Hack and Slash
The 2d side-scrolling beat-em-up genre, popularised by the likes of Golden Axe and the Mystara games is seeing a little bit of resurgence of late. What with the Chronicles of Mystara, Sacred Citadel and now Dragon's Crown. Atlus have managed to take an old genre and revive it with some gorgeous (at times sadly sexist) art and graphics, married to some very solid and engaging gameplay.
A story of dragons, betrayal, knights and damsels flows through Dragon's Crown and frankly, whilst it's there - it's often taking a backseat to the meat and bones of the game, beating scores of beautifully animated enemies to a pulp and grabbing as much loot as possible.
Dragon's Crown provides a fun and engaging experience for up to 4 players, you can play locally or online with your friends. Or you can play the whole thing solo and take NPCs with you, hired from the tavern after you resurrect them from their fallen bones. Just being able to take NPCs into the battles with you is a great touch. It's a lottery based on the level of the fallen NPC you recover, but it's better than going solo against some of the bigger/badder bosses.
Your character is drawn from 6 character classes. The Wizard, the Fighter, the Amazon, the Dwarf, the Elf and the Sorceress. There's a bit of character customisation, choosing a new colour and changing the name but apart from that it's very much get right into the gritty of the game and go kill some monsters.
You can start with a tutorial that teaches you the very basics of the game, or dive right into the town and begin to explore the various places on your own. Many of them are locked out to begin with until you reach a certain point however.
You'll be visiting places like the tavern, the temple and Morgan's Magic shop a lot. You'll also spend a fair bit of time at the Adventurer's Guild where you'll get quests and side missions.
You're also introduced to your thief companion, who can pick up valuables you might have missed and unlock chests/doors with a quick tap of a shoulder button when the right-stick cursor is placed over the item/portal in question.
The town map is presented as a series of locations and it's possible to fast travel to them via it. Otherwise you'll just be legging it from left to right to get to where you want to go. It's not very convoluted and means you'll be able to focus on getting into the thick of the action right away.
The core gameplay, the hack and slash - is excellent and extremely responsive. The combat system is simple yet it has a few layers to it; tactically you can unleash your powers at the right time and really swing the course of a battle with the aid of AI or real life friends. You have a mix of heavy, light, missile and combo attacks - with more powers and abilities opening up as you level up. You gain XP and eventually your chosen character will level as per many of these kinds of games.
Then you can use that skill point you earned to get new skills, in either class or common areas. Each class has unique powers they can acquire and useful abilities gained. Many of these can be levelled up as you progress too, capped to a particular character level.
With your devastating attacks, and spells you'll be able to carve a way from A-B in the various dungeons (these dungeons can be replayed for better loot and more money). Get to the end boss and you'll clear the level. You'll get a score based on how you did and the loot you collected, you'll then get the option to sell that loot and or identify it and keep it.
Some of the dungeons have alternate paths which reward exploration, usually with huge amounts of loot and money. Loot is rated right up to the S rank, the very special loot you'll rarely see in the game, but when you do you'll want to make sure you get your hands on it.
Steele the Fighter ended up with a nice mid-range sword of 'A' Rank that he's been using for a while now, so you'll be able to keep your loot for as long as you want it, rather than swapping out every dungeon run.
There's the usual smattering of rings, amulets, and armours to find as you adventure in Dragon's Crown and many of them will have special abilities you can only uncover when you reach the end screen and identify the item. Once you've got your precious loot sold or stored, then you'll head back to town and look to turn in any quests, visit the temple to bring back and dead adventures you might have found...and repair your gear at Morgan's shop.
Yep, Dragon's Crown has item degradation, so you'll be spending some money on keeping your gear in good condition.
There are numerous dungeons and labyrinths to conquer and with the 6 classes, 3 difficulty levels (tied to level caps) and more the game offers a huge chunk of replay value. It gets even better when you adventure with friends and take on the various challenges in a group.
Probably the most off-putting thing about the game is the overt sexism. If you can get past this and bathe in the sumptuous art-style, it really is a visual treat. The game oozes atmosphere from every pore and provides superb backdrops to the hand-drawn characters. The effects are great, the use of colour and lighting is excellent and the whole thing is just utterly gorgeous. The frame rate keeps rock-solid even when there's a lot going on, on screen.
Bonded to the art is a superb layer of animation, where there are tons of ambient motions and life given to each character. The heroes get the lion's share of the spoils in this regard, but the whole game is packed with solid animations and tons of character, from your little thief sidekick to the giant dragons that populate some of the later game dungeons.
Not much going on here, just the usual impact based physics and some simple object breaking stuff.
Your enemies have various different attack patterns, they know how to use the skills at their disposal and some of the bosses are downright mean to battle. Your allies aren't too bad and they make adventuring on your own akin to playing with other human players, so if you're unable to find people to play with don't worry, the AI will not bog you down or get in your way.
Magic using characters are especially useful and the AI knows the value of a good crowd clearing spell.
Dragon's Crown has high quality sound design all the way with good samples and great spot effects.
The game features a suitably bombastic fantasy score with some great themes and solid orchestral pieces.
A fairly solid voice cast provides various voices for the game. The narrator seems to be having fun with his role and the whole thing feels like a fantasy story book, a dark fairy tale. The script is typical of the genre and delivers what it needs to.
The game is stable online and local play is excellent. There are definitely advantages to rocking through the dungeons with friends, the experience of cooperative play in a game like Dragon's Crown is excellent and you get a definite old school Golden Axe feel.
And hither came, Conan...
So Dragon's Crown is a good game, a little marred by the overt sexism. The core gameplay, buying skills from an expansive level based skill tree and growing your characters truly shines through - adventuring through previous levels and conquering difficulty settings gives you good replay value. It all adds up to a highly addictive game and a great package.
Well worth getting!