Side-scrolling action-RPG Dragon’s Crown, which was released for PS3 and Vita six years ago, may be widely known for its risqué character design. Obscured behind Sorceress’s ridiculously sized and autonomously swaying bosom is actually a very competent example of its genre - far better than any unfortunately superficial values might suggest. It was just a matter of time when PlayStation remaster-train arrived in Hydeland and picked up Dragon’s Crown for a ride for the new generation of players.
Dragon’s Crown Pro doesn’t add any new content to the game. The only changes are in what you see and hear, and even that is based on what was already great back in 2012. Digitally hand-drawn, big, bold and colorful art is now presented in full HD (on basic PS4) or in 4K (on Pro). The score is re-recorded with a full orchestra, although there’s also a choice for the original arrangements. If you happen to own the previous version of the game and are content with it (if you haven’t already sold your older systems, that is), there’s little incentive to upgrade. The save files from PS3 and Vita versions are compatible, though, so the move between platforms is made easy. However, newcomers are in for a treat when they embark on a quest for the lost dragon’s crown.
The game doesn’t exactly present anything unprecedented to the fantasy genre. Character classes, settings and most of the enemies are pretty textbook tropes you can expect from any RPG out there. Think of Dungeons & Dragons and you get the overall picture. Dragon’s Crown doesn’t even try to hide its obvious inspirations of old pen & paper role-playing games. However, it’s the Japanese flavor that makes all the difference. Fast and fun 2D-brawler action is like Sega’s illustrious Golden Axe series brought to the modern age and amped up to the RPG proportions. There are no complex move sets to memorize or overly complicated battle strategies to learn. All you need are pretty basic actions you can creatively string together to your liking when you take your adventurer party to the numerous quests over troubled kingdom of Hydeland.
Fighter, dwarf and amazon are strapping and strong melee characters while sorceress and wizard rely on spellbind and magic. Elf, with her fast kicks and a bow for ranged attacks, sits somewhere in between and was my obvious choice for the player character. Whenever RPG offers a choice of class, I go for rogues or thieves for their swift and agile abilities. Tagging along for the journey are two non-fighting NPCs; Rannie the thief, adept with locks and looting, and a little fairy Tiki, adept at being… of no use whatsoever, apart from being a cute eye candy.
The threesome doesn’t wander around facing the dangers all by themselves. Scattered around the dungeons are bones of fallen champions which can be resurrected at the town temple. These AI-controlled combatants represent the same character classes and looks and fill the roster of foursome adventurers. Unlike the player, they don’t level up so new bones must be kept on picked up in further adventures to keep buddies on par with the dungeons’ level requirements. Later in the game there’s a choice of going online and three other characters can be played by real people. Either way, the story - which is somewhat forced upon - takes the heroes through the nine dungeons of Hydeland, each ending in an epic boss fight. These goons are quite a sight, from a beholder which its bulging set of eyes to a medusa with snakes for hair and petrifying gaze.
After beating bosses, the group is whisked back to the Hydeland tavern to net the experience and spill the spoils. Better equipment from weapons to armor pieces are conjured from the loot for a hefty fee in gold, and even though you see the item’s quality rating, it’s still a bit of lottery whether they are of any use. Usual trading the stuff and repairing equipment are commonplace services in any fantasy game. New skills, both common and specific for the character class, are learnt in the adventurer’s guild, and prayers at the temple and rune magic in dungeons offer different boons to withstand upcoming challenges. There’s some neat quality of life features, like potions replenishing automatically after dungeons as long as they’re in stock and overeating health replenishing food is recommended for a change as it overclocks the amount of hit points (and elf looks too cute when munching edibles!).
Pretty straightforward, all in all, and indeed everything seems like a smooth sailing. After completing the nine dungeons and facing devious pirates, mad mages and lustrous vampires among other perplexing perils along the way, I was browsing through the trophy list and noticed there are only two trophies left for the campaign. Oh, this is over too soon, I thought and continued with the main story. There, at this halfway house, after posing as attractive and positive for so long, the game shows its true face; that of hardcore grinding and enduring the same events time and again.
To face and beat the titular dragon (there can’t be dungeon without dragons!), you have to collect nine talismans pieces first. This means going back to all the previous dungeons where B-routes are now opened up with new set of bosses, each holding a piece of talisman. Thing is, the level recommendations have gone through the roof and to be able to best bosses, it’s back to grind levels in A-routes which are now made more difficult by default. You have to repeat them as long as needed and complete every side quest (also rewarded with some awesome illustrations to the game's gallery) available from the adventurer’s guild along the way.
Also, with the new bosses it’s not as simple as simply spamming them to pieces as they have hidden time limits and conditions to meet. If you fail at them, no talisman, kemosabe, and it’s time to try the dungeon again. Well, everything you do nets much-needed experience points. It’s a long and perilous road, far from that innocent and joyful romp before. Luckily dungeons are on a short-side, taking only from six to fifteen minutes to complete them. I would have rather taken a longer game than keep repeating it. However, much is forgiven for the game’s lovely presentation.
Unlike 3D graphics, skillfully illustrated visuals of Dragon’s Crown Pro don’t get old over time. 20 years on and the game will look as beautiful as today, much like the developer Vanillaware’s 12-years old Odin Sphere. Dragon’s Crown Pro is just so vivid and lively, like a pop-up picture book coming to life. The characters don’t just walk monotonously, they twitch their heads as if observing the surroundings. Little squirrels run along elf’s arms when she stands idle and wizard flips open a book and memorizes spells from its pages. You could just watch the game screen and see it all living against lavish backdrops. Come fights and characters explode into frenzied actions, spinning across the screen. In the end, Dragon’s Crown Pro is a peculiar case. Its enjoyment relies so much on its visual flair but at the same time, the game is perfect for those people who just love nothing more than a good grind. Either way, Dragon's Crown Pro is a sure-fire buy for anyone in a mood for old-fashioned fantasy.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.