The more juvenile elements of Dragon’s Crown’s visuals have gotten more attention than its gameplay, which is a shame, because the demo I played today proved that Vanillaware, the creators of modern 2D classics like Odin Sphere and Muramasa, haven’t lost their touch.
I’ve been a fan of Vanillaware ever since Odin Sphere came out for the PS2 in 2007. I loved Odin Sphere so much that I picked up their next game, Muramasa: The Demon Blade for Wii the day it came out, and I even paid out the ass to track down a Saturn copy of one of their earlier games, Princess Crown, on eBay. Each Vanillaware game represents a substantial improvement over the one that came before it — Muramasa is better than Odin Sphere, which is better than Princess Crown — and it looks like the company’s latest game, Dragon’s Crown, will manage to keep up that trend and outdo all of its predecessors.
The first thing you notice when you start playing Dragon’s Crown (well, other than the… uh, ridiculously “bountiful” features of the female characters,) is how pretty the game is: Odin Sphere and Muramasa were gorgeous games, but they look like a cheap Hannah Barbara cartoon when compared to Dragon’s Crown’s beautiful, HD art. All of the characters are animated with incredibly fluidity and the level of detail on each sprite is unreal: the camera zooms in and pans out depending on how far away player characters are from each other, and even when the camera is zoomed in extremely close, there wasn’t a hint of pixelation. You could frame a screenshot of this game on your wall and people would probably think it’s an actual painting.
The demo I played today gave me access to all six of Dragon’s Crown’s character classes, but I unfortunately only had time to try the game out with two of them: the gigantic, heavily armored Fighter and the nimble Elf. While the demo made it seem like there were only two attack buttons, the game gave you all of options with those two buttons: for instance, tapping the basic attack button with the Fighter would make him do the standard three hit combo, but holding it down allowed him to create a magic shield that protected everyone around him. Hitting the special attack button would cause the Fighter to plunge his sword into the ground, creating a powerful shockwave, but that left him defenseless afterward: you need to wait awhile before you can pick up your sword again, so you’ll need to rely on your teammates to cover you while your weaponless.
The Elf’s special ability was more interesting: besides her standard arrow attacks, she could also cast a spell to create a tornado. The tornado is actually effected by the environment: if you cast the spell near a flame for instance, the tornado changes into a fire-element spell (ditto if you cast it in water, etc.) The demo made it seem like all of the characters had special abilities that could be affected or enhanced depending on where they were in the environment.
Sad ass people with no friends will be happy to learn that while Dragon’s Crown is being designed primarily as a multiplayer beat-em-up, you can play through the game solo. You can recruit AI partners throughout your adventure to fight alongside you, and players will always have access to a Thief class partner (who they can order around using the second analog stick,) who will unlock treasure chests and doors for them. Simultaenously ordering the Thief around with the second analog stick while fighting enemies took some getting used to, but you’ll apparently need to make extensive use of this feature, as the alternate routes the Thief can unlock often have better loot rewards in them (and tougher enemies.)
I was very impressed by the Dragon’s Crown demo, so much so that I immediately pre-ordered the game online once I finished the demo. Dragon’s Crown will be released for the PS3 and PS Vita this August, and anyone who pre-orders the game will get a free 64 page art book.