Saturday, November 7, 2015

REVIEW - Dragon's Crown (PS3/Vita)

Orcs & goblins, swords and magic. It's a familiar template for role playing games, and really, a deeply ingrained and important theme going back to the very beginning of video games and its influences. These forms of media are forever popular because they transport us to other worlds in ways that the Big Momma's Houses and shit of the world could only dream. After decades of grand fantasy epics and much badeth Shakespearean accents, what could anyone hope to say about crusty-ass mages that we haven't heard a million times?


It's impossible to talk about Dragon's Crown without talking about its art and character design. Developer Vanillaware has become well known for their extremely impressive and high quality 2D graphics. And Dragon's Crown is no exception. The environments in the game's kingdom of Hydeland are bursting with detail and expression. No two areas look similar and each screen tells a story in one way or another. Populating the world are a colorful cast of tits and asses and--


That's where the game is going to lose some people.

Those things are one cup size away from throwing off the planet's orbit.

The issue for me with the characters in Dragon's Crown is that they're grotesque.I'm not here to say showing off a woman's body is a disgusting display of chauvinistic patriarchal sexism/nazism. For that kind of thing, you can go to literally every other game site these days. You wanna play games with half dressed titty-demons?  Fine, They're out there. You don't want to play that kind of thing? Then fucking don't. No, by grotesque I mean the literal definition.

It's not just asses and boobs that are massively disproportional. Everyone looks like a character creator's sliders on random.

"I see nothing off about this" - Rob Liefeld
But as much as tiny baby faces sitting atop a throne of quivering muscles may be off putting, it doesn't matter if the game behind it is any good.

As it turns out, Dragon's Crown is a side scrolling hack and slash RPG. It's essentially Golden Axe on steroids. Literally.

The story involves the retrieval of the titular dragon's crown, a legendary dragon, and a kingdom in turmoil. It is largely an excuse to send you to unique places such as catacombs. And caves! And don't forget castles. The plot is thin, though it is mostly delivered by an overexcited British gentleman, which is definitely a plus.

The hub of the game is The Town, a town in which you accept quests, purchase items and upgrade your character.

After accepting a quest from the adventurer's guild, you exit to the world map. From there, you select a level and get ready to mash some buttons. Characters have normal attacks, strong attacks, magical attacks and combat items such as daggers and bombs. The combat is really fun. You can modify your attacks by pushing different directions on the analog sick, e.g crouching attacks, jumping attacks, and dash attacks. The flow of combat is largely affected by your choice of character. You can choose between the Fighter, Amazon, Wizard, Elf, Dwarf, and Sorceress. It seems a bit odd to me that the Fighter, Wizard, and Sorceress (all human) get to be defined by what they've chosen to do with their life, while the Elf and Dwarf are just an elf and a dwarf. What if that elf wants to be a doctor? Too bad. Elves can only shoot bows.

In addition, they aren't allowed on the cool side of the table.
Rather than being a simple straight line, levels often feature doors leading to side rooms providing treasure and puzzles. Treasure chests are letter graded on quality. Only after beating a level do you see what booty you've acquired. But even then, you have to appraise gear before you can see what the actual stats are.This is one more step than I think is really necessary. You'll be getting so much loot so often it should really be a matter of Is-This-Shit-Or-Not. To be fair, if you find a level 12 E-rank sword when you're level 34, you don't need to know much more before chucking that garbage back in the Minotaur's dung heap where it belongs.

Levels at times mix it up with a jaunty boat ride down a curiously whirlpool infested river, or a thrill ride on a magic carpet outrunning a wall of lava. These are generally not as fun as they should be. You have to move up and down to avoid dangers, but it's not made as clear as it should be when and where to move. Failing these sections doesn't end the level though. If your boat explodes the narrator kindly explains that you washed up onshore somewhere. And if the magic carpet burns and you fall in the lava....


Dwarves can breath lava. WHO HAS THE LAST LAUGH NOW.

At the end of a stage, predictably there is a boss fight. These are often big screen filling spectacles wherein you and your party of four take on a who's-who of Mythology's Greatest Hits. Vampires, krakens, chimeras, harpies, they're all here. The fights sometimes feature special conditions, such as beating a boss in a specific time before the level collapses. Other times you have to complete a set of objectives before you can even damage them, such as arming a cannon and firing it. This is WAY harder than it sounds. Often with games like this, it can be sometimes annoying when your character isn't properly aligned with an enemy or item or something. But in this game, it seems like there's exactly one pixel where your "Pick Up" action will actually PICK UP. So you're mashing the button walking in circles while your party is wiped out behind you and the town is leveled.

After beating the game's nine levels and you think you're done, the game decided you're just beginning and opens up. You are then allowed to play online with other players, and each of the nine levels changes dramatically. Halfway through the level you're greeted by some mysterious/sexy/mysteriously sexy character, and you're given the choice of an A path (the original easy old shit level) or the B path (more challenging, shiny new stuff, a new boss, cool times).

A mermaid with a vagina? This game solves The Mermaid Dilemma with brutal efficiency.
Once you get through all of those stages, you can fight the final boss.

Spoilers: It's not really the final boss.

Other than the main objectives, you can pick up other quests from the adventurer's guild. These usually involve going into a level and killing a certain amount of enemies or finding some item. The quest doesn't tell you whether what you're looking for is in the A path or B path though, so expect to replay levels dozens of times. Afterwards, you're rewarded with masturbatory aides artwork related to the quest.

And thus ends The Mystery of the Missing Waterfall.
In levels, you'll sometimes be expected to cast rune magic. This involves using the right analog stick to move a cursor over barely visible letters carved into the environment. I imagine this is much easier done on the Vita's touchscreen, but on the PS3 it can be fiddly. The spells are cast by inputting the initials of a spell; for example LFS casts Life From Stone which animates a statue. The problem is there's no easy way to remember some of these spells. If I want to open a door, I shouldn't have to remember if it's Fuck This Door or Open The Sesame.

Oddly, the game features a collection of unexpected pop culture references. I won't some of the more subtle ones, but one of the bosses is literally the killer rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. These nods are much appreciated and don't come across as forced like it often can.

Making it the first clever Holy Grail reference since 1975.

Dragon's Crown is a weird game. It's vulgar, sometimes annoying, and damn fun. Play it with a friend and revel in its old-school-with-style action.

1 comment:

  1. At least with the runes, you can just stand there for 5 minutes fucking around with rune combinations. They don't have to be in order, you just need the runes that go in the combo.

    Also fuck that magic carpet lava bullshit.