Last year I made a video about my favorite arcade games that never got a decent port, and the vast majority of them, big surprise, were classic examples of the side scrolling beat ‘em up: namely X-Men and Aliens vs. Predator. My favorite beat ‘em up, however, did get a good port in the form of Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara. And there has been no game in recent memory that makes me think more of this armor-clad brawler than Dragon’s Crown.
Originally released in 2013 for PS3 and the Vita, this fantasy hack and slash by Atlus and Vanillaware is getting a new coat of paint on the 15th of May, 2018. And having never played the original, I can say that Dragon’s Crown Pro for PS4 is a terrific way of introducing those of us who never had the exquisite joy of taking part in its particular brand of smash ‘em up chaos.
In many ways, Dragon’s Crown Pro works quite a bit like any beat ‘em up: call up some friends, pick your characters, and stab, spell, and slash your way through a number of strange and beautiful landscapes. The combat is largely as simple or as complex as you’d like it to be, with plenty of options for strategy or just good ole button mashing. Your hits have a nice, satisfying weight behind them, and the monsters and enemies you fight run the gamut from terrifying to just flat out cool.
And your hero characters are… Well, maybe we should just go with unforgettable. You’ve got your standard tropes: your armor clad warrior, your nimble and elusive elf, your witch with a balcony that long ago should have snapped her spine in half like a dry twig with a pair of cue balls stapled to one half…
Sorry: I got distracted. I do feel like I have to bring up that element of the character design, though. A number of the character models in Dragon Crown Pro have been built from a bit of an oversexualized palate, let’s say. As I’ve said in the past, I’ve got no problem with that: sex is fun and presumably, so is slaying dragons, so why not enjoy both? The character models are like if Frank Frazetta was an anime fan, and it really works. It’s a fairly central theme to the design of this game, so if that isn’t your cup of tea: you know, fair warning.
It was the art direction of Dragon’s Crown Pro was what I enjoyed the most about it. The overall action is fun. I love a lot of the newer directions in which they took the traditional style of the game. You can level up your character, learn new moves and abilities, and even go on side quests. But what I was constantly looking forward to was unlocking new areas to explore and fight through. The tremendous amount of detail and care that went into crafting the many varied worlds of Dragon’s Crown is astounding. I usually roll my eyes at the idea of unlocking concept art as a reward for finishing certain tasks in games, but it made perfect sense for something as pretty as this. The temples, the jungles, the catacombs: everything is just so vivid and beautiful, I couldn’t get enough.
I will say, however, that getting through those zones wasn’t always free of problems.
The first issue I have with Dragon’s Crown Pro is, to be fair, a problem I’ve had with a lot of beat ‘em ups: the sometimes endless loop of chaos. A huge plus for Dragon’s Crown is that, like many arcade style action games before it, this is the sort of game you can sit down and play with your friends. The option for multiplayer is excellent, and if you’re on your own, you can even have some computer generated allies come in and add some variety to your quest. However, when you’ve got four characters, a flying pixie, a thief opening chests, and then countless numbers of disposable zombies, goblins, and dragons also taking up your screen’s real estate, it’s incredibly easy to get lost in the crowd. There were plenty of moments where I literally had no idea where I was, who I was hitting, and if I even had my weapon equipped. This could be particularly bad during the boss fights, which is a real shame because some of those bosses require more than just a few well-placed hammer blows to bring them down.
And with that many people on screen at once, it can sometimes be frustrating to get the camera to move you in the direction you want to go.
Aside from these woes, however, Dragon’s Crown Pro offers something truly unique and fun for fans of action and fantasy alike. It’s not the sort of game you’d necessarily have fun blowing through as quickly as possible: there’s an element of samey-ness that goes with these old-school beat ‘em ups, and despite its attempts to modernize, Dragon’s Crown is still a product inspired by that by gone era. It’s the perfect sort of experience to enjoy an hour or two at a time, slowly unlocking and progressing until you’ve stripped that bone bare.
…which might be a poor choice of words for this particular game, now that I think of it.