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I'm not joking, this is the actual cover art on my copy from EB Games.
They literally used a copy Dragon's Dogma to make this. I love it.

DRAGON'S CROWN

2018 OCT 08

(PS3, 2013)

Boys and girls of every age, have you heard about our lord and saviour Dragon's Crown? Lots of people have, or at least they did five years ago when the game was released. The thing about this game that makes it unique is that it has excessively proportioned character designs for both genders taken to its logical extreme. And with that, we get controversy. It also has absolutely stunning graphics in a way that I've only seen in hidden object games, and unlike hidden object games, the underlying game isn't some throwaway fare, but a well-crafted design with an amazing execution and enough detail that made me instantly import the artbook from Japan. Not the 64-page one that came with limited editions, mind you, but the full-fledged 200-page epic. It terrifies me that after my first play session, I was hooked onto this game. It terrifies me further that playing it made me a fan too. This is going to be long, so grab some dinner and read along.

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This game is for the most part, a classic brawler/beat em up, like Final Fight or Battletoads. I didn't really enjoy either of those examples, or any of the later beat em ups I've played like Mother Russia Bleeds, but the underlying mechanic kept me hooked. It's a JRPG mixed with a Diablo-esque random item generator. From the game, you can pick one of 6 classes, or up to 4 at a time with either a friend or the computer AI. For those who wonder, there's no class limits, so being 4 sorceresses is a very valid tactic.

The game splits up the classes into two groups, with the Amazon, Dwarf, and Knight all being melee fighters, whereas the Elf, Wizard, and Sorceress are all ranged. I love all the characters of the game, even though they caused a bit of controversy when the game came out originally. Nobody cared about how the Knight and Dwarf are male power fantasies taken to the extreme, as that's considered perfectly understandable, but people take offense to the Amazon and Sorceress looking like people with... let's say, overgratified desirables to absurdity (and a sea of back issues). That is, if you think of it in that way. That's right, this week I'm going to talk about the most horrifying subject known to man: WOMEN.

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Our heroes. May God have mercy on us all.

Vanillaware, the company behind this game, is not a traditional American company, it's a Japanese company. It does not have the notion that nudity = literally the worst thing on Earth. I'm not going to pretend that Dragon Crown's characters were not designed as fanservice, but I've looked into the idea behind the presence of said excessive implementation. Turns out that the developers wanted the game to stand out from all the other high fantasy games out there with more than just their art style. High fantasy games don't typically sell well, as everyone already knows exactly what you're getting into in terms of story or gameplay. Hence, the fanservice. They wanted to grab at the potential buyers who would be intrigued with the fanservice first, and then might enjoy the resulting game behind the big tiddy art. It's a really stupid marketing gimmick to make characters look like this, but since it apparently sold a million copies, I can't deny that it worked. And Dragon's Crown received a lot of press in the west precisely because of this, which seems like an unintended side consequence, but it worked. I don't know if that million copies resulted in a profit, since the company has 25 artists and releases a game every other year at best, but I hope it did.

Personally, and I say this fully embracing the notion that nobody cares, I want to say that the game could actually be treating as the Amazon as a fairly reasonable power fantasy, while the Dwarf, with his succulent musculature, is clearly, out of everything this game has to offer, the most desirable thing. You see, unlike other characters, he's topless. That's not at all important personally, since I'm not American, but you can't deny the presence of his abs. And besides, I have to play as the Dwarf now, because the game's dangling that in front of me and I can't resist the temptation.

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I spent like two hours drawing this dumb thing and I forgot why I did it in the first place.

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Official concept art of damsel in distress. Pretty, but way too sexualized.

People have taken offense at the fact that other girls in the game are shown as damsels in distress, with clothing that leaves less to the imagination than the Amazon's wardrobe. I actually agree with this train of thought, but I'm mostly taking offense at the lack of powerful female characters rather than with the choices of their design. To clarify, you've got characters such as Roland [show picture of him] who act as great heroes, but I haven't seen the female equivalent of that in this game, or at least not yet. While I believe that high fantasy comes from European medieval times and lore, which traditionally has been very unkind to women, I don't think that's an excuse to not have an actual female power fantasy robed in armour that would traditionally be given to men. While we'll always have damsels in distress, we could also use more characters like Jeanne Hachette in high fantasies. This isn't meant to be a jab at Dragon's Crown for not including characters such as her, at least not including any to the best of my knowledge, but just a note for future high fantasies- everyone needs a role model.

You could try to claim that the Amazon could be a role model as she's a female power fantasy, and I wouldn't say you're wrong, but the design of her throws that notion out the window. As for the Sorceress's design, well, it instantly made me fall in love with her, and not because of the family-sized balloons that best describe her breasts. But, if you think about it, it's exactly the reason as to why I love her design.

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Sorceress goes here.

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To recover a dead man, all you need is just to sacrifice 5 cherubs.

Essentially, there's only one real kind of necromancer that I see in media. They demand the dead be brought back to life and do the necromancer's will, lest they'll shove their boot so far up their ass, that the dead one's skull itself becomes stardust. No respect to the dead, evil personified to the point where even Josef Mengele would be offended at their malpractice. And then there's the Sorceress. For comparison, her official art has her lovingly hold a skeleton to her breasts, like a mother would to a newborn. She doesn't force the ghosts of people past into the living realm, she gives life.

It's presented like a good form of magic rather than the shunnable arcana of morbid curiosities of other RPGs, especially if you bother to resurrect heroes back. You take their bones to a church, in which they are carefully laid out, a prayer is said, the cherubs come down, and the game's goddess Althena (which is totally not Athena with an extra letter) sees that their time should not have come, and upon rejoicing at having more time, they assist you in the game any way they could, namely in the form of an NPC ally. So, even though the Sorceress has bosoms large enough to concuss every living being in a 20-metre radius, their presence in the official art mixed with how she's depicted as treating the dead makes me think of her as the nicest of the heroes, even though none of them are really depicted as evil. Except maybe the Wizard, but I didn't want to play as him anyway.

But let's say you're really fucking weird, and, for some weird reason, you want to play as a class that won't make you ashamed to show your love for the game. CONGRATULATIONS, THE WIZARD IS A WINNER FOR ONCE. The Elf and Wizard are your only options for characters with reasonable proportions. They didn't cause any sort of controversy, at least to my knowledge, they don't look ridiculous, and for this game, I'm not sure that they're that fun to play. I mean, why would they? The reason being is that both of them are ranged classes. You have to choose one of the more embarrassingly extravagant options for your “punch it in the face until it dies” style of gameplay. That's what a beat em up is all about, punching things until they die, because otherwise, it's not quite so fun to just shoot arrows at something from far away. Unless they have some kind of hilariously extravagant form of attacking like shooting 5 arrows at once which all break up into a tornado of more arrows, such as Path of Exile.

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He does what he does best; eat food.

So, you've picked your class and from there, you wander out into the greatest adventure known to man. Okay, not really, the story's still just some generic high fantasy fare about finding the Dragon's Crown, a crown that allows you to control over dragons or something, but you get sidetracked with boring old backstabbing amongst politicians in the local monarchy. I wasn't paying that much attention to what the crown is. Dragons are not an every day occurrence in the game, mind you, so finding the Dragon's Crown is an allegedly impossible task. This game is just like real life, you're probably not seeing a dragon without having to go through the perilous journey of finding a bunch of talismans thrown about recklessly in monster-filled dungeons ahead of you. Sometimes, these talismans are in a procedurally generated dungeon. Not here, though, the levels are all handmade. There's not too many of them, but Vanillaware went for quality over quantity.

There's a list of checkmarks that this game ticks off that are a personal plus. My list is pretty simple, actually, if it can answer a few of these, it should answer most of them. You might not agree with them, and that's fine, because having all of them doesn't make a game great for me. Note, that these points become more important to me as they go on, so I'm not treating all of them equally.

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FUCK OFF TIDDY BIRD
I KICK YOU BACK TO HECK

Generic fantasy name? Yep. Dragon's Crown isn't that unique of a name, but at least it's memorable.

Does the game have a fantasy plot that you can get into, but it doesn't really matter? Of course, most of it is “do quests for your guild also there's a guy trying to usurp the kingdom also you really want to get a crown”. I won't lie, I'm not paying much attention. I don't even remember Diablo 3's story, and I played through that game.

Are the aesthetics good? Okay, I'm not going to pretend that I'm not a graphics snob to some degree. Personally, I care that I can play a game that makes the most of what it has, and does the best it can as a result. If it's a 3D game that doesn't have the greatest graphics, but it at least makes a good attempt to look like what it's meant to be, it's good enough for me. For example, Silent Hill has fog everywhere, and that's a stylistic choice forced upon by the fact that the game could barely render anything on the PS1. Dragon's Crown had no such limitations, but the simple fact of the artwork being two-dimensional instead of 3D helps it have a lot of action on the screen without any form of slowdown. Their artistic direction helped the game run well instead of being a necessity for it to do so, and I'm glad that this beat em up keeps running smooth the whole way through.

Is it an action RPG with lots of loot? This game definitely hits that checkbox, but the answer is kind of. It's an RPG with lots of action and procedurally generated loot, most of which you immediately equip because it has better stats. The items are really varied with lots of different affixes that benefit whatever playstyle you want to have, as well as beloved randomized names. And staves give off different elements, so the game does actually change up your playstyle a little. Essentially, yes, this game is an aRPG with a lot of loot, but you have to note that the gameplay isn't like most other aRPGs with loot, and the loot isn't the most important part of the game, it's the beatdowns.

Does it have gameplay not repeated elsewhere? If anyone else can name a better game that's a beat em up with lots of numbers and procedural loot, I'm willing to say that this game isn't that, but as far as I've played, it's the best of its kind. Of course, it's also the only one of its kind for me, so... There are ways Dragon's Crown can be improved with the loot possibly augmenting your character's abilities further than they do already, but it's unique enough as is, and honestly, implementing customizable skills might make development a nightmare.

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THE BIGGEST SLAPPY TO THE BUTT

Did the game have heart behind it? See, this is the question I care more about than anything else here. It could be something that's a brand-new genre, or even a very well established one, and even if it just happens to fall flat on its face, but so long as it's obvious the development team tried to make the most of with what they had, I'll play it. Not happily, mind you, but I'm willing to give it a chance. A lot of games deserve a fair chance. This game easily has a lot of heart behind it, and it's what drew me in. This game literally feels like they took fleshed out paintings, broke them up into pieces, and carefully animated the pieces in Adobe Flash or something like it to keep it moving as smooth as it could be. You don't make a game that's cohesive and visually stunning without the employees caring about the product. You halfass it. This game is not halfassed.

Anyway, back to the actual game, most of the meat is in the brawler portion of Dragon's Crown, where you're tasked with simple to execute moves by just moving the control stick and tapping the square button in a certain order. Sometimes, you jump to do an aerial attack, or sometimes, you hit the circle button instead, and use a power slam, assuming you're playing as one of the melee characters, like the Dwarf (I don't know if the other melee fighters have the power slam). I have an affinity with the power slam, which throws away your weapon and makes it unusable for a short while, exposing you greatly, but on the other hand, it's amazing at breaking up groups of foes. It gets a hell of a lot more interesting when you start fighting bosses, however, as they are behemoth tanks of health and power, and you carefully time your attacks to both deal good damage and not get your ass handed to you in ways most unpleasant. Power slams are still amazing here, surprisingly, as they do a fair bit of damage to the boss, then a few seconds of dodging later, you pick up your trusty hammer and do it again. Bosses are a senseless beatdown that last a few minutes each, and I absolutely love them, as they're both challenging enough to kick your ass as well as varied enough to not be a single pattern.

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Double the tiddy, double the ass kikky

As for the ranged characters, I only got around to trying the Sorceress, whose abilities depend on her staff. She can have fire attacks, ice attacks, lightning attacks; they're all very similar, but you will have a preferred element, as the attacks are different. Down + Circle (the magic attack button) with the ice staff makes a ring around you that's great for breaking up groups of foes circling you, while Down + Circle with the lightning staff makes a line of electricity shoot out in front of you, while with both staves, the Up + Circle attack makes a close-range stationary, but powerful attack come forth, attacking whatever's in front of you. That's the kind of similar I'm talking about, you know what you should get when you use an attack, but the different types can make it unexpected, and frankly, a bit more difficult than it should be.

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OH BOY I LOVE MATH

In between the beatdowns, you deal with the plot of “who gives a shit” and a bit of inventory management. In dungeons, you can find treasure chests, which your partner will gladly open. Sometimes, they have loot. Sometimes, they decide to give you a good punch to the face. When you're done with a dungeon, you take that loot and appraise it to find out its inherent value or just sell it, never knowing what you've obtained. Then you equip what you like more, and then promptly forget about the rest of it. It works on the S-ABCDEF rank that a lot of Japanese games have, and I have no idea how to get good ranked weapons. You just sometimes do. They're pretty good. My least favourite part about this whole mechanic, however, is the durability meter.

I hate it when I have loot I can't use. I'm okay with running out of ammunition or mana, because I can just recharge that and get back into the fight, but what Dragon's Crown does is have that in addition to your gear degrading. And it's not like in the STALKER series, where your degraded gear starts acting up unless you fix it until it slowly becomes unusable, this game does it the way I don't like as much. Your gear is perfectly usable until you reach 0. Then you're fucked unless you pony up some cash. While money isn't that rare in this game, especially since you can search every nook and cranny for score-giving items, it's never fun to play with a toy until it gets yanked away from you against your will. This is kind of why I don't like having games die or be unable to be obtained. It sucks, and there's little you can do about it most of the time. Now granted, this game doesn't take away your item forever, and you can always repair it (unlike most things in real life), but it's still a crappy mechanic.

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Quadruple the ass kikky, quadruple the fun.

If you're not dealing with inventory management or beating the crap out of skeletons and orcs, you wander about town and either load a cutscene, sell loot, buy gear like potions and heal rings, or go into the church to resurrect people from piles of bones you found lying around. I mentioned before how they become your trusty allies, and it's a godsend to help you keep the beatdown going. This game has 4 player coop, or if you're playing with less than 4 players, you can get an NPC ally to join in on the fight, and they'll either be really useful or dead. Personally, I don't see why you should be limited to just 4 allies, you could have 6, so you'll have the entire posse of classes to help you out, but it's still better than doing it solo. I've also had a lot of fun getting a Sorceress with the Create Food spell to help out my Dwarf, because food is essential in dungeons, as it's free healing for quite a fair bit of damage, which in addition to my heal potions and heal rings... I have the option to never stop punching things in the face now that I'm allowed to tank a bunch of damage.

There's also the adventurer's guild, which gives important things such as quests. While the money, experience, and skill points are all welcome in my quest to kick a lot of ass and ignore the rest of the game, the real treasure is the concept art. Like the rest of the game, the concept art in Dragon's Crown is absolutely gorgeous, and the quests are out of the way background doors and objects you interact with to see the goods within. While the game itself is grindy as hell, this is personally how I like quests to be. Granted, I wish a quest would start if you find a secret on your first run instead of going to the guild, but this sudden change of pace is welcome.

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The big boy adventurer who has issues wiping his own ass.

Oh, I can't forget to talk about the music. The music in Dragon's Crown is split in between the original's and the remake, now available for the PS4. It's thematically identical, however the sound is richer in the remake, as it was played with a full studio orchestra performing live instead of the sampled orchestra in the original. This isn't to say that the original soundtrack is bad in any given way, mind you, but that it sounds a bit more like you'd expect a video game to sound. A lot of the tracks are forgettable, which sucks because they're amazing. The world map theme, for example, is stunning. A woman sings some incomprehensible garbage, but it's pretty like the rest of the game. I love it.

While this game probably won't win the hearts and minds of a lot of hardcore beat em up or RPG fans, I'd say it makes a very solid entry in both genres, and I recommend trying it out if you're a fan of one, and don't mind the other. It's an experience that I haven't personally seen before, and I'm glad I saw Vanillaware's take on it first, because it's gorgeous in many ways. This is definitely one of the best games I've ever played, and I don't like that it's falling further into the depths of obscurity; this is one that doesn't deserve to be forgotten. There's a ton on the disc, and I can still see a ton of time I'm going to invest into it after this is posted online. And more importantly, I'm going to wait for Vanillaware's next title, because I don't really want to spend $65 on Odin's Sphere's remake right now, especially since this cost me only $20. It was a good $20 spent.

FINAL RATING: SORCERESS'S BUST SIZE / 32B


As a side note, this game does have online play as a form of multiplayer, but I personally try to not care for it if I can. Multiplayer, that is, for some games, it's the main game, and for others, it's an afterthought. In addition to me not really caring much for multiplayer, I prefer couch play, which Dragon's Crown does have, but other games seem to start to have begun to remove from their experiences. But apparently, online is where the endgame lies for Dragon's Crown, and I'm the idiot for not getting that far. So, no opinion on that. I don't know if it's any good or not, I just know it's there.