Dragon’s Crown Pro
The original Dragon’s Crown hit the PlayStation 3 in 2013 and delivered something that hadn’t been seen in many years – a genuinely stunning side-scrolling beat ‘em up. It played similarly to Princess Crown, Odin Sphere, and Muramasa – only with online and offline drop-in co-op and more than one plane to move in. Dragon’s Crown Pro arrives on the PlayStation 4 with some quality of life improvements to the controls and an increased resolution. Given the lack of brawlers on the console outside of Double Dragon IV, 99 Vidas, and Streets of Red, it’s definitely a welcome addition to the PS4’s library even without a ton of major improvements to the core game.
Like Odin Sphere, character designs border on the absurd, with chests that appear to take up about 70% of their body – and that’s just a few of the male characters. With the women, that percentage seems to be a bit higher, including the in-game repair shop-runner who is somehow able to see items to fix up beneath her ample breasts. The proportions of every character are insane, but their art is simply stunning. One thing about the art design is that by going with extremes, they’re usually memorable. You’ll run into someone who appears to be an old beggar asking for a single coin and he is so skeletal that it’s both sickening and fascinating. Moreover, it’s striking and one of the defining images that comes to my mind when thinking about the game.
Others would largely involve fighting screen-filling bosses, clearing screens with the aid of monsters you can ride on ala Golden Axe. Players of that franchise will have a much easier transition to Dragon’s Crown than fans of the urban-based ones. Instead of being a bad enough dude to rescue the president, you need to be a bad enough member of a team to find the wacky MacGuffin of the adventure – the Dragon’s Crown. It has vague gigantic magical powers, and results in mass corruption and back-stabbing from people trying to acquire it. The plot has more depth to it than most brawlers, but isn’t very compelling. Fortunately, it also doesn’t take much time and can be easily skipped through if you really don’t like it.
I found the storyline to be a bit convoluted, but commend it for trying something a bit different than the usual “town X is under siege from mysterious super criminal/group”. Normalcy isn’t an altogether bad thing though, as the inclusion of standard character types makes the game more accessible. If you’d like longer-range combat, you’ve got a few options there with wizards, elves and sorceresses. Shorter-range fighters are available along with female amazons that decide to fight massive amounts of foes in g-strings for whatever reason and dwarves that are short in stature, but can do a ton of damage by dual-wielding weapons. Close-range fighters can excel with combos, but leave themselves wide open for more attacks while longer-range characters do a bit less damage per attack, but are safer to use.
Smooth controls help make each character fun to play as, although you’ll probably want to at least have both a long and shorter-ranged character to assist you. Each stage pits you against wave after wave of enemies, and there’s usually an alternate path to take. Sometimes these may require a special item to get through, and then there are times when you can just summon Rennie, your helper character, to open a particular door or the absolutely-not-Tinkerbell fairy will just point them out. The drop-in co-op is seamless and allows you to maintain a 3-4 party game when your AI partners die.
While you can beat stages on your own, you’ll want to be at least a level or two above the boss to survive, and that’s not easy to do without a lot of grinding. A little bit of grinding can help out a lot though since you can gain more piles of bones to either resurrect new allies – sometimes at fairly high levels, or bury them and get a rare item drop that can aid you. You can get hints for what to do with each person with their death quote – if someone seems like they’re at peace, you’re more likely to get an item, but if they still clearly had some fight in them, it’s best to bring them back to kick some ass.
The gameplay experience is smooth most of the time, and the only real issue I encountered was it being a bit difficult to tell exactly where you were in relation to enemies – especially when a ton of stuff was happening at once. There’s also some occasional slowdown, but it never hinders things. If you dig grinding, then you’ll love the in-game quests which are largely optional objectives you can complete during a stage. These can be fairly simple, like riding a beast and killing X amount of enemies, or more complex, like finding a particular hidden path through a stage to find clues to a greater mystery. They feel like the equivalent of in-game achievements since you can easily wind up doing many of these things during the course of normal gameplay, but reward you with a lot of XP and money, so they’re a bit more fun to try.
As with any brawler, repetition can creep into things a bit, and there aren’t a lot of ways to break that up beyond talking to NPCs and resurrecting or burying folks. As a result, playing it in hour-long bursts is a good idea, although you may easily wind up playing it longer online due to the increased social aspect really making games like these more fun. Dragon’s Crown Pro is one of the few PS4 games that make good use of the touch pad on the controller. In the original game on Vita, the touch screen was used for reviving yourself, party members, or using Ronnie to grab treasures. On the PS3, you had to use a clunky button and stick combination to do this. Now, you can just touch the pad and an on-screen cursor shows up to let you know where you need to press on the pad. It’s a far more intuitive solution to a problem. In a cool move, owners of the PS4 version can play alongside Vita and PS3 owners online – so owners of the original version should see an uptick in online play if they haven’t grabbed a PS4 yet or simply want to stick with that version of the game.
Like the original game, the painted art style pops at all times. The art has been bumped up from 1080p on consoles to now supporting 4K resolution, and it leads to everything being sharper. This means that HDR-supported displays will benefit from better color levels, while standard HDTVs can still display a great-looking image that will trounce the PS3 version. However, without HDR, you won’t quite see as much of a benefit. Character animation is sometimes limited – like for running, but it works at adding in some comedy since you’ll wind up with giant, hulking fighters dashing across the screen with crazily-unrealistic strides that you can’t help but be amused by. Attack animations seem to have just enough animation to look good without being so smooth that they take a lot of time,
Musically, Dragon’s Crown’s fantasy-style songs fit the setting and also have an epic sound to them as well. The soundtrack is very well-made and is the kind of OST you’ll want to listen to on its own without any distractions, yet isn’t exactly the kind you’ll be humming a lot of before or after playing. The in-game narration is solid and manages to get across the drama in a stern way without crossing the line and making things comedic. It’s all played straight and works well. Beyond that, there isn’t much voice work to be found other than little quips from the characters since the storyline progresses in text boxes.
Dragon’s Crown Pro remains an outstanding brawler/action RPG hybrid even five years after its initial release. It’s got satisfying gameplay, an enjoyable storyline with some twists and turns, and gorgeous graphics. Whether you have a PS4 or PS4 Pro, you’ll get a nice benefit from the PS3/Vita original and you’ll be able to play one of the best beat ‘em ups on the market today. Having cross-format play is wonderful too, and ensures that there will be a solid player base for years to come. If you missed the game before, buy it now and savor the experience – there’s a lot to love.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of Dragon’s Crown Pro for the PlayStation 4 provided by Atlus.