Dragon’s Crown Review: An Ode To Gygax

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If you get your video game news either by word of mouth from your friends or through TV commercials, you likely haven’t heard of Dragon’s Crown.  However if you peruse the internet like the rest of us, chances are you’ve seen some facet of this game.  Whether it be the game’s incredibly gorgeous art style, the outrage about the game’s portrayal of women from tumblr users and feminists withing the gaming community, or perhaps you’ve seen one of the many adult comics of the female characters that, strangely, existed far before the game was announced.  If you’re uninformed about the game, then strap yourself in, because there is a lot to praise about this game.  Since we at NUReviews like to focus on the things that really make a game great or not, our insight and personal views on the controversy of this game will not be affecting our review score.

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Let’s start with the presentation of the game, because when it comes to the presentation, there is nothing that I don’t love about this game.  All the art is classic Vanillaware style, which if you’ve played Muramasa or Odin Sphere, you know what I’m talking about.  Hand drawn, beautifully colored backdrops and characters that animate as fluidly as a flowing river.  On the Vita’s screen everything looks amazing, and once upscaled to your TV screen on the PS3, everything just pops that much more.  All the effects in the game look as good as the characters and backgrounds, though when you can have four playable characters on the screen with all those enemies, things get a little blinding.  The story is told in a fashion similar to a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons, and by similar, I mean exactly.  The story is told through cutscenes of barely static characters against backdrops, all voices and text are read by a singular Narrator entity like a Dungeon Master painting the scene for their players.  In Dragon’s Crown you play as a random adventurer who has come to a new land with their thief sidekick Ronnie in search of adventure and treasure.  You learn that the king of the land has gone missing searching for the Dragon’s Crown, a mystical crown that gives one the ability to control dragons, in hopes that it will help him defend his kingdom from encroaching war.  Meanwhile, an evil group of magicians have been attempting to revive the Ancient Dragon, a powerful creature who has supremacy over all magic, and threatens the life of the entire world.  Aside from the six playable classes and your rouge side kick, there is a cavalcade of NPCs that you will meet along your journey, some run shops or other places that aid you on your quest, others are simply mission based and provide you with information about your current mission or an alternate route after a certain point in the game.

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The gameplay is a mix of simplistic beat em up gameplay with RPG mechanics, similar to the D&D beat em ups like Shadow Over Mystara.  You control your character’s movement with the left control stick, allowing your character to move both left and right, and into and out of the foreground, similar to Castle Crashers.  Pressing the Square button unleashes a normal attack, while the X button lets you jump and the Circle button triggers a special.  The special depends on your character, for instance the Wizard can use Circle and a direction with the control stick to unleash different magic spells based on their staff, while the Dwarf simply slams his hammers into the ground in a manly fashion.  Holding the Square button will also perform some form of character trait, in the Dwarfs case it hardens your defense, while the Sorceress and Wizard use it to recharge mana.  You can use any items in your inventory by scrolling to them with the left and right buttons on the d-pad, then using the down button to use the item, however this happens in real time, so be sure not to get hurt while you’re doing it.  You can access and change your equipment any time you’re in town, but you’re stuck with that set the second you enter a dungeon until you finish.  In town you can also buy items such as potions, which allows a limited use in each given dungeon, but will automatically refill themselves up to a certain point upon your return.  This however leads to my biggest problem with the game, the menu system.  By yourself, the menus are of no concern, however the more players you have the more of a hassle it becomes.  Only one player can access each menu at a given time, and every other player must wait for their turn to do what they need to do.  This becomes specifically troublesome when buying/repairing items (which uses gold from the same pool that every player uses, better hope your buddy doesn’t use the last of the gold to repair his weapons before you get a chance to), changing equipment, learning skills, and accepting quests, which each player in the party has to do individually else they won’t get the rewards.  This is easily the hugest problem the game has, for as a four player co-op beat em up, everything in the game should be fluid and match the flow of the action segments, not cause everyone to stop in their tracks for a few minutes while they wait on their friend to decide between repairing their belt or buying a defense up potion.

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The action segments of the game are fairly linear, it’s essentially like any other beat em up where you have to move from point A to point B while scrolling to the right side of the screen.  Some rooms in dungeons will have secret passage ways that you can access by touching (or on the PS3 version, clicking using the right analog stick and the L2 button) something in the background or fulfilling certain requirements in the room.  When you come across a chest or locked door, simply touching/clicking it will command your rouge to go unlock it.  Doors will lead you to alternate rooms where some enemies or treasure will be waiting for you, while treasure chests will give you random amounts of gold and a treasure rank.  Each treasure rank (which ranges from E to S) turns into a single equip-able item at the end of the dungeon, which you have to appraise to learn the true abilities of, costing you a handful of gold to do so.  By picking up coins and other trinkets that fall on the ground, you increase your score, which gets turned into the group experience points once you finish.  At the end of each dungeon is a boss fight, and after a certain point in the game, each dungeon gets a harder, alternate path that you have to complete to further the story.  Along the way you’ll encounter piles of bones that you can pick up with the Triangle button (or if you’re a Sorceress and posses a certain skill, you can turn these bones into an undead minion).  If you take these bones to the church in town, you can resurrect them into AI controlled allies to accompany you into dungeons when playing solo (which, if you don’t have friends or are playing on the Vita, you’ll be doing until about 5 hours into the game).  The AI for these characters isn’t the best AI in town, but they get their job done…sometimes.

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Now you may have been wondering what I meant when I mentioned the controversy around this game at the beginning of the review.  Well let me give you a quick run down, basically there was a huge upheaval about this game when it came out due to it’s portrayal of women.  There were claims that the game’s depictions were “sexist”, and reviewer for Polygon Danielle Riendau claimed it to be “distracting…It’s obvious, one-sided and gross”.   One of the writers from our “favorite” site Kotaku even called the Sorceress, who is depicted as a young woman with a slim figure and massive breasts, as a “lolicon fantasy”, because that’s what lolicon means all right.  With just as many arguments and claims that it is sexist, there have been just as many defending the game.  Many point out that it’s part of Vanillaware’s art style, in which large breasts are used as a symbol of fertility and life, and often associated to characters who dabble in Necromancy such as the Sorceress.  My personal opinion on the art style that most of it is within good taste, a lot of the character art used for cutscenes or unlockable art match a certain artistic theme similar to medieval paintings.  While the Sorceress and Amazon’s proportions might be to the extreme, I would never call this game sexist, as it treats men in an extremely similar fashion, drawing many men in unreasonable shapes or proportions (such as having a chest three times the size of their head).

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And now we get down to brass taxes, the final summary and score of the game.  In the amount of time that I’ve had to play Dragon’s Crown I’ve had a blast.  It’s been great fun playing single player, and when I played local co-op with my friends we all had a good time (when we weren’t dealing with the menu system).  I’ve just gotten to when the game opens access to the rest of it’s goodies, such as online play and the expanded, harder dungeons, but I can tell I have much, much more in store for me in the coming hours.  Despite it’s couple of flaws, the game’s art style, story presentation, and gameplay are beautifully done and make for a game that exceeds many expectations.  However, I probably wouldn’t recommend this game to everyone, if you wouldn’t get committed to it you’ll likely get tired of it quickly.  With that in mind, I give Dragon’s Crown for the PS3 and PlayStation Vita an edited score of 4 out of 6 stars.

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6 thoughts on “Dragon’s Crown Review: An Ode To Gygax”

  1. I can honestly say that playing this game with brad, we played the first level 4 times. 1st time because it was part of the story. 2nd time because we had a quest in that area. 3rd time because only I had accepted the quest, and no one else got rewards for it. 4th time, because Brad thought he had accepted the quest, but hadn’t. The gameplay of this game is fast and entertaining and the art is gorgeous, but how do you screw up a quest system so bad, especially on a game based on a dnd campaign.

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  2. “My personal opinion on the art style that most of it is within good taste…”

    Uh, wow. Well, I guess people said the same about Rumble Roses and DOA Xtreme 2 too, so I guess the average gamer just has a very different idea of what taste is.

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    1. Let’s look at it this way, we have paintings from famous artists through out time depicting naked women, sometimes partially nude, sometimes fully nude. Sometimes they cover just the nipples of a woman’s breasts, sometimes they’re fully exposed. Yet in most, if not all cases, these paintings are respected pieces of art and regarded as tasteful. There are fully nude women and men through out all of artistic history, yet a game that partially emulates this sort of “medieval” style is knocked upon because of the women in it. Because it’s in a video game, it’s not really considered “art”, and thus can be scrutinized in ways that other art pieces aren’t. This is the mind set that seems to take most people who have issues with this game.

      In my personal opinion, this is a great art style. It’s detailed, it’s colorful, and it shows far more passion and creativity than most art in games. To compare the art in this game to Dead or Alive or Rumble Roses simply goes to show that you don’t quite know what you’re talking about. The big difference between the two, is that those two games use sex to sell themselves, while Dragons Crown simply has some oddly proportioned characters. Look up any trailer for Dead or Alive Extreme 2 and you’ll see that it’s pretty much focused on girls in bikinis and camera angles that entice erotic responses. Meanwhile the trailers for Dragon’s Crown heavily focus on gameplay, only showing off these “offensive depictions of women” (not your words, but people out there do call it that) for mere seconds at a time.

      I don’t feel it’s a matter of the “average gamer” having a different idea of what taste is, because everybody has different taste. I feel it’s more a corruption of ideals of the populace, the thought that we can’t look upon the art in this game that some one painstakingly spent hours drawing to perfection, that put their heart into making sure everything was just right, just because it has some silly proportions. Do we knock The Persistence of Memory because that’s not a realistic depiction of clocks melting? No. If these portraits weren’t in a video game, they’d be called art and highly regarded for the artist’s skill, so why is it that just because it’s in a video game it’s now “hurtful to women”?

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    2. Good point. I guess hentai is also a respectful art form as well because of nude paintings. To heck with context!

      You are absolutely naive if you do think Vanillaware isn’t intentionally sexualizing the sorceress, the amazon, the mermaid, etc. and using that to sell the game. Just because the gameplay trailers don’t focus entirely on obscenely drawn women does not mean the artist didn’t draw them as sex objects. Do you sincerely believe all the half-naked women in bikini armor and such in video games is just a coincidence and not meant to grab the eyes of horny boys because they don’t have entire trailers dedicated to them? Are you really that naive?

      The art isn’t even that good. It’s of the same quality of many RPGs I see on the App Store for the iPhone. I think gamers would see that if they could see past the sorceress’s bust. And just because somebody spent time on the art does not mean it is above criticism. Otherwise, according to your own logic, you can’t criticize any video game whatsoever. Even Cheetahmen took sweat and blood to make.

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    3. I think you’re over generalizing everything I’m saying. I’m quite understanding that sex sells, and many games make their women look attractive to sell to gamers. I never said that Kamitani draws women in this way for any reason other than to sell it to “horny boys”, in fact I stated no where that he draws his women that way for any reason. I did imply, however, that we shouldn’t judge it so critically just because it’s a different medium than other things. We don’t criticize action movies because the love interest is hotter than your “average woman”, so why do we criticize games this way? To make it clear, I’m not against this whole “equality with women in games movement” that’s been taking stride in the last couple years, I’m all for better written and represented women in games, but this game does nothing to harm that in any sense. Yes the women are over sexualized with proportions that shouldn’t physically be capable, but that’s just it, the proportions of these women (and men) shouldn’t be physically capable. They’re spoofs, if anything, to generate fantasies in the players, or in some cases to be representative of some theme (for instance, Kamitami always draws his necromancers with large breasts. This is because breasts are often symbolic with life, like providing nourishment for a new born child, and Necromancy is about bringing life to whats lifeless. Or it’s because he likes big breasts, if you don’t want to actually try and look into things). How is this any different than the fantasies that books or movies generate for their audience?

      And as for your comparison of hentai to nude portraits, you’re right, context does play a bit of a role in things. I will concede the point that I might have lost sight of the role that context plays in my initial post, but I stand by the rest of it in that the art for this game does no one no harm.

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    4. I think the point that is being made in the article, is not that the art isn’t sexualized, (because it is), but rather, it is being focused on too heavily. If we’re going to talk about how the women are over sexualized, we need to mention how the male characters have forearms that are larger than their entire heads. Both genders are caricatures of what they are supposed to depict. The art is a style choice, which love or hate it, adds a particular flavor to the game. I personally love “No More Heroes” style and aesthetic, while many people didn’t. It’s just a matter of opinion.

      The art is over the top, but, the point made in the article from what I gathered was that the game itself was very well made, and that people are disregarding this game based only the art. As for the “taste” aspect, what makes your particular taste superior to someone else’s. A lot of people liked the Transformers movies, while I can’t stand them. Neither of us is superior to the other, it’s just a matter or preference.

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