Dragon’s Crown Pro is a 2D, 4-player action-RPG. It is a remaster of Dragon’s Crown, released in 2013 by Vanillaware. This is the same developer behind cult hits such as Odin Sphere and Muramasa. Is Dragon’s Crown worth a revisit and how does this remaster differ from the original?
Modern Beat-em-up Done Right
From the get-go, the core of this game is revealed. You choose a class and start a clear tutorial on the combat system. Once that is finished, the game immediately thrusts you into its simple but engrossing gameplay system. Dragon’s Crown Pro revolves around an aim to prioritize gameplay and art style first. This sense of direction harkens back to classics of side-scrolling beat-em-ups like Golden Axe. However, it stands out from its spiritual predecessors by injecting a fine dose of Hack-and-Slash sensibilities.
These sensibilities lend themselves in great harmony to side-scrolling’s conventions. A more complex combat system than similar games is evident here. Combos can be executed in a variety of stylish ways. Pressing the attack button while moving the joystick in a particular direction can launch, trip and slam, respectively. You can also juggle enemies in the air, allowing for combos. These modern touches ultimately give more depth to the arcade-based gameplay.
Classes and Adventuring
With a solid gameplay foundation comes a hefty amount of variety in the form of six distinct classes. These are the Amazon, Dwarf, Elf, Fighter, Sorceress, and Wizard. Each class has a completely different combat style; some are harder to master than others, as noted by the character select screen giving difficulty levels.
Dragon’s Crown Pro has a level structure consisting of 11 short stages. These play out mostly like their retro predecessors but with more modern tunings. As stages are progressed, bonuses such as chests and hidden rooms appear. These can yield valuable equipment and are given their own ranking system. Defeated enemies give points in a system that rewards your performance after a boss is slain. After each adventure, XP is gained and you can sort out your gathered items in a reward system which derives inspiration from Diablo.
There’s no Place like Hub
A unique and very cardinal decision from developer Vanillaware was to include a hub area. This is because every element links back to the hub. Here, you have several areas that each serve a fundamental purpose. One of such locations is the tavern. Here, you can save your game, create characters, and sort party. There are also general and magic shops where you can buy and sell items. However, trading is admittedly rough around the edges. You cannot compare equipment stats and the UI feels unfinished. Also, the witch and wizard ask generic questions each time you buy or sell such as “Which one would you like?” this can become monotonous.
The remaining areas to visit are more original. In Canaan Temple, the remains of fallen players found in stages can be resurrected and buried, making for new AI-controlled allies and rewards. Think of this process as a meshing of the messaging system from Dark Souls and pawn system in Dragon’s Dogma. Some player death messages can be hilarious and resurrection is quintessential to forming a team when online is not an option. The temple also offers the ability to pray for a stat-boosting miracle.
Lastly, there is The Adventurer’s Guild where you can accept and turn in ‘requests’. These can be conveniently completed during adventures. The guild is also used for utilizing skill points after a level up; spending these on class-specific attributes or general ones can lead to a great build for the player’s character.
Impaired Interface and the Reason for it
With trading being barely serviceable, how does the equipment menu fare? Well, it feels very bare bones but still usable. Equipment slots are not conventionally split up. For example, a symbol of hands for gloves, etc. Instead, there are just 7 empty slots. This can be confusing and handling equipment is not as seamless as most mainstream RPGs. And for a game filled with visual grandeur, the menus are blandly transparent.
In defense of this seemingly glaring flaw is the possibility that Vanillaware purposefully spent less time on menus. Dragon’s Crown Pro is an experience that demands constant grind; the combat requires your attention more than anything else. I have not played a game for awhile where 98% of my playtime is virtually comprised of combat. It is both a refreshing and exhausting grind ahead for people used to Western RPGs in general.
A Quest for the Crown
Dragon’s Crown Pro presents a journey filled with political deception, monsters, magic, and mystique. A narrator is used as the main medium to tell the tale. It really gives the game a charming, storybook-esque quality. Although there is a somewhat refreshing conveyance of non-diegetic storytelling, Dragon’s Crown Pro fails to stand out from the crowd and ultimately succumbs to typical fantasy fare.
In terms of expectation, the campaign confused me in a confluence of amusement and chagrin. The game would sometimes take a humorous break from the generic plot and make references to beloved films such as Fantasia and The Holy Grail, with the latter being a boss fight with a killer rabbit. On the other hand, the game could not decide whether to take itself seriously nor subvert fantasy conventions. These flaws fester into, essentially, a game about stopping an ancient and evil dragon.
Refreshing Art Department
In an industry saturated by the desire to achieve the uncanny valley, there were titles that strove to bring out the artistic potential of the video game medium. Dragon’s Crown Pro had this goal, and it is mostly achieved in an enchantingly pretty way. Vanillaware used a combination of flash and traditional 2d sprite animation to create a unique look.
Conceptually, though, the art department fumbles. Classes suffer from over-the-top character models that consist of oversized muscles and other disproportionate aspects. Also, a handful of character designs look like generic fantasy characters. The town wizard wears a familiar blue outfit while your fairy companion looks uncannily like Tinker Bell. On the surface, these hackneyed appearances make the game look unoriginal.
Environmental design, however, is a triumph. Every location you visit has a completely distinguishable look from each other. They range from catacombs to temple ruins; fortresses to coves. The contrast between areas is an incredible feat for a dungeon crawler. Even after revisiting these areas for the 100th time, they are always able to enrapture with splendor.
Differences In Remaster
Although the game has not aged one bit visually, Dragon’s Crown Pro manages to be slightly sharper than the original. With full 4k support, the colors will pop out with a PS4 Pro. A clearer image of detail can also help when combat gets hectic, helping you track your character. However, expect a nearly identical gaming experience when playing without 4k.
There is a couple of fine benefits for audio purists. For one, the remaster includes the narrator pack of 7 DLC alongside their Japanese versions. Japanese is also available for player call-outs. The best part of this remaster is easily the live orchestra rendition of the original soundtrack. An option to switch between the scores is available but you won’t want to because the orchestra surpasses it with exuding haunt and beautiful harmonies.
Dragon’s Crown Pro is a solid remaster that still boasts a beautiful 2.5D art style and addicting gameplay. Although it offers little to veterans when considering minimal graphical updates and a shared trophy list, this re-release offers this generation the chance to try a side-scrolling great.
Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.