Dragon's Crown Pro is a solid RPG-come-brawler, albiet one with much in the way of recycled content and a some irksome gameplay mechanics.
Last gen re-releases are nothing new. In fact, there’s often an air of inevitability about them these days. Hence, we were less than surprised when Vanillaware announced a PlayStation 4 reissue of their 2013 PlayStation 3 and Vita 2D swords-and-sorcery-’em-up, Dragon’s Crown.
The key appeal of this new edition, entitled ‘Dragon’s Crown Pro‘, is increased graphical fidelity. As you might expect given that expectation-setting ‘Pro’ suffix, PlayStation Pro owners enjoy a bump to full 4K resolution. Those still trucking along with the base PS4 (or Slim) get a less impressive – but still welcome – increase to full HD. Both are a massive boon for the game, given its exquisite artwork.
Music tracks have likewise been re-recorded with a full orchestra this time around. While there’s a definite boon to overall quality here, the musical score was pretty forgettable to begin with, and unfortunately, throwing a dozen or so extra instruments into the mix has done little to remedy this.
Dragon’s Crown mixes arcade style-brawling with the action RPG trappings of Diablo, Titan Quest, Victor Vran et al, albeit sacrificing the third dimension. Messy, busy combat takes center stage here, which thanks to its beat-‘em-up esque inputs, feels far more visceral and hands-on than other genre examples. A top down click-fest this isn’t, and the moment-to-moment fisticuffs actually wouldn’t feel out of place in an arcade cabinet.
Before starting out, you’ll have the opportunity to create a character from one of six different classes. Their appearances are predefined and absurdly exaggerated (to put it politely), with only name and a few color options available in terms of customization. You’ll also get to type in a number of predefined messages that will appear for other human players in certain circumstances; your death, for example.
Regrettably, the look of your character does not alter as you upgrade your equipment, save for your weapons, stunting your sense of achievement somewhat. At least the available classes do all play markedly differently, and compliment each other quite well in the heat of battle.
Dragon It Out
Dragon’s Crown’s story beats are narrated (by a number of possible narrators) in second person present tense; the Dungeon Master in a game of D&D might be an apt comparison. Truth be told, your quest to save Hydeland is a painfully dull yarn whose central concern is seemingly to ensure that as many fantasy tropes are name checked as possible than crafting a meaningful or engaging narrative.
Mandatory tasks will take you through a variety of beautifully drawn environments, culminating in a boss fight. Unfortunately, these areas are very small, and the optional quests that you can undertake at the Adventurers’ Guild involve retreading many of the same steps.
What’s more, the second half of the game tasks you with retrieving items from each of the areas you’ve already visited, albeit via their ‘B’ route, which to be fair, do include new locations and some very imaginative new boss fights. But there’s still a fair amount of recycling on display here, both in terms of background art and enemies.
Dragon’s Crown is particularly fun when tackled with up to three other characters, be them local, online co-operators (available from around the half way point) or CPU-controlled assistants.
Indeed, if you’re short of Dragon’s Crown-owning friends, you can resurrect the bones of fallen heroes found during your exploits at the Temple of Canaan, giving you a pool of increasingly powerful pre-cooked comrades to choose from. The game is so much more exciting with a full party, and this is certainly a interesting way of ensuring that even the most lonely adventurer doesn’t have to ride solo.
The town hub you visit between quests also boasts the usual gambit of fantasy retailers, quest-givers and a tavern in which to recruit comrades. Annoyingly, any CPU-controlled party members disappear once a task is completed, arbitrarily forcing you back to the tavern to rehire them over and over.
This is far from the only oddball gameplay mechanic. Once you’ve reached a certain point in Dragon’s Crown, the gate you’ve been using to get from town to the various areas of Hydeland you need to explore malfunctions, meaning that it will take you to a random place rather than letting you decide.
You can use the Stable to choose your destination, but doing so costs gold. Having to fritter away in-game currency to get to the places you need to in order to make progress is irritating, and feels like a ploy to encourage the grinding out of already completed areas.
While the 2D artwork remains as ornate as ever, some of it is isn’t animated particularly well. It’s difficult to shake the feeling that many of the game’s assets started life as static drawings, to which Vanillaware simply added crude joints and simple animations. When Dragon’s Crown Pro does look good, though, it looks absolutley stunning. Some of the screen filling-bosses on the aforementioned B routes especially look amazing in either HD or 4K.
If we were feeling particularly cynical, we could say that Dragon’s Crown feels like merely a solid-but-not-outstanding vehicle for art director, George Kamitani’s, heavily-stylized etchings. In other words, the objective appears to have been to create as much content from the artwork available as possible, wrap it around the bones of a competent RPG and kick it out the door.
But Dragon’s Crown Pro does work well as an overall package, and the there’s never been a better time to play now it’s available on a more modern platform, even if gameplay remains identical to the original PS3 and Vita versions.
If you’re an aRPG fan who’s a sucker for high-quality fantasy art, you could do far worse than Dragon’s Crown Pro. However, if you’re looking for deep, meaningful RPG that will still be surprising you 50 hours in, this isn’t it.
+ Beautiful fantasy artwork
+ Fun brawler-style combat
+ Interesting party mechanics in single player
– Recycled assets
– Forgettable Story
– No new gameplay over 2013 original