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Dragon's Crown
Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Vanillaware
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Action/ RPG/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
We have seen our share of current-gen ports of classic arcade-style beat-em-ups, and there's been an unusually high concentration of them over the past few years. From the horribly-aged (The Simpsons) to the disappointingly-aged (X-Men) to the wonderfully-aged (Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara), there's no shortage of nostalgia to be found. But how long has it been since we've seen something completely new in this particular space? If you've asked yourself that question, Dragon's Crown is your answer. It's a thoroughly modern take on the classic formula, but with a few twists all of its own. While it does wear out its welcome after a while and is only great in bursts, Dragon's Crown is proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

The artistic wizardry of George Kamitani reaches dizzying new heights in Dragon's Crown. This handdrawn adventure is a visual feast; a magnificent sight for all eyes. Environments spring to life with style, and the action is frequently colorful and explosive. However, I do have a bone to pick with the game. Let's get this out of the way first: female breasts are pleasing to the eyes, and it's not just a sexual thing. Just about everyone I know can appreciate a particularly well-formed pair. However, I have a problem when a character model is roughly 30% tits. Enter the Sorceress; she's a thing to behold, especially in action. She cannot run without holding her arms over her head, and the casting of one spell frequently leaves me worried that she'll give herself a concussion or knock out her own teeth. The Amazon is to the posterior as the Sorceress is to the anterior. It's unnerving.

Sound design is functional, but admittedly nowhere near the outstanding visuals. If you're playing with a full party, the game isn't so much an aural delight as it is a bunch of noise. But let's face it: this is how it was in arcades; you weren't straining your ears to hear every single "PSH" that announced a successful attack on your enemies. Nor were you even aware that there was actually music playing. Dragon's Crown gets a free pass for sound just because it's not terribly important to the whole experience. But in terms of quality, it's neither great nor awful. It's just there.

Beat-em-ups don't need stories. Hell, in Double Dragon, bad guys decked your sweetie in the gut and carried her off -- and that's all the reason you needed to bring the pain to wave after wave of goons. But Dragon's Crown is more than a standard beat-em-up. The game takes place in Hydeland, where there's a succession dispute going on after the king goes missing in his quest to recover a legendary artifact that gives man dominion over the dragons. Yes, the Dragon's Crown.

So as one of four archetypal adventurers, you set forth to find the Dragon's Crown. Before long, the story is tossed under the bus in favor of the narrative spun by your character development. You trek through a handful of forked but linear levels, smiting enemies of all sorts as you find treasures and complete objectives. There are different ways to traverse each level, and since the levels are replayable once you finish them, it doesn't matter if and when you miss something on your first go.

You can play on your own or with up to three companions. You can join up with friends or have some computer-controlled allies join you (if you've got the bones, but more on that later). Co-op play is a blast, as it usually is with games like this, but between all the models on screen, there is often a great deal of confusion. So much is going on nearly all of the time that you can't really make sense of the action. If you're trying to complete specific objectives and are not playing with friends, it's not really recommended to enlist A.I. buddies; they can mess you up, and that's all I'll say.

The enemies in Dragon's Crown scale to your level, so there's always something to be earned and you are always rewarded for testing out your new skills in the field. The combos are easy to learn, and the game drops just enough hints regarding environmental anomalies that can and should be investigated by your rogue Rannie.

As with most beat-em-ups, you will likely start playing by simply charging headlong into the fray, mashing buttons without a care in the world. However, you shouldn't do that for too long; your defensive options are there for a reason, and if you like living, you'll need to make use of them, especially during the game's memorable boss battles. Dodging and blocking will become your second best friends, as movement is an important part of combat.

Game Mechanics:
Dragon's Crown takes the left-to-right momentum of the arcade beat-em-ups of days long gone by, infuses it with an exciting combat system, and gives you an addictive leveling system that will have you returning to dungeons you've conquered several times over. You'll start off with a few basic attacks, but as you progress through the levels, you'll find yourself leveling up quickly and finding treasures that range from money to improved equipment. It's great fun, especially if you're with friends. That being said, this isn't the kind of game you'll lose sleep over. You'll boot it up for an hour or so, and then you'll likely gravitate towards something else. This isn't a particularly bad thing about the game, but it does seem a bit exclusive to this genre.

So who are these adventurers? Well, we've got the stalwart Knight, whose armor completely covers every inch of his impossibly ripped body. We've got the burly and surly dwarf, who can throw people, Gimli-style. The Wizard's magic has applications that must be seen to be believed. The Archer has her arrows and incredible agility, and the Amazon has a big...axe. Each of these classes are customizable and complement each other well.

Between all the adventuring you do, there's a hub world that features just about every town resource you'd need in a role-playing game. There's an inn, a chapel, a guild, a store. Everything you need is accounted for.

If you're playing solo, you're going to want computer companions at some point. As you adventure through the ruins and catacombs of Hydeland Kingdom, you'll find the bones of perished adventurers. Bring them to the Chapel, and you can choose to resurrect them or bury them. Resurrecting them pretty much makes them your indentured servants, and burying them has a chance of yielding a bonus item.

Dragon's Crown came along at exactly the right time. As the spectre of the next console generation is starting to coalesce into a discernable form, it's good to know that we have developers who are still willing to bring us back to the past -- while at the same time, shuttling us into the future.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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