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Ignition Entertainment
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Release Date:
August 6, 2013

In viewing the gameplay of Vanillaware’s Dragon’s Crown from afar, one assumes it’s a straightforward albeit attractive side-scrolling brawler. We’ve seen plenty of gameplay footage and it’s reminiscent of old-school beat-‘em-ups of the past. If you’re old enough, you remember the days of Golden Axe and Dungeons & Dragons in the arcades, and you probably think you know what to expect. But you’ll soon find that Dragon’s Crown is a fantastic blend of action and role-playing, and it’s even prettier than you anticipated.

In an industry that strives to reach new levels of realism and authenticity with each passing day, it’s refreshing to see a return to beautiful 2D artistry. Just about everything you see in this game is meticulously and painstakingly designed. The animation is excellent and the special effects are gorgeous. It’s true that the character designs have received plenty of attention, and the Amazon and Sorceress are heavily exaggerated to the point of absurdity. But that is consistent throughout the visual presentation, as everything – including the male character models – is just way over-the-top. Everyone should appreciate this artistic effort.

The audio is another highlight, as we receive a competent and engaging narrator, who treats the script as one would a fairytale story. It works out perfectly because in truth, the game feels like a fairytale in every sense of the word. The soundtrack is pleasant without being especially impressive, as it’s missing a few harder-hitting tracks that give an edge to intense encounters. But that only allows the great special effects to shine. Every physical strike and magical spell is plenty satisfying, and the enthusiastic cries and grunts of the characters aren’t overdone. It all gels together very well; the sound balancing is almost as special as the graphical display.

As I said above, you might be fooled into thinking Dragon’s Crown is simply a side-to-side brawler, akin to Double Dragon or Streets of Rage . However, this content-laden adventure offers a lot more than a standard side-scrolling arcade experience. At the core beats the heart of a robust RPG, complete with levels, character statistics and progression, unlocked and purchased skills, tons of equipment (and even the necessity to keep that equipment in good condition), and ally recruitment. Not to mention the side quests, engaging storyline, and branching dungeons that add even more flavor.

Each character has a distinct play style, which means that even after completing the adventure, you might want to go through again as a different character. The game will tell you how challenging each fighter is to use; for instance, characters that are for “everyone” or for “normal players” are relatively simple. On the other hand, the magic-users (the Wizard and the Sorceress) are only recommended for expert-level players. The good news is that with a little practice, just about anyone can use all available characters. You also get a chance to see multiple fighters in action, as you can hit the battlefield with up to for party members.

Those allies can be controlled by friends sitting in the room with you, or you can let the AI help you out. It’s interesting to note that you can recruit partners online, but that feature must be unlocked; you actually have to play for about five hours before you can grab friends online. Still, I would recommend playing with someone by your side. This game is just begging to be enjoyed and appreciated via local multiplayer action, because I believe such action is best experienced with a friend or two. Like I said, you may remember playing those addictive side-scrollers in the arcades; weren’t they always more fun with a buddy?