In terms of gaming generations I (like many others) come from a time of legend in the console industry. A time when the SEGA Master System, NES, SNES and Megadrive reigned supreme and many of us stayed up way past our bed times beating the likes of A Link to the Past or Flashback. In these times of gaming legend, whilst many developers were still looking for inspiration, a genre was forged that would change the landscape of the industry forever. I refer of course to the side scrolling Beat 'em up.
In its day, this genre was single handily responsible for some of the best franchises to grace these classic consoles including the likes of Streets of Rage, Double Dragon and Golden Axe. These games as well as many others set a new standard in game mechanics and are still a major inspiration for many titles released today.
For this and many other reasons, Dragon's Crown holds a special place in my heart and stands as both a testament to the genre and a monument of great game design.
Dragon's Crown is a title that for a long time didn't look like it would see the light of day. Numerous setbacks and budgetary issues have meant that we are seeing this cross-format title a little later than originally planned. However fear not, it was definitely worth the wait.
In terms of story, there is not a great deal going on here that will change the world. Players choose one of six heroes to take on a spiralling quest across a medieval, high -fantasy world. This quest in turn provides the back drop for epic battles, levelling opportunities, boss encounters and other such adventures.
However, laced within this seemingly basic structure is many incredibly deep systems. Each class has a completely different combat style, all of which are almost perfectly balanced but also hidden within them is a variation in the game’s difficulty level. This is an extremely clever way of making the game harder whilst still keeping it fresh. Players are also able to start one of each hero on the same save in case they aren't feeling a particular class is right for them.
Dragon's Crown also boasts up to 4 player local or online multiplayer, allowing for some great co-op experiences. It is also worth noting that a patch is incoming to allow PlayStation Vita players to play with console players and vice versa, something that will only help Dragon's Crown's appeal.
As well as this, Dragon's Crown also has a interesting loot system that is both innovative and addictive. Put simply, players receive loot during quests however they are then presented with a choice. You can sell the loot, pay for it to be valued or keep it to do either later on. The thing is, although all loot has an overall grade which is visible (as well as informing you of which class it is for) it is impossible to see its stats of each item unless you pay to have them validated. This in turn makes you really think about how you manage you inventory and character to get the optimum results.
As sure as I am that this genre holds some of the greatest memories for gamers out there (me included), I am equally as sure that it will not be for everyone. For those who are used to the current dynamics of the modern market, Dragon's Crown's unashamedly retro feel and refusal to mass appeal may fail to resound.
It also has to be said that although much of Dragon's Crown is beautiful to look at, some of the character designs are more than a little out of proportion. Obviously this game, like many others, is highly stylised, but some design decisions could have been toned down a little with regards to the game’s character aesthetics because there are few designs that are borderline ridiculous.
Another element that is sure to put off some players is the difficulty spikes, especially toward the later parts of the game. Although welcome to the more hardcore audience, some more casual gamers or newcomers to the genre will undoubtedly want to destroy the TV at some parts.
Overall, these are incredibly minor flaws and will in no way disrupt your enjoyment of the game. If you are new to the genre or you are a long-term fan of it, then you will struggle to find better mechanically out there. Subsequently if you are not a fan then there will be little here to convert you to the realm of the beat 'em up.
Despite a few minor issues, Dragon's Crown is both a reminder of a golden age and a lesson in great modern design. Fans of beat 'em ups should unite in celebration and newcomers should look no further than this for a great example of the genre. Both the PlayStation Vita version and PlayStation 3 version run beautifully and with the new cross-play features being added imminently, there is little excuse not to buy either or both versions of this exceptional title.
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