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Dragon’s Crown Pro (PS4) Review

June 14, 2018 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Dragon's Crown Pro

I should start by saying I never played the original Dragon’s Crown game on PS3. Frankly, a lot of the original PS3 catalog passed me by, so having a PS4 now where there are a ton of re-releases and HD upgrades means I get to play some of the better games from that platform. Some of them are great like Odin Sphere, some are terrible like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. Dragon’s Crown Pro falls squarely in the middle, I think.

To put it in basic terms, Dragon’s Crown is a modern version of Golden Axe. It’s a 2.5D sidescrolling beat’em up where you can move left and right but also up and down in an area. Save for a few, very specific areas, the entire game is like this.

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Actual controls in the game are pretty simple, but a tad cumbersome in spots. You jump with X, do a basic attack with square, and a special attack with circle. Triangle is used to pick up objects in the levels, while you use R1 to evade or teleport, depending on the character. You use the analog stick to move your character and the dpad to select items in your inventory to use, such as health potions. You finally use the right analog stick to move a cursor hand around the level. This lets you select certain environmental triggers, pick up hidden loot in the level, or select chests for your thief buddy to open.

Right off the bat, there are some oddities to the controls. Having to select items with the dpad (or analog stick, you can change it in the options) feels awkward. L2 and R2 are un-used, R2 is just the same as R1. Why not have item selection on these buttons and use L1 to select what you want to use?

Also, the cursor thing is… strange. Apparently, this is how the Vita version used its touch controls and they adapted it as best they could. Still, having to use the right analog stick to select glyphs mid-battle can be challenging.

Character Choice

There are 6 characters for you to choose from. Three of them are almost carbon copies of each other, two are very similar, and the last is unique.

Fighter – This is the basic melee character. He can use his axe to attack, do a “power smash” to do a mega attack, and guard with his shield. The power smash is a powerful attack but causes the axe to get stuck in the ground for a few seconds, rendering you defenseless.

Dwarf – Very similar to the Fighter, but rolls around a bit more and has a cool Blanka-style jump attack. He can also grab and throw enemies and do a “pump up” instead of a guard, which raises his defense.

Amazon – The female equivalent of the Fighter. She has a normal block, since she has no shield. She’s also generally quicker than the fighter due to wearing less – OK far less – armor.

Wizard — One of the two magical characters. Magic users can fire off a variety of spells, but need to recover MP to actually use spells. Also, your abilities can change depending on the staff you are wielding.

Sorceress — The other magical character, and it’s a female. She does most of everything the Wizard can, but has one unique talent: She can summon food and weapons for herself or for the party you are in. Having her in a party can be a godsend in the right circumstances.

And finally there is the Elf. The Elf is actually the character I used the most. She has a fairly weak normal attack but can combo off it very well. She fires arrows from her bow but has limited quiver space, so you have to collect more from random drops. She can also do a charged shot which can pierce through enemies.

Combat

I played through the game primarily using the Elf. It’s a pretty straight-forward brawler, most times. You can also do aerial and slide attacks to help keep foes off-balance or chain together damage, which is standard for the genre. A few things are a tad more unique to the game.

The most unique thing is the rune system. You’ll occasionally see various symbols in stages. You can select these, along with runes you might have in your inventory, in a sequence. If you hit the right sequence, a beneficial event will happen, such as doing damage to undead foes, restoring your health, giving you temporary invulnerability, and so on. There are a fair number of combinations out there, so it can lead to either nothing or complete randomness. If you need, there are guides out there that detail every combination, but that takes some of the fun out of it.

A very conscious Golden Axe allusion is the animals. Occasionally you’ll run into large animal enemies that can be attacked. After subduing them, you can then ride them around and use them to attack your enemies. One of them is even a small dragon that can breathe fire, which is a direct reference to Golden Axe.

Replaying Levels

A central tenet of Dragon’s Crown Pro is that you are going to replay levels a lot. You aren’t required to, but levels can have branching paths or hidden rooms for you to go through. The story also necessitates this: you’ll have to replay a lot of levels to get to the “real” boss, which can be kind of annoying.

Gear and Treasure

Another reason to replay levels is to get gear. Gear quality exists on a S to E quality system and is somewhat randomized when you open a chest. You could get a sweet S-ranked item that your character can use, or a pair of E-rank boots that your character can’t even wear.

When you pick up items, you can’t inspect or wear them mid-level. Once you complete a level, all your gear is added to a screen where you can simply appraise it or sell it. The general rule I had was: anything over a B grade, which my character could wear, I would appraise (which costs money). This lets you find out the actual abilities/stats of the item. Anything below a B grade, I would automatically sell, since I knew it was garbage.

Bones and Parties

As you play levels, you’ll come across bone piles you can collect. Only magic users have the ability to summon skeletons from bone piles. When you collect a bone pile, you can go to the chapel in the town to bring the deceased NPC back to life. They will be resurrected and then hang out at the tavern for you, if you want to use them in a single-player game. Each comes with their own weapons/inventory, so you don’t have to keep a whole platoon outfitted or anything.

You can also discard the bone pile for the “chance” of an item. I found this system to be pretty low, all things considered. I discarded about 20 bones, as a test, and only got two items. And those two items I already had plenty of: one was a health potion and another was a potion to increase my defense for a short while. My suggestion is simply to use the bones to resurrect NPCs. You can get quite a menagerie of NPCs and since (I don’t think) you can heal the NPCs, you’ll need a steady supply of newer and higher-leveled characters.

Network Play…kind of

Dragon’s Crown Pro has online play with up to three other players, but there are a few catches. The first is that your character has to proceed through about 8 or 9 levels in order to actually access the online system. So, jumping in with my friend took longer than expected, because the game doesn’t actually tell you this and I had to look it up in an FAQ.

Another oddity is that NPC players can join in with you. You can turn this system off, but you have to drill down in some pretty arcane option menus to actually find this. The fact that this isn’t an option at the network screen, like “Hey, do you want AI characters with you, yes or no?”, is bewildering.

Lastly, some of the network code is…strange. Now, the actual network play is fine. I played half a dozen matches with a friend and the online code was stable – no lagging or jumping around. However, who the game decided was the “main” player was somewhat confusing. If I’m the host, I should be the one in charge of going through doors or transitioning through screens, but the game doesn’t see it that way. It’s basically “whoever gets to the next screen is the winner.” So, when NPC characters would stupidly run to the door to the next screen, despite my buddy just summoning food/weapons for us to use, the game would load to new area, which is very annoying.

Also, the “leader” character has the camera track their movements. Occasionally the camera could get confused by who it is tracking vs. who it should be tracking, which is your character.

Shallow Gameplay

There’s a larger issue here, which is that the game feels shallow. I compared this game to another that came out 6 years before this one, Odin Sphere. Now, they have different aims/design choices: Dragon’s Crown is slightly more 3D, there’s network play, there are longer (non-circular) stages, etc. But man, the combat in Odin Sphere is so much more varied and impactful than in Dragon’s Crown, and that especially is the fact after Leifthrasir came out.

Technically, there is some variety in the combat, especially with the magical characters, but not enough. You can and do level up, but it’s mostly passive stuff like “increase damage by sliding” or increase your life or other attributes. You don’t really unlock new abilities or core upgrades and the gameplay generally remained the same the entire time I played.

Issues of Taste

The last issue I’ll bring up is personal taste, especially in regards to some of the portraits/close ups you see of characters. If you complete side quests, you unlock some gorgeous artistic scenes of levels or characters. It’s practically worth doing the side quests for these alone, since the actual content of the quests won’t keep you fulfilled.

On the flip side is Morgan, who runs the item shop and is one of the most pandering characters I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s actually kind of gross how overtly-sexualized she is compared to most of the other characters in the game.

Upgrade Complete

“Pro” in this game is pretty apt. For as flagrant as some characters look, the game does look damn nice. The visuals are given a healthy upgrade from their PS3 origins and everything looks solid.

Also, there is a re-done soundtrack for the game, which is pretty good.

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