeons, but nothing new can be equipped, and there is no shop to replenish item bunches. Chaining dungeons together is essential to grinding out hero levels.

      On the higher difficulties, the dungeons, mobs, and bosses are repeated again. This time a few foes are powered up, mobs are higher levels, and the bosses have a few new abilities; but overall the game is largely unchanged.  The Labyrinth also unlocks when the game is beaten.  The Labyrinth is a 10 floor dungeon where every piece of scenery, every item, and every mob can spawn.  Floors cleared in this mode award a piece of gear, which is usually pretty good. 

      If a 2-D grindfest of a brawler is your kind of game, then Dragon’s Crown is for you.  For everyone else, it is still a fun and worthwhile game that can entertain for about 15-20 hours before it gets too repetitive.

Scoring Guide

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