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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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