ORIGINAL: I'm a big fan of dungeon crawlers, role-playing games and fantasy settings - they're basically my three favorite things. Suffice it to say that the premise of Dragon's Crown, accented by the wonderfully detailed and vibrant art style, is aimed directly at gamers just like me. With dozens of quests, a seemingly limitless amount of loot and a whole host interesting characters to meet, Dragon's Crown is from start to finish and engaging and interesting experience.
From the opening moments, a wonderfully written narrator speaks over the events of your adventure. It reminds me of a Dungeon Master narrating a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, or a fabled fantasy narrator in a classic children's story. There are different voices to choose from as well, all of which are equally satisfying. The game does a really nice job of making you feel like you're playing out and living a story that has come to life on the screen, which is a feeling not many games seem to go for or successfully capture.
I'd be lying if I told you there was a deep and intricate web of lore running as a thread throughout this game, because there really isn't; this is also however, one of Dragon's Crown's greatest strengths: it knows what it is. Instead of falling for common fantasy game tropes and shoving tons of story you may or may not care about down your throat, it follows more closely with the sidescrolling brawler/beat 'em up framework in terms of barely explaining why you're killing those characters on the screen. If you ever played Capcom's recent revival of the D&D brawlers, or Golden Axe, then you're on the right track - although those game are much more shallow when compared to Atlus' offering here.
At the start, you're treated to a character creation system that has a lot more to offer than I expected, but still ended up making me wish for more. You take on the role of a Fighter, Amazon, Wizard, Elf, Dwarf or Sorceress, making for a nice mix of traditional classes (Fighter, Wizard, etc.) and races (Elf, Dwarf) which gives the game a unique flavor. Each character really does play markedly different (save for the Wizard Boobstress, or, Sorceress, sorry) so there is enough diversity to keep you entertained.
Upon creation, you can choose their voice, overall color palette and a couple other options, but that's really about it. This is to be expected, however, as the genre has never been known for customization and the wonderfully realized water-color style visuals must have taken extreme work to produce, which means cutting corners in some areas.
When finishing quests, your points are converted into experience that fills up your level bar. Upon leveling up you can return to the guild hall and level up your characters, choosing from a variety of mostly passive, but some active skills. They are broken into two categories - general and class-specific. For example, my Elf could learn to poison her arrows and pull out daggers mid-quest, while the Wizard learns a large repertoire of visually stunning spells.
You start the game by yourself through the short tutorial segment, but it also features a flexible multiplayer system with local and online coop. On your adventures, you can even discover and eventually revive the bones of fallen adventurers that may join you as relatively capable AI companions. However, this is one of the best couch coop experiences in recent years - if playing on PS3, that is.
While Dragon's Crown's visuals are stunning and stylistically impressive, this wouldn't be a proper review without mentioning some of the character portrayals. It didn't bother me as much as it does others, but some of the classes (Amazon and Sorceress, to be exact) are not only anatomically disturbing, but just come off as unnecessary. The shopkeeper in the main town possesses such gratuitous cleavage that I felt uncomfortable even going to the shop - but you need to in order to repair items, among other tasks. This doesn't really detract from the overall experience, but it's worth mentioning. Something as simple as different armor styles could have solved this - especially seeing as how you get different weapons throughout the game.
The only gripes that really hinder the experience for me are relatively minor, but add up to making everything feel lesser than it could have been. Movement speed feels extremely sluggish, when taking into consideration the level designs and size, although there is a nifty dash ability, but it's impractical for medium distances. Furthermore, because the game takes place in traditional horizontal plane format, it is sometimes very frustrating when a sweeping melee attack doesn't hit the target, when it clearly should have.
Dragon's Crown breathes new life into the sidescrolling beat 'em up genre with a hefty dosing of RPG influence and is a great example of how a AAA-quality game can coexist on both PlayStation 3 and Vita without feeling different on either platform. Whether it be by yourself or in a full dungeon-delving party, Dragon's Crown seldom disappoints.
This review is based on a physical copy of the game for the PlayStation 3 provided by Atlus.