Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dragon's Crown - Review

Now let me tell you readers one thing about me, I am a HUGE fan of the fantasy genre. I love the different stories, and especially the different races. Vanilla ware (one of my favorite companies of all time) made their take on the Fantasy genre last year with a game called Dragon's crown. Dragon's Crown was originally a game developed for the Dreamcast, the main lead artists of Vanilla ware called George kamitani, got the idea when he was working on Capcom's Dungeons and dragon's: Tower of doom. However, no one was interested in funding the game back then. George always wanted to advance the 2D beat em up genre, so lets proceed with the review and have a look if he managed to do just that.

Story: After traveling for a while you meet up with your old friend Rannie the rogue in a familiar local tavern, and order the finest mead in the house. You and Rannie start discussing how you two first met each other, and how you were a rookie when it came to traveling and adventuring around the world.

Rannie and you met when you were wandering aimlessly around some ruins fighting off Goblin's. You couldn't open up a simple locked wooden door, and Rannie came dashing right out of the shadows to offer his help although what he really cared about was earning some coin from the enemies you killed, he decided to tag along with you wherever you go though he is greedy, he is still loyal to you and wont run away; even if danger looks straight into his eyes.

The games story takes place in the Kingdom of Hydeland, which has a vast variety of locations, ranging from labyrinth's, Catacomb's, ruins of ancient civilization's, and dark desolate forest's with the most vile monsters a man can imagine.

Whole plot revolves around the mystical Dragon's crown which legend tells, whoever gets the crown will have the power to control Dragon's. As one of six different adventurers, you are tasked with the job finding it.

This game's story may not seem much when summarizing it like this, but don't let the simple plot fool you reader. As you keep progressing in the plot, you start to notice that this games story is very well written, I am not kidding, we are talking about J.R.R Tolkien (the author of the Lord of the rings story) style of literature. The text is rich with details and beautiful description's of the surrounding's, which gives you a feeling that you truly are in a beautiful fantasy world, and all of it is provided by a awesome narrator (which you can change the voice of later on). For example: "The fairy leads you into an old, ivy-covered tower. You find yourself in a cluttered room that seems to be a laboratory. Judging by the stratification of dust, much time has passed since anyone last entered this room". This game truly shows that, with very good writing you can make even the most simplest plot, one of the most memorable ones.

The game has also TONS of references to other Fantasy franchises, movies, and even books. It's tons of fun trying to guess them all, they even have dedicated a whole boss as a reference to Monty python and the holy grail movie!

Gameplay: Dragon's crown is a action RPG side scrolling beat em up, you choose one of six different character classes with different abilities and play styles:

Fighter: The Fighter has the strongest defense out of all the characters, and with his shield he can defend his allies and parry the enemies attacks. He uses a one handed sword for short ranged attacks, but makes up for his speed with it; making him one of the easier characters to learn in the game, and is the recommended character for beginners according to the game.

Wizard: The wizard is the male magic user in this game, and he has the highest INT (Intelligence which boost magic power) stat in the game. He can cast screen filling AoE spells that do tons of damage; however, he is one of the clunkiest characters to control in the game. Many of his big spells require you to stand still for a few seconds, which is very hard to do when facing against enemies who are very very fast. He also has a teleportation evasion move instead of a dodge roll move.

 Dwarf: The Dwarf is one of the more interesting classes in the game; not only can he increase his defense on the fly with the square button, he picks enemies up regardless of their size (except bosses of course), and throws them. For me, personally, he is one of the more enjoyable classes in the game just because you can be a bad-ass pro wrestler, and just pick up your enemies and throw them.

Amazon: The amazon is one of the more riskier classes in the game. They rely on a status effect called berserk activated when they swing their giant axe, which increases their damage output and speed of the swings; however, they have a pretty slow start when they take the first swing. She also has one of the weakest defense stats of the melee classes.

Sorceress: The sorceress is mostly the same as the wizard except they have much more of a supportive role and spells. Many of her different spells she can learn helps out the team, for example the food spell gives the team healing items. She casts otherwise pretty much the same spells as the wizard except that she is weaker then the Wizard. Her INT stat is only A rank, and her normal attacks with the staff are the exact same as the Wizards. As said though because of her supportive abilities, she can be more useful for a full party, especially if the player themselves is having a hard time learning the Wizard.

Elf: The elf is one the best solo classes in the game. Wielding a bow, and some really sturdy boots, she is able to switch between being long range to being short range attacks. She is also the most agile class in the game, she has the quickest dodge roll in the game, and she even knows magic! (Not as strong as the wizards or Sorceresses though). She is one of the most varied classes in the game, but she also has low defensive stats.

When the players are exploring the hand drawn dungeons and environments, Rannie the rouge will accompany you. If you click on the environments different backgrounds, especially doors and chests, Rannie will go and open them for you. If you stand still for a longer period of time and there is treasure scattered around the floor, Rannie will pick them up himself. Then there is also Tiki the fairy, who you meet later on in the storyline. She is basically a guide for the player, and will give hints about secret doors and pathways.

At the halfway point of a stage later on in the game, the player will be able to choose two different paths he/she can take, the second being the harder one. At the end of every stage you meet a end boss, and the other path has a different end boss. You also unlock the ability to play multiple stages in a row, which increases your chances of getting better gear and more money; however your equipment will not get repaired after one stage is done. If you don't have more bags (which you can purchase later on in the game) with different equipment sets and so forth, then your equipment will get broken and will be completely useless; until you repair them that is.

You gain XP and the treasure you find in the stages at the end of that said stage. You also get a end result screen with your score result, where you also either appraise the loot you found, or sell it. As you level up or complete side quests, you will earn skill points which you use to gain or level up class specific or common skills. The normal ones every class in the game use, like for example increasing your health, or increasing your damage output from your slide dash move.

Before starting a stage, you will be in the hub-town of Dragon's crown. Here is where you can go to different shops to prepare yourself and repair equipment, or also a temple called Canaan temple where you can pray to the goddess, which will give you different perks for the next stage. For example, you can pray that you get more gold, higher chance for rare loot, or just a extra life if you are having a problem with certain stages. You can also resurrect any set of skeleton bones you find on your travels, which will give a you a computer AI friend that you can take with you to help you out. These bones can also be from other players you may have met online while playing in random rooms.

As mentioned before, you can also do sidequests. The sidequests are varied, each one of them has a interesting story attached to it (sometimes even a reference!), and after completing any side quest, you get rewarded with a very beautiful art piece and skill points and gold.

There are a lot of other small nit pick details I could go into, but they really are not that important. most of them are pretty self explanatory when you play the game yourself; however if you are thinking of playing this game with your buddies at the very beginning, then you are in for a disappointment. You wont be able to play online or couch co op with anyone until you have cleared the first nine stages in the game, and this counts for every new character you start with. Now, I personally think there is nothing wrong with this approach, because it force's the player to manage somehow getting through most of the stages by themselves, and take their time to learn the controls properly and skills of their character; However, it is also really tedious, if you want to play couch co op with a friend (or just online), then both of you have to beat the first nine stages. Dragon's crown tries to fix this problem with cross save and cloud save, you upload your save file to the internet, and when you are on another persons PS3 or Vita, you can download that save file there, although you still need to have prepared a character you have gotten through the first nine stages with.

It is a double edged sword, in one end it force's players to learn the game themselves, which is a good thing, but on the other hand, even if your friend would be the worst player in history, it wouldn't affect you. Really, if your friend or random people on the internet screws up, your party wont get any minuses, or anything negative at all. They are actually pretty good meat shields for you, and if they die completely, they can use their own gold to resurrect themselves. It makes the forced learning kinda pointless, if it would have had more of a impact to the party, like if you died then the team would lose one extra life, or your team would get minus points or anything similar, then you wouldn't have wanted to play with a beginner (or one of your casual gaming friends).

One of the major criticism this game gets is that after a while it gets kinda repetitive, which I can agree unto to a certain extent; however, even if I do the same moves against different enemies, for me it really never gets "old". The attacks have this certain knockback and effect which give you the player a deep satisfaction, it simply feels good to get hits in, it feels good to have been able to dodge a attack by one hard boss, and then counter him with a well placed attack. It may even simply be that the attacks have a cool sound effect when you get them in.

Most beat em ups usually fall into the trap that, even if you manage to get in a good combo or a grab on a enemy, the enemies can counter you very easily and even sometimes very cheaply; which leaves a player frustrated and angered because they feel like the game is cheating on them, it also takes out the satisfaction that you got the attack in. Dragon's crown doesn't fall into this trap, it has a perfect balance between being challenging without becoming too repetitive. It keeps on throwing in new enemies with different patterns and different attacks, even in the higher difficulties! The loot system is addicting, it keeps you interested to keep you going for more and more, and if you have friends with you, then its a blast to play the game and come up with fun party combos you can do.

It is really hard to find anything wrong with the gameplay when there is so much you can do, and for a beat em up that is saying something.

Graphics: The game uses hand drawn backgrounds and character sprites, which look GORGEOUS! This game alone proves that you don't need to have a cool 3D graphic engine or a more realistic design. The art that Vanilla ware has created will make this game one of the undying masterpieces that anyone can pick up in the future without saying "man these graphics were good back then, but now look cheap". The art style gives the whole world around it life and is just candy for the eyes to look at.

Music: The music is obviously inspired by every Mac basic fantasy music you can think of, but it is still unique even in its own genre. The music sets the mood just right, and the main theme is pretty cool. It is really good, but the soundtrack overall went for a more classic approach, and it never deviates from it; Which I personally really like since most Japanese games that are set in a fantasy setting either like to have popular Japanese pop artists to do the main theme, and have a more generic soundtrack with very similar sounding tracks that tells "this is obviously a castle so make it sound mighty like ever other RPG has ever done it" or "this is a village that exists near a forest so make it sound very calming and happy". It is kinda hard to explain, but if you have ever played Namco's Tales of series (like Tales of Symphonia, Vesperia, Graces F or Xillia), and played many of their titles, then you might understand where I am going with this. It is really refreshing seeing Japan make a RPG game that doesn't make a Japanese pop intro song and a typical soundtrack for a Japanese fantasy game.

Replay value: After beating one difficulty you go directly to a new game+ with many more challenges, and you get a new quest and some new dialog. After beating that difficulty you go to a even harder difficulty, and after that you go to a insane difficulty! This is one of those games that keeps on giving you a harder and harder challenge as you play it, with new loot, with 6 different classes with different builds you can do, multiplayer, and even achievements, this game will keep you busy for a long while.

Final verdict: For me this game combined everything I loved in gaming and fantasy into one massive game. It has good quality and is just really fun. I give it 10/10, now remember even if I say that this game is a masterpiece that doesn't mean it doesn't have flaws, forcing a player to play through the first nine stages of the game before they can play with their buddies, is just a really tedious thing they could have left out of the game, but it didn't keep me from enjoying this really well done game. George Kamitani set out to advance the beat em up action RPG genre, and revive it. In my opinion, not only did his team succeed, they also set the standard on how a good action RPG beat em should be made; Which other developers should take note of.