When I first saw Dragon’s Crown as it came out in 2013, I remember thinking to myself how simple and one-note it looked, and while the reviews said otherwise, I never got the chance to prove myself wrong as I didn’t own a PS3 or Vita. The one thing that did catch my eye, however, and still does in 2018, is its beautiful hand-drawn art style. I was expecting something similar to a 2D, side-scrolling Diablo, but Vanillaware has crafted something far deeper than that. There may not be a whole lot added in the re-release for those who’ve played the original version, but Dragon’s Crown Pro is a great second chance for people who haven’t experienced the game yet to do so on the PS4.
Dragon’s Crown is set in the Kingdom of Hydeland, a land riddled with catacombs, labyrinths, and dangerous monsters inhabiting all parts of the world. Hydeland is in a state of turmoil, and the only way to restore its former glory is by using the Dragon’s Crown, a relic charged with the power of an ancient dragon. You play as one of six unique adventurers hunting for the relic, each from their own part of Hydeland with small amounts of backstory and lore. The plot and exposition are primarily delivered by a narrator, and while his oddly soothing voice does an excellent job of getting the point across, it starts to get annoying when he repeats the same lines when you revisit an area.
The world building and characters you meet are interesting, but the plot is thin with only a few revelations and twists that have any meaningful impact. It’s an average plot throughout, but it gets its job done as a motivator for the gameplay. The various characters you meet have quite a bit more depth to them. Each time you engage with them, they might have something new to say, even if it might be a small remark, but the delivery is believable and realistic due to excellent voice acting across the board.
Gameplay is at the forefront of Dragon’s Crown Pro, and the game doesn’t shy away from that. The character you choose to play as goes beyond simple aesthetics, as it also determines the class you’ll play as too. As mentioned, there’s six to choose from, ranging from your standard warrior and rogue to a mage or warlock specialising in different magics. Experimenting with each class to find out which you like best is heavily encouraged, and once you decide, you’ll build on your repertoire of skills and abilities by levelling up. There are skills unique to each class and some that are synonymous to all. When you couple this satisfying progression with the constant improvement that comes with frequent loot drops, it becomes hard not to get addicted to Dragon’s Crown’s gameplay loop.
There are a total of nine stages to explore, each with diverging pathways and different end bosses. Stages are littered with enemies, hidden puzzles, and small opportunities for extra loot if you look for them. Due to the relatively small number of stages, each one stands out with its own unique theme, so whether you’re hacking and slashing through a stage for the first or fifth time, it’s still enjoyable and rewarding. This also makes the second half of the game feel fresh even though you’re going through the same environments just on a different path. Overall, there’s plenty here to keep you playing for hours on end, even after the credits have rolled. My one big criticism with the Pro version is just that there’s nothing really here for returning players, and that’s a bit of a shame. It’s still the same excellent game, but there’s no new content or features added other than a few quality of life changes.
Dragon’s Crown is at its best when you’re playing with others. While you can opt to hop online and invite friends or find a lobby of randoms, local co-op is undoubtedly the most enjoyable. Up to four players can jump in on the chaos, and this is where the pure beat em’ up action transitions into a cathartic mess of flying axes, tornadoes, and arrows. The ability to cross-play/save with both the PS3 and Vita is also a nice inclusion, allowing you to play with those still on last-gen consoles or pick up again with an existing character. If you don’t have a means to play with others, you can instead pick and choose the souls that you’ve found and resurrected to fight alongside you. The AI for these companions are controllable to a certain extent, and I never found them to be annoying or frustrating to deal with.
I’m sure the first thing the majority of players notice when laying eyes on Dragon’s Crown is its hand-drawn art style. It’s meticulously detailed, colourful, and practically bursting out of the screen. Characters are expressive, incredibly unique, and the over the top representation of both male and female characters lend to the feeling of a mystical medieval world. Enemies and bosses, in particular, are just as gorgeous, and when the fight gets going, particle effects leave the screen looking like a mesmerising whirlwind of beautiful destruction. The jump to PS4 and 4K has these visuals looking even more fantastical, and despite the almost constant chaos you’ll see on-screen, there are basically no performance issues to speak of, so you can count a consistently smooth experience.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of playing Dragon’s Crown before, Dragon’s Crown Pro is the best way to experience the game. Not only is it visually stunning, but it boasts an addictive gameplay loop mixed with strong character progression that makes it almost impossible not to get addicted to. The only real drawback with the Pro version is that there’s not really a lot on offer for those who’ve played it before. If you’re expecting something akin to what Vanillaware did with Odin Sphere, you’ll be disappointed as it’s mostly just received an upscaled resolution with a few small quality of life changes. If, on the other hand, you’ve not played this gem before, you’ll quickly be questioning why you didn’t earlier. I can’t recommend it enough.