Dragonâ€™s Crown (DC) is the latest title from Vanillaware, a developer highly regarded for its hand-drawn art style. DC carries on this tradition, with exaggerated limbs, reminiscent of GrimGrimoire on the PlayStation 2. Gameplay-wise, itâ€™s like an upgraded version of the companyâ€™s other hack nâ€™ slash titles, such as Muramasa: The Demon Blade on the Nintendo Wii.
Never heard of Dragon's Crown? It's an action role-playing title, where you deal out furious magical violence on all manner of nasties by way of its side-scrolling (almost platform game-like) mechanics. If you've ever played something like Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara, Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, or Odin Sphere you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect; a Double Dragon-like beat 'em up with magic and levelling, basically.
To start off, you can select one of six characters: Fighter, Sorceress, Wizard, Dwarf, Elf, or Amazon. Up to four players can join in over PlayStation Network (if you allow it), or locally. The different types are recommended to players of varying skill levels, ranging from â€˜normalâ€™, to â€˜expertâ€™. Each feature race specific talents, and skills common amongst all of them. These can be upgraded at the adventurerâ€™s guild (which Iâ€™ll address shortly.)
The town features a variety of locations to visit. From the Dragonâ€™s Haven Inn - where you can recruit help from the warriors you have resurrected at the Canaan Temple to accompany you; to â€˜Morganâ€™s Magic Item Shopâ€™ - which offers services ranging from buying equipment, to appraising items. As you progress, you unlock various other locations to visit - such as the Adventurers Guild, where you pick up jobs and learn skills; and the castle - where you accept jobs from the royal family.
Wandering through town can be fun in itself; attacking the locals with a knife, for instance - although if you stab them too much, it can land you in prison. Itâ€™s relatively harmless though, as the locals arenâ€™t really hurt, and youâ€™ll just get a lecture before being released the next day.
You start off the game with just your character, and a rogue who unlocks treasure chests and doors. Once you start exploring dungeons you can collect the bones of fallen warriors to resurrect, for a fee. They become selectable allies at the Inn, following you into battle. Then the real fun beginsâ€¦
The dungeons you explore are packed with secret areas and items. You will find breakable walls with hidden treasure, or running your hand over a sparkling section of wall will reward you with valuables. Dungeons are also home too many odd characters, ranging from young girls to mermaids. Some you will need to rescue, others give you messages and side quests to complete.
Each dungeon is marked for different character levels. They stay fairly close to your characterâ€™s level early on â€“ there's just a couple of dungeons that require grinding to get to the appropriate level. That said, it helps a lot to have a strong party. As you get further into the game, the gap between your level and what is appropriate for the dungeons you have access to will widen; you can, therefore, make it easier on yourself by grinding earlier content, or you can attempt the new material at whatever your current character level.
Unlocking a second set of routes through the dungeons also opens up the option to join other players online (or you can, of course, stay offline.) Once connected, you can choose to either join a friendâ€™s game, or a random game. Multiplayer doesnâ€™t feel much different from playing with AI players â€“ itâ€™s still fairly chaotic. When you exit a multiplayer game, you keep any loot you collected during the session.
Visually, DC is like a fine work of art. The hand-painted characters and backgrounds make it a real treat for the eyes. It even has artwork to unlock when you complete side quests. The dungeons are presented with 2D sprites on a 3D plane - similar to old school beat â€˜em ups. The only drawback is that, if you have a group of four, you can lose track of your character in the chaos of battle.
One of the cooler aspects of DC is that you can share save data between PS Vita and the PS3 versions so you can level up on the go! Of course, to take advantage, you'll need to buy it twice - there's no cross-buy support.
Overall, Dragonâ€™s Crown is certainly the most enjoyable Vanillaware game yet. Being part of a larger party - where their previous hack 'nâ€™ slashers had you go it alone - is definitely the difference maker.