It’s with some reluctance that, after playing the Japanese import “Dragon’s Crown” (PS3, Vita; $49.99; Rated T) I must concede it’s a pretty good game.
A mix of brawler and role-playing game, “Dragon’s Crown” inspires profoundly mixed feelings thanks to its generally awful and occasionally offensive take on the swords-and-sorcery genre. The game is like an inventory of hackneyed fantasy fiction tropes, filtered through the mind of a hormonal eighth-grader.
You’ve got your super-muscled fighter, your ale-swilling dwarf, your puckish thief. But worst of all are the female characters, who are animated in that under-dressed, over-endowed style that gives gamer nerds such a bad rep. To a degree, this is part of the Japanese anime aesthetic. But it’s taken to a bizarre extreme in “Dragon’s Crown,” bordering on soft porn.
Anyhoo, if you can get past all that, the game is a fun side-scrolling brawler that should appeal to fans of hack-n-slash dungeon crawling. Stick with the game long enough, and you’ll come to appreciate the weirdly funny story elements and surprisingly deep RPG options.
B-list fever dream
The game’s setup reads like a bad translation of a B-list paperback fantasy – something about an ancient crown that gives its wearer power over the land’s dragons. The king of the realm has gone missing after searching for the artifact, and it’s up to you to save the day, or the kingdom, or whatever.
It’s during these first few orientation sequences that the game starts to grow on you a little. The scenarios are very familiar indeed, but slightly tweaked in the process of cultural translation. The locales have hilariously generic names – The Tavern! The Adventurer’s Guild! The Ancient Temple Ruins! Swarms of goblins fall beneath your sword and treasure chests literally explode with gold coins.
It’s like some surreal fever dream of an old-school Dungeons & Dragons session. The monsters are as strangely proportioned as the heroes, so you get hulking orcs and giant minotaurs that look like they’re from some anti-steroids PSA campaign.
To battle the beasties, you can choose from one of six different character classes: Elf, Dwarf, Fighter, Amazon, Sorceress or Wizard. Not only does each class have its strengths and weaknesses, each represents an entirely different style of play and gaming experience.
The two “tank” class characters, for instance – the Fighter and the Dwarf – are built for brute force combat. But each plays a little differently. The Fighter is relatively fast and can move around the screen quickly. But the Dwarf has special abilities like his belly flop attack – that’s right, belly flop attack – that open up different tactical options.
And so on: The thief is versatile and balanced, the Amazon does big damage with her giant battleaxe, and the two magic-user classes dispatch enemies with area-attack spells – fire, ice, tornadoes, etc. Each character class has its own set of combo attack options and is also given a particular Luck ranking, which determines the likelihood of finding rare and valuable treasure.
Appealing to teen boys
“Dragon’s Crown” throws in a bit a variety in the long dungeon-crawling sequences, with secret passages, creative boss fights and even some simple puzzle-solving elements. The 2D artwork really does get pretty spectacular, especially in the crowded combat sequences, when fireballs bloom like flowers. Local and online co-op options are available as well. It’s a big and ambitious game.
But just when you start getting into the flow of “Dragon’s Crown” and its unique approach to brawling RPG action, the top-heavy sorceress comes literally bouncing across the screen. It’s too bad the game’s appeal is ultimately undercut by all this junior high business. Ah, well. I guess the game is rated T (Teen) for a reason.
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