Dragon’s Crown Pro Review

Posted May 15, 2018 by Cameron McFarland in Video Games

Developer: Vanillaware, Atlus

Publisher: Atlus

Release date: May 15th, 2018

Available on: Playstation 4

Dragon’s Crown was something of an out-of-nowhere favorite of mine back in 2013. The beat-em-up genre hasn’t aged well over the years as video games have become a bit more sophisticated and the fantasy settings that rely heavily on the most bare-bones concepts and tropes aren’t enough to catch a passing player’s fancy, but the quality and soul that fills every inch of the screen is more than enough to overcome any of these shortcomings.

Dragon’s Crown Pro is an HD upgrade of the PS3/PSVita classic that is 100% the same game that was released before with only the finest layer of polish to clean up and highlight the game’s already impressive art style. In fact, the game is so similar that it is still compatible with PS3 and Vita players, so if you have an eccentric friend that still has their old hardware plugged in they are more than welcome to join you while you sit back and enjoy the high-definition paintings and rerecorded orchestrated soundtrack anew.

A dwarf, a knight, and a thief wander into an abandoned Orc city…

If you’ve played the original, I’ll jump ahead to my final score now: it is still fun to play. The artwork is largely as you remember it, but a side-by-side comparison will show you the benefits of the refined resolution. Chances are you already have a decision made as to whether you want to play through the game again.

For anyone new, allow me to paint you a picture. As I said before, this is a beat’em up in the classic sense. Much like Golden Axe, players will walk slowly from left to right, occasionally picking up powerups and riding beasts while you mow down fantasy monsters as your fantasy class-based character of choice. There is a well-rounded knight character, a brawn-focused dwarf or amazon for the hands-on types, as well as slightly more challenging characters that will test your ability to remain aware of your surroundings. The first time you play as the wizard and nearly finish channeling a powerful spell only to be interrupted you’ll quickly realize the benefits of playing with others.

The game quickly tosses NPC allies that players can gear up and get used to using as backup, but nothing will compare to human allies one can coordinate with. Dragon’s Crown is best experienced with friends, but don’t worry about it being a requirement. My first run of the game was a single player experience and I did still enjoy it. It simply requires a bit more grinding for upgraded gear on occasion when the NPC party members aren’t pulling their weight.

Every story segment is narrated by a kindly dungeon master, as well as much of the levels that players fight through which gives bosses and traps a much-needed boost of flavor for a game such as this.

Accompanied by the beautiful artwork and painterly backdrops is a story with a very classical feel to it. I mentioned earlier that the game relies on some basic elements of a typical fantasy setting, but in a way it is almost refreshing. I feel that every new story (in books, games, or movies) attempts to reinvent the wheel or throw a twist like “What if Vampires were the good guys this time?” After you’ve seen vampires be romanticized a dozen times it’s kind of neat to go to a spooky mansion with an evil vampire in it. In Dragon’s Crown you will encounter a minotaur, a harpy, a dragon, a crown, and somehow it never feels trite or disappointing. Honestly, I have played Dragon’s Crown during times when I couldn’t get a Dungeons and Dragons game together and needed to scratch that itch.

Minotaurs are big. Bit of advice: learn to sidestep.

It isn’t all milk and honey, however. As much as I’ve enjoyed my time with Crown I do need to point out some of the shortcomings hidden beneath the layer of fine oil paints. The beat’em up genre lends itself to certain difficult and clunky actions from time to time. Especially in games that use 2D sprites it can be hard to pinpoint exactly how wide the swing of a sword is, or whether or not a pool of burning oil is going to be an object easily cleared with one jump.

There are also some odd decisions made in terms of controls. While playing the dwarf character, I quickly learned the benefit of using his powerful slam attack. To activate this attack, you need to hold down the “throw your weapon away and walk around unarmed for a little while” button and hope you didn’t accidentally throw your weapon away, leaving you to walk around unarmed for a little while. In fact, I was making this error so frequently that while leveling up I began pouring all my available points into unarmed combat bonuses just to compensate.

Another odd quirk is the use of offhand items. Players can equip potions and bombs and the like, but these items are mixed in with your equipped gear for some odd reason. While you are surrounded by goblins, you’ll need to quickly tap that right d-pad button until you locate your potion and then take the time to drink it. I believe this is an intentional balance decision to prevent players from healing through massive damage, but it doesn’t feel fun to use a potion and it’s especially not fun to die after accidentally highlighting a lucky amulet instead.

There is also a very strange mouse system. Using the PS4 controller’s touchpad or the right analog stick, players can move a mouse around to sometimes navigate menus or search for hidden treasures in the map. It feels optional, but once in a while players are required to use this to issue commands to the NPC thief so that he may use his lockpick. This will open treasure chests and unlock doors, but it always feels unnecessary. Every time I watch my thief prance right by a treasure chest my first thought is always, “Come on, man, you want what’s in there as much as I do. Just open it.”

Every character, from NPCs to bosses to even the most basic mob bring a lot of character to this charming world.

I’ve been praising the artwork a great deal in this review, but it does stand to say that the unique style serves partially as a double-edge sword. Much of the game rests in an orange and brown palette. While walking down a corridor or in a situation where only perhaps half a dozen characters are on screen it is all quite lovely. However, things quickly turn hectic and one might find themselves losing track of any relevance amidst the chaos. My first playthrough of Dragon’s Crown was on the Vita, and on that little screen it could be frustrating. However, Dragon’s Crown Pro does offer a noticeable improvement thanks to the upres, making it a little easier to parse out the details in those hairy conflicts.

One more issue with the art design is a notably controversial sense of taste. For some, characters like the playable sorceress are a bit offensive in portrayal and I can safely say that she is by far the tip of the iceberg. If she isn’t fun to look at, I’m afraid much of Dragon’s Crown may be difficult to enjoy.

Despite these problems, I must say the overall presentation is so solid and the framing is so powerful that Dragon’s Crown Pro would make a fine addition to any Playstation library. If you can talk a friend into joining you on an epic journey, or if you need an excuse to dust off that Vita and visit this fantastic world again, I say this May is just the time to do it.

About the Author

Cameron McFarland

Cameron loves cartoons and bad movies almost as much as bad cartoon movies. He is also the world's best spaghetti-eater, so don't bring it up around him or he won't shut up about it. Author and Artist for world-reviled World of Warcraft fancomic, www.taurenitup.com