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Joystick: ‘Dragon’s Crown’ could be king of 2013 RPGs

Published 10:57am Thursday, August 8, 2013

“Dragon’s Crown”

4.5 out of 5 stars

PlayStation 3, Vita

•Genre: Action/adventure,

RPG

•Rating: T for Teen

• Vanillaware delivers another game with gorgeous art.

• A simple 2D action-RPG with deep gameplay

• Repetitive combat, lack of crossbuy options hurt this great title.

Stendhal Syndrome is the overwhelming, almost crippling feeling of awe a person gets when confronted with a work of art. “Dragon’s Crown” may not overwhelm you, but if you aren’t in awe at this amazing action/adventure RPG then you may be missing that piece of your soul that appreciates artistic endeavor.

The brainchild of game developer George Kamitani, this Vanillaware title is 15 years in the making and the amount of care game designers gave it is evident.

“Dragon’s Crown” feels like a classic fantasy adventure, the kind of game you might play on a tabletop using a “Dungeons and Dragons”-like guide to help you along. It is a stunning throwback to great fantasy titles like “Golden Axe” while it dazzles you with contemporary artistry.

The game’s plot is simplistic fantasy fanfare: You play as an adventurer, one of many to come to the kingdom of Hydeland to seek treasures and save the people from a plague of nasty monsters. You can choose to be one of six classes — fighter, wizard, sorceress, archer, dwarf and amazon — to explore nine dungeons and bring back loot.

Don’t let its seeming simplicity fool you: “Dragon’s Crown” gets deep quickly. The game starts you off on a single-player adventure, but the meat of the game lies in its multiplayer mode, which opens up after you beat a short campaign and get your bearings. In multiplayer, you play those same nine dungeons but on branching paths, bringing you and three other players up against new, terrifying bosses and hours of dungeon crawling.

The game is, in effect, an evolution of Vanillaware’s favorite 2D side-scrolling formula found in gorgeous games like “Odin Sphere,” “Grim Grimoire” and “Muramasa: The Demon Blade.”

Yet Kamitani and Vanillaware designers learned from their past mistakes by offering a variety of side quests and gameplay functions that don’t take much of the player’s time. Indeed, the game seems built for speedy playthroughs: Your average dungeon mission takes 10 to 15 minutes at first, though the deeper you get in multiplayer the more time you’ll spend exploring.

What’s fascinating is how absolutely, stupifyingly gorgeous this game is. Vanillaware is famous for creating absolutely beautiful, artistic, French renaissance-inspired 2D art and weaving it throughout a game. This game plays more like a classic arcade beat-’em-up, but looks like it belongs in a museum. Try not to gasp in delight after toggling through the dungeon select screen and watching how each 2D environment changes in a 3D map. It is a wonder to behold.

Where the game fails is where other Vanillaware games falter: A 2D beat-’em-up gets repetitive, fast.

Though you’ll have no shortage of people to play with online, getting to that point can seem tedious if you aren’t careful. In addition, though gamers on a PS Vita can play through dungeons with PS3 gamers, Atlus decided not to make “Dragon’s Crown” a crossbuy game — meaning you’ll have to buy separate games if you want to take your save file mobile.

That’s a hassle and more than a little miserly, but the game’s stunningly simple fun makes up for it after a while. It appears this title will eventually have downloadable content as well, which means old-school RPG fans will be happy with the results.

“Dragon’s Crown” feels like a labor of love guaranteed to bring out the nostalgia in many a gamer. It’s fairly simple and straightforward, which means it’s new gamer-friendly. All in all, it’s one of the most exciting games to hit consoles in 2013.


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