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Review

Review: Dragon’s Crown Pro

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We’ve always had a fondness for Vanillaware games, even if they’re somewhat inconsistent. Odin’s Sphere told an amazing story, but felt like a chore to play at times. Muramasa had some excellent boss fights, but the stuff in-between was a little lacking. Each had something special, but at the same time had unavoidable issues that detracted from the games as a whole. This is why the original release of Dragon’s Crown was such a surprise, being both our favourite Vanillaware game and most played beat ’em up of all time. This latest re-release has everything that made the first game so great, but those looking for new additions may be a little disappointed.

As with most games in the genre, Dragon’s Crown Pro places little focus on its story. As a fresh adventurer in the land of Hydeland, you end up being involved in various incidents related to the titular Dragon’s Crown. There are few characters introduced during the game, and none of them have much in the way of development. All plot and exposition is delivered by an ever present narrator, who also offers more insight into the various areas you visit. The brief story is honestly a good thing as it allows you to jump back into a new stage quickly with few interruptions.

The majority of your time will be spent defeating various villains and mythological creatures. After choosing a stage, or opting instead to have the game randomly choose, you make your way through different areas, only stopping to defeat enemies or uncover secrets. Basic combat is somewhat similar to other games in the genre, as each character has access to a basic ground and air combos. It’s not until you start looking at each character’s unique skills where things become more unique.

Each of the six characters in Dragon’s Crown Pro has their own unique moves, though overall they can be placed into three distinct categories: Melee, magic and ranged. Melee characters focus on short range attacks, with some attacks causing them to drop their weapons. Magic characters use MP for some of their moves which can be regenerated, and the only ranged character, Elf, uses arrows for powerful attacks.

Even if a character is of the same type as another, there are still other ways they differentiate from one another. This is mainly down to the items they can equip, ranging from spellbooks for magic users to trinkets that activate extra skills. Items have limited uses, requiring you to manage your resources during each stage. Resource management is further encouraged by the durability and bag systems. Equipment can break if used enough times, but this can be circumvented by switching to a different bag with fresh equipment and items after a few stages. Clearing multiple stages in one run gives more bonuses than just clearing a single stage then returning to town, so you’re incentivised to keep a lot more gear than in other RPGs.

Dragon’s Crown Pro gives more reasons for replaying stages aside from just the allure of better loot. After clearing every stage for the first time, a new B route will be made available at certain points in each stage. These contain harder enemies and new bosses to fight, along with many new side quests to complete. The amount of variety packed into each the 9 stages is impressive, ensuring that repeated runs never become boring. Even beating the game for the first time unlocks more content, with more difficulty levels to unlock and even an extra randomised dungeon that has infinite floors.

Like most beat’em-ups you have the option of playing with up to three other people as you explore Hydeland. Both local and online co-op is available, along with an interesting system for adding AI characters. During stages you can find the bones of deceased adventurers that can be taken back to town and resurrected for a price. AI members can be selected at town, or you can opt to have them drop in at random while playing. When playing online random players can also join your session at any time, though there is seemingly no way to disable this if you just want to play with friends. Cross-platform play between all three versions is also available, a welcome addition though only something that was possible due to the lack of new content in this release (more on this later).

Of course, this wouldn’t be a review of a Vanillaware game we don’t mention Dragon’s Crown Pro’s amazing graphics. Beautifully drawn sprites that look even better than before thanks to the increase in resolution make this one of the finest looking 2D games we’ve ever played. The exaggerated proportions of most characters may be off-putting to some, but for us these larger than life caricatures just add to the game’s charm. The amount of detail put into the various enemies and environments is also incredible, even if most of them feature little animation.

After all these years Dragon’s Crown is still a fantastic game, but what does Pro add for those that have already played it before. The answer is… disappointingly little. There’s a new soundtrack recorded with a full orchestra, something that improves on an already great selection of songs. There’s also the increase in resolution and general framerate improvements that you’d expect from a remastered release on current generation consoles. And, aside from unlocking all narrator voices from the start, that’s it. No balance changes, no extra content, it’s the same (admittedly great) game that many Vanillaware fans will have already played before. Dragon’s Crown saw a lot of support post-launch and it’s a shame to see that this has not carried over to Dragon’s Crown Pro.

Conclusion

For those that have yet to experience Dragon’s Crown, Pro is an easy recommendation. There’s just nothing else like it and it’s more than worth experiencing, especially if you’re able to gather a few friends for co-op. But for those that already own the PS3 or Vita versions, there is little incentive to own this re-release. Hopefully Vanillaware will revisit the beat ’em up genre in the future, either with a sequel to Dragon’s Crown or something completely new.

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