Dragon's Crown

A game by Vanillaware and Atlus for PS4, PS3, and Vita, originally released in 2013, with the Pro version released in 2018.
Dragon’s Crown is an action-RPG with a heavy focus on brawler-based combat and multiplayer action. The game is set in a fantasy realm of knights and magicians, elves and dwarves, princesses and political intrigue, and lush landscapes overrun by creatures of every sort. You play the part of an adventurer who is just starting out… and quickly gets embroiled in some of the major events of the kingdom, not the least of which are the rumors surrounding a magical item called the Dragon’s Crown, which allows its wearer to control dragons.

As with many RPG’s your quest begins in a medieval village, replete with a tavern, a shop, a temple, and the Adventurer’s Guild. There is also a castle in the distance which becomes accessible early in the going, and a few other useful areas as well, many of which have quest givers that appear at plot-specific points on your journey.

You start out without so much as a fully capable sword, and one of your earliest quests sees you off to Morgan’s Magic Item Shop to get it repaired. All weapons and equipment wear down with use, requiring a nominal fee to restore them to top condition between missions. The shop allows you to have equipment appraised as well, and buy and sell goods, although not quite in the traditional fashion. Rather than having a weapon shop, an armor shop, and an item shop, the game offers only magic-based potions, rings, and scrolls for sale. Weapons, armor, and other equipment are earned by exploring dungeons and defeating enemies.

Thus, instead of earning gold to buy increasingly more powerful equipment, you instead use your gold to appraise the items you discover in dungeons, and only then may you equip them. You may also sell off unappraised items for a bit of gold as well, although you’ll never know their stats. The player must learn to judge the value of items based on the level required to wield them and the letter ranking associated with them.

Quests come from a variety of locations, but most frequently from the Adventurer’s Guild. The guild not only tasks you with completing story-based quests, but has a number of optional side quests available as well, each offering gold, experience, and artwork as a reward. Artwork is an odd reward in a video game, but this is perhaps unsurprising given the game’s focus on detailed visuals and fantasy-inspired themes. As you complete side quests, a gallery fills with the artwork you have obtained. Moreover, taking on side quests gives you an interesting way to boost your stats without otherwise meaninglessly wandering about fighting creatures to grind for experience and loot.

That said, side quests always take place in previously visited locales, usually with only minor changes to the enemies and the areas you must explore, so you are essentially returning to the same areas and fighting the same creatures, and even the same end bosses. There are nine unique areas in the game, and you will return to each many times, although most have side paths and hidden passageways that add a bit of nuance.

A narrator announces each new area and provides a bit of backstory to each unique locale. However, the narrator also repeats these exact lines each time the area is revisited, and you’ll hear each line numerous times as repeated exploration is generally required for progression. The narrator’s voice is occasionally obscured by the onscreen action as he attempts to describe new areas while monsters come charging at you, drowning out his voice with the clang of metal and the flourish of magic. Most of the time, however, the narrator’s words enhance the experience and help to establish the grand adventure on which you have embarked, enforcing the fantastic setting, framing the story, fleshing out otherwise unseen events, and offering details behind character portrait pantomimes.

The interactive portion of Hydeland is quite small, with only the barest of essentials and only a handful of NPC’s beyond mission areas and shops, and none of the extraneous NPC’s can be spoken to. There is no exploration outside of the dungeons either, as you are transported instantly from location to location when you select a mission area from the world map. Major story events are unavoidable, and are only temporarily allayed while completing side quests, making for a largely linear experience. As such, you won’t spend much time wandering about, but rather delving into dungeons, fighting enemies, and collecting loot.

The player may select between one of six character classes, and can even join up with friends in 4P online and offline co-op (online only on the Vita version, for obvious reasons). Unlike many brawlers where characters vary little from one to the next, Dragon’s Crown offers great differences between the character classes, their abilities, and their resulting play styles, even going so far as to impact the difficulty of the experience based on the character you choose.

For instance, the fighter is a great all-around character. He has limited range, but his speed more than makes up for this, allowing him to dive into the fray and cut a swath through groups of enemies. The dwarf is a bit slower, but incredibly strong, and he can even pick up and toss enemies. The beefy Amazonian slices through enemies with her axe, building up speed as she cuts through her foes, although her lack of armor causes her to take damage more easily.

All of these characters are built around up-close combat, which makes them effective against the hordes of enemies that fall to a quick hacky-slashy, but there are ranged combatants as well. The wizard and sorceress both make use of magic, with the wizard focusing on offense and the sorceress focusing on support, while the agile elf moves quickly and fires arrows. This makes it more difficult for these characters to deal with large crowds of enemies, and they are recommended for expert players.

Given the differences in how each character plays, players are encouraged to return to the game and try their hands at a different set of skills, even though the content of the adventure remains unchanged, outside of offering higher difficulty levels. Players are also encouraged to bring a balanced party that mixes melee and ranged combatants, and this affects the single player experience as well…

As you explore dungeons, you encounter piles of bones. There is generally a single pile of bones in each dungeon, although some settings offer far more. You may pick up these bones and take them back to the temple after the mission, where you may pay to have the bodies of these fallen heroes resurrected. You’ll get to see the character class, skills, and level of each character before making your choice – and you may opt to bury the bones instead, sometimes gaining an item as a reward – and once the character is resurrected, you may add him or her to your party to fight alongside you.

Party selections are made in the tavern, which also acts as your base of operations. Here, you may scroll through the list of resurrected allies and add them to your party. If any of these characters fall in battle, they will be lost forever. However, the frequency at which you encounter new characters with better stats is quite high, making them largely disposable regardless. You may miss your wizard’s ability to transform boxes into support characters, but if he dies, you can get another one just like him within minutes, assuming you don’t already have a few clones lying around back at the tavern. Support characters come pre-equipped, so you won’t be spending any time fussing with their stats and equipment in the single player mode, allowing you to focus on the action at hand. If you’re really attached to a specific character and he or she manages to run out of life points, you can give up some of your gold to do an on-the-spot resurrection.

The minute-to-minute gameplay plays out in brawler style with characters unleashing attacks upon numerous foes and wearing down their health bars until they fall and disappear. The melee based characters are able to string together combos to stun-lock foes and even do a bit of enemy juggling. All characters are equipped to deal with ground-based and sky-bound enemies, with low and high attacks, and major attacks to clear out enemies in groups.

Levelling up rewards the player with skill points that can be spent between missions to purchase new skills in the Adventurer’s guild. There are a few stats boosts that apply across all classes, such as increased health and reduced cooldown periods for items, but there are also character-specific upgrades that allow for new attacks, magic-based enhancements to existing attacks and combo strings, and skill-based support moves. These new abilities allow you to tweak the way your character plays to some degree, although the beat ‘em up style also allows for success by mastering your repertoire of basic attacks, as well as learning to evade or block strong attacks.

In traditional brawler fashion, players may supplement their attacks with weapons dropped by enemies, allowing characters to employ limited use weapons such as crossbows, flame spouts, and bombs. Members of your party can also grab these weapons in single player, although you can force them to drop the weapon if you like. Other supplemental tools come in the form of magical items that can be used to restore health, boost stats temporarily, or even unleash various elemental attacks. You can scroll through all of your available items in the menu, and map certain items to buttons to be used quickly during battle.

Additional supplements come in the form of a rune-based magic system that is introduced several hours into the game, allowing you to mix symbols and rune stones to create various magical effects. And, you will occasionally encounter beasts that can be ridden Golden Axe-style. After defeating certain creatures or their riders, you can mount the beasts and ride them yourself. This includes a saber toothed cat that can charge in for melee attacks, as well as a small dragon-like creature that can shoot fire from its mouth.

Things can get pretty chaotic with four characters onscreen at once, with the occasional magical support character included, along with all of the enemies and spell flourishes. It is easy to lose track of your character during the heat of battle, which can also make it difficult to evade or defend against enemy attacks. It’s important to note that strong attacks can cause characters to drop their weapons, at which point they can still fight hand-to-hand but deal less damage. In the thick of things, it can be difficult to recognize when you’re fighting without the use of your weapon.

While much of the action is focused on combat, there is a bit of exploration to be had as well. In addition to your party of adventurers, you also bring along a rogue to open chests and unlock doors for you, although this is somewhat strange given that most games leave these actions in the player’s direct control. Here, the player moves a cursor around the screen and highlights doors or chests, clicks on them, and then waits for the rogue to wander over and open them. The cursor is also used to find treasure hidden within the environment, where it is then dislodged from walls and other objects, falling to the floor for your character to walk over and pick up.

You can also find food items by breaking open crates, and occasionally by defeating enemies. Eating food allows you to restore up to 150% of your maximum health, making it quite useful, and you can even store several food items which will be eaten automatically when you take a break from moving and fighting. Also, the sorceress has a support move that allows her to create food items magically.

As you play each level, you earn a score, which is displayed at the top of the screen, and this translates into experience points when you complete the level. This also means that you won’t be levelling up during the course of a mission. You can earn bonus points by completing side objectives, such as not getting killed, avoiding damage during a boss fight, and gathering up as many coins as possible. Your score also earns you life points, which allows you to return to the world of the living when killed. You can purchase additional life points by praying at the temple, but the cost of repeated resurrections is ever increasing.

Dragon’s Crown is marked by a distinctive visual style, with lush fantasy environments and detailed enemies and characters. Many of the characters are unrealistically proportioned compared to real-world counterparts, with overly busty females and overly beefy males, drawing inspiration from a long tradition of power fantasies and sexuality in fantasy artwork, but exaggerated here into a more cartoonish style.

George Kamitani, founder and lead artist of Vanillaware, is known for creating detailed characters and beautiful environments, although the studio’s previous titles were released in standard definition. The high definition format of modern consoles allowed for an even more vivid and detailed display of art, which is further emphasized through a design featuring detailed full-screen portraits of most characters, artwork as a reward for completing missions, and even a separate art book offered to players who preordered the game.

The game was released on the Playstation 3 and Vita. Multiplayer does not extend between the two platforms, nor does one purchase grant you the game in both formats. Players wishing to move between living room and portable play must purchase a copy of the game on each platform and may share save files between systems.

Dragon’s Crown was developed by Vanillaware, a company known for action-RPG’s with detailed artwork. The company is made up of many of the developers of the Japan-exclusive predecessor to Dragon’s Crown, Princes Crown, which was released on the Sega Saturn in 1997. Since that time, the company has also released two spiritual successors to that title: Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. The studio is also known for GrimGrimoire and Grand Knights History.

Dragon’s Crown was published by Atlus, known in the West for their localizations of numerous niche Japanese titles, including Odin Sphere, the Persona series, the MegaTen series, the Etrian Odyssey series, and many others.