Dragon's Crown Review

While its ludicrously-proportioned characters might get all the attention, Dragon's Crown is more than just a classic side-scrolling beat 'em up with a legendary boob job.

Review by Jaz Rignall, .

Jaz Rignall Editorial Director

Almost the moment I started playing Dragon’s Crown, I could feel the decades falling away. I was rusty at first, while my brain’s gaming orientation system dug deep into the darkest recesses of my head, looking for my long lost “side scrolling beat ‘em up skillz” template. But once it was located and loaded into my muscle memory, I began to draw on years of early 90’s gaming experience to tackle this modern interpretation of a genre staple of the 16-bit era.

Dragon's Crown is a weird mashup of Golden Axe and Capcom’s classic mid-90’s RPG side scrollers, Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara, with lashings of Dungeons and Dragons gravy. But while its game mechanics are clearly rooted in the last century, the graphics and presentation are the stuff of today. The game's rich, detailed backgrounds are lush, and are brought to life though a myriad of subtle, neat little graphical touches. I particularly liked the parallax scrolling effects, which are another nod to 90’s gaming, but are much more sophisticated than any game of yore. It’s like strolling through a gorgeously drawn, living comic book – especially on Vita, which was my primary play platform.

Here are the Dragon's Crown heroes, all beefy and be-muscled.

The characters are presented in period 2D animated sprite format, and look absolutely terrific, but… and here’s where I have to take a tiresome detour… their styling is ridiculously sexed-up. Vanillaware cofounder George Kamitani comes across like Frank Frazetta’s manga-drawing progeny, who has an even bigger boob fixation than his Dad. End result, Dragon’s Crown’s characters are proportioned in legendarily ridiculous fashion. Move over Dead or Alive, and make way for gaming’s new high jiggle-mark of boob wobblage. And butt cleavage. And bare bloke chestage and muscleage.

Depending on where your views sit on the hyper sexualized graphics spectrum, your reaction will likely fall somewhere between “ZOMG, look at the bangers on that lol lol” or feeling inclined to write a righteous, 15,000-word essay on the evils of taking ludicrous artistic anatomical liberties in gaming. Either way, it’s an unnecessary distraction from the game itself, which I’m enjoying infinitely more as a player than a voyeur. So I’ll get back to that and leave the postulations on perverse proportions to other, more academic folk.

I’ve been playing single-player mode mostly, and it’s a lot of fun. The action is arcade-immediate, and quickly becomes quite frantic and challenging. The game’s combo-control system is a bit fiddly, but doesn’t take long to adjust to, assuming you’ve experienced this sort of jump-and-press-O, then double-tap-to-slide action before. Once you’re up to speed, you’ll be hacking, jumping and blasting through hordes of enemies, and using the 2D screen’s pseudo 3D to sidestep monsters like a pro. It’s all classic stuff, and the enemies are varied and fun. Besting some requires learning patterns and tactics: others can be defeated in a button-mashing fest of carnage. For the most part, though, it’s skills and reflexes that will carry you through, along with some perseverance, and patience with the game’s sometimes-unforgiving hazards, which harken back to the olden days of death by, “Are those things on the floor something I should pick up? Onoes, they’re deadly spikes! WTF? Gah!”

Here are the heroines of Dragon's Crown. Yep. Say no more.

But while the gameplay mechanics are clearly on an old-school arcade tip, Dragon’s Crown’s RPG elements help deliver contemporary new genre depth. There’s a classic Dungeons and Dragons inn that provides a quest hub. A Guild Master doles out missions, and the game is narrated like a story. There’s plenty of treasure and items to pick up on your travels, which help you tweak and customize whichever one of the six characters you chose as your main.

This aspect of the game isn’t explained particularly well, but I nevertheless enjoyed the experimentation, and through a combination of basic D+D understanding and a bit of trial-and-error figured out what I really needed to help give my appropriate playstyle stats a boost, while down-ranking other, less-necessary ones. Although stats and gear don’t seem to be a truly fundamental requisite for success, they do give a helpful boost as you and your chums work through nine levels of side-scrolling shenanigans, journeying across fantasy landscapes and beating down their end-of-level bosses in good ol' golden age of arcades style.

The hand-drawn backdrops feel both retro and modern. Whatever your views on the character styling, there's no denying the backgrounds are visually stunning.

I’ve really enjoyed my time with Dragon’s Crown. It’s a wonderful mix of stuff I used to love back in the olden days, spiffed up and modernized into a contemporary game. It delivers a beefy challenge, is chock full of pure arcade challenges that seem almost mindless until you realize how much it’s making you think, and it’s all wrapped up in an absolutely sumptuous visual package. Yes, it does also have flapping great yam bags, but that’s not what Dragon’s Crown is all about. Unless the game’s visual style really does offend you – and I can understand why it might for some – what we have here is a retro-modern treat that’s well worth a whirl. It’s not perfect, and it can sometimes be a little frustrating, but it made me smile a lot. And not for that reason.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Visuals: Gorgeous, highly stylized graphics deliver a visually rich experience. Character styling is hyper sexualized to the point of ludicrousness, which might be a turn-off for some.
  • Music: It's fine, but it feels a bit derpy. You know. Orchestral noodling wallpaper music that's not unpleasant, but try remembering any of it 5 minutes later.
  • Interface: If you're chubby of finger, and are playing on a Vita, prepare for some pinky-poking, since some of the menus are a bit fiddly. But overall, it's nice-looking and solid enough. Just feels designed for a full-screen console, not a mobile thing.
  • Lasting Appeal: Dragon's Crown packs a decent challenge. Six different characters, and the multiplayer option give plenty of scope for replay value, but like most arcade-type games, there isn't much variability in the gameplay - simply in the style in which you tackle it.

Look beyond the cleavage, assuming you are able, and you'll find a terrific retro-modern arcade game that looks absolutely stunning, and packs a good old fashioned arcade challenge. Some might find it a little too hard and unforgiving, but if you consider yourself a hardcore gamer, here's where you can test your mettle.

4.5 /5

Dragon's Crown Review Jaz Rignall While its ludicrously-proportioned characters might get all the attention, Dragon's Crown is more than just a classic side-scrolling beat 'em up with a legendary boob job. 2013-08-02T15:00:00-04:00 4.5 5

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Comments 17

  • Avatar for Murbs #1 Murbs 4 years ago
    Can't wait for it to cross the Atlantic; Vita version all the way for me. Decided against importing because of potential DLC implications but reviews like this don't help :-)Edited August 2013 by Murbs
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  • Avatar for LockeTribal #2 LockeTribal 4 years ago
    "Flapping great yam bags" is a wonderful phrase and I applaud you for it!
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  • Avatar for AxiomVerge #3 AxiomVerge 4 years ago
    I hate to be among the detractors, but, the sexualization does push it over the edge for me. It's just too creepy.
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  • Avatar for n00bsauce #4 n00bsauce 4 years ago
    Ut looks fun. It reminds me of Gauntlet Legends on the 64. Gonna pre-order it today
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  • Avatar for unangbangkay #5 unangbangkay 4 years ago
    @AxiomVerge A shame, but that's fine. You're not obliged to like what you don't like, and not every game is obliged to cater to everyone.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #6 pjedavison 4 years ago
    @lonecow "Why is sexy=creepy" is a very good question indeed! As a fan of the "otaku games" end of the JRPG market, it's one I often ponder, but one I rarely reach a satisfying answer for. It's often frustrating, as many of these games that are dismissed as "fanservicey pandering" or, in more extreme cases, sexist, are actually rather pleasant and/or heartwarming at their core.

    Anyone have any thoughts?
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #7 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    Personally, I find gratuitous graphic violence in games a lot more upsetting than a dash of superficial hypersexualization, but to each their own. I'll loudly decry games that wallow in and celebrate brutality, so I won't begrudge anyone their discomfort over Dragon's Crown.
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  • Avatar for scotts #8 scotts 4 years ago
    @pjedavison Danielle Riendeau over at Polygon explains it well.
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  • Avatar for scotts #9 scotts 4 years ago
    By the way, I don't see it as "sexy=creepy". Content can be sexy and not creepy. But when the content is sexy in such a way that I feel the creators have added the sexiness to appeal to a very limited audience, and as a byproduct turn-off a wider audience, it starts to become creepy for me.
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  • Avatar for fullyillustrated #10 fullyillustrated 4 years ago
    Excellent review Jazz, and yet another that conjures the old Mean Machines flavour. I swear, I've not felt this attached to a games site since...well, as long as I can remember.

    Needless to say my Vita is now charging in preparation for buying the game. It sounds great.

    Bonza review, keep'em coming!

    EDIT - Just realised it ain't out here in the UK until later this eBay has just come to the rescue and my copy is now in the post from good old HK. Boom!Edited August 2013 by fullyillustrated
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  • Avatar for Andy1975 #11 Andy1975 4 years ago
    @lonecow A game based on Rockwell's art sounds kind of neat to me :p

    While the sorceress is indeed sexualized, the cast is so distorted as a whole that the art doesn't bother me (look at that guy in the armor - what massively overbroad shoulders, what stubby legs, what a tiny head!). What's especially interesting to me is that the amazon is muscular to a point that most men (and women) would find grotesque, although George Kamitani clearly thinks she's sexy.

    I thought Derek Yu also had some interesting thoughts that spun off from the Dragon's Crown art controversy:
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  • Avatar for hybridial #12 hybridial 4 years ago
    I'm going to say this right now.

    There is nothing wrong with this game's artstyle. Absolutely nothing.

    Yes it is a very extreme style. That is a good thing, art is always better that way. I could understand however someone just not liking the style because art is always subjective.

    But there is no true logical argument to directly correlate that a visual protrayal of a character alone is sexist. You will never see a real academic feminist argue that because they know better. And none of them have even felt a particular need to say anything about this game because they know that there's very little there for them to write about.

    This game is excellent, a true throwback to my favourite genre of games growing up. Kamitani is an incredible artist who is not afraid to make unique interpretations of physical characteristics, and whilst most of his choices here are fairly routine, it's because this game is a love letter to Conan, Golden Axe, and Dungeons & Dragons, and its art definitely makes one think of those.
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  • Avatar for mitchconcannon30 #13 mitchconcannon30 4 years ago
    Hope it comes out in the EU soon.
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  • Avatar for Bla1ne #14 Bla1ne 4 years ago
    A little late to the party, but I still want to pitch in!

    I'm sure this must have been a very hard review to write, what with the controversial art style, and every single word you wrote being scrutinized for purpose, intent, and interpretations... But that's not what I want to talk about! Just wanted to mention that I feel like you neglected to talk about a few of the game's mechanics that would have been relevant in the review. For instance, that although the game can be difficult, as a player you are given organic means of manipulating the difficulty yourself. You can choose to bring 3 powerful AI or human allies with you, for instance (although I often prefer to go it alone, for the challenge!), and levels have different paths you can choose from, depending on your level and whether you'd prefer to grind a little more before proceeding on the tougher branch.

    What I'm trying to get at, even though I'm in no position to talk having never written a game review myself, is that you shouldn't let controversy affect your review. I feel like you could have fleshed out this review more, had you not been preoccupied by the art style controversy. And since "difficulty" or "challenge" was mentioned a lot, but you didn't mention how the challenge can be mitigated, or tailored, I think it was a bit unfair to the game. Some people might be put off by a game that's too challenging--never mind that its art style is hyper-sexualized!
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  • Avatar for Deionarra #15 Deionarra 4 years ago
    I am enjoying the Vita version tremendously. It's a very nice and highly playable game. I'm "Eurotrash", so I imported a US version. I wanted to play this once-in-a-generation-game nao!

    Good-ish review. I don't get all focus put on the character designs, surely this is somewhat insignificant? I feel that this "issue" is completely overblown. Shame on you for letting it slip into so many parts of the review; text body, image captions and the nitty gritty. Do you think you gave it enough attention already?

    I'm looking forward to next COD-rehash review. Will you focus as much on the blatant neo-conservative views that permeate every single COD installment, will you give due attention to the awful glorification of war and the ridiculous gun-porn fantasies? Will you focus on excessive violence, killing and war as entertainment? I am looking forward to the next COD review where you focus on these much more disturbing issues.

    Dragon's Crown has a bit of skin, for crying out loud.. big deal!
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