Re-Commendation: Dragon’s Crown

“Lodoss War” is the DnD we want. “Slayers” is the Dnd we end up playing. “Dragon’s Crown” is somewhere in the middle.

There’s a saying on the internet, that where Dungeons & Dragons is concerned, Record of Lodoss War represents the DnD campaign we dream of playing through, while Slayers represents the campaign we inevitably end up with after things invariably start going off the rails and the DM frantically tries right the ship…

Deedlit and Parn from "Record of Lodoss War" fighting a Dragon.
How it started …
Record of Lodoss War: Madhouse and Funimation.
Lina Inverse from "Slayers" faceplanting into a tree.
… how it’s going
Slayers: E&G Films and Funimation.

A dragon statue.
Dragon. Not pictured, Crown.
Photo by Plato Terentev on Pexels.com

Which brings me to the current recommendation I’m dusting off and reposting today: a game that is clearly, obviously, unapologetically inspired by Dungeons & Dragons-ian Fantasy: Vanillaware‘s 2013 game Dragon’s Crown (and its 2018 re-release for PS4).

In a way, it’s sort of a synthesis of Lodoss War and Slayers: it’s unapologetically, self-awarely silly but still manages to tell an archetypal “Adventurers Save the World” DnD campaign-esque story.

Art of the six playable characters from "Dragon's  Crown."
Our six heroes. At a tavern that clearly doesn’t have a dress code.
Dragon’s Crown: Vanillaware and Atlus.

You can read more about the game here and here, and its wiki is here.

Now, Dragon’s Crown doesn’t really capture the gameplay experience of tabletop Dungeons & Dragons, but not even the official Dungeons & Dragons games do that, given the realities of adapting the source material to an entirely different mode of play.

However, Dragon’s Crown does a very, very good job of capturing the spirit of Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, Dragon’s Crown is pretty much an updated version of the Dungeons & Dragons arcade games from the 90s.

Given how how Dragon’s Crown cleaves to the conventions of the genre, it’s hardly surprising that all of the playable characters are themselves Fantasy archetypes: Fighter is boring but effective and hard to kill, Amazon prioritises dealing damage over defence, Dwarf is slow but strong, Elf is fast and shooty, Sorceress is hot uses magic to help allies and hinder enemies, and Wizard is also hot fragile but uses his magic to hit like the Death Star.

A screenshot of the cooking minigame from "Dragon's Crown."
Also, they all get together between adventures for cookouts.
Dragon’s Crown Pro: Vanillaware and Atlus.
Image via Playstation’s launch trailer.

I don’t necessarily mind being restricted to a few character archetypes, I just wish the game gave you more ability to customise your characters.

The size of the roster is big enough to give options, small enough to be easy to experiment with to find a favourite (start with Fighter; he’s the most idiot-proof), and specialised enough to encourage a group of players not to all just play four of the same character. And the character designs are all unique enough to make it a little easier to keep track of who’s who when things onscreen get real crazy.

And it’s pretty much guaranteed that things will get crazy.

Gameplay-wise, Dragon’s Crown reminds me a lot of Midway‘s Gauntlet games (remember those?), but with 2D gameplay. Of course, the obvious comparison (and clear inspiration) is other 2D co-op beat-em-ups like Final Fight, Golden Axe, or that one X-Men game where Magneto says “Welcome to die!”.

If you’re around my age, Dragon’s Crown is going to feel pretty nostalgic, but with the added bonus of having beautiful HD graphics. As a Vanillaware game, the great artwork is one of the game’s major selling points. Vanillaware makes pretty games, and Dragon’s Crown is no exception.

The art style is like a combination of an anime, a Renaissance-era oil painting, and one of Frank Frazetta’s Conan covers (and by extension, pretty much any picture of Conan ever).

Louie from "Rune Soldier."
To recap: This…
Rune Soldier: J.C. Staff and ADV Films.
A section of Rembrandt's "The Night Watch."
Plus this …
The Night Watch. Image via Wikipedia.
Conan from "Conan the Adventurer."
Plus this…
Conan the Adventurer: Hasbro Studios.
Promotional art for "Dragon's Crown."
… Equals this.
Dragon’s Crown: Vanillaware and Atlus

Vanillaware’s president and lead artist George Kamitani is clearly a fan of the, shall we say, “female form.”

And he’s not afraid to let you know it.

If you’ve ever played a Vanillaware game before, you should know this. You may have even been clued in just by reading this post.

In Dragon’s Crown, Amazon is a gorgeous, muscular woman basically wearing a metal bikini, Sorceress has an endowment bigger than Harvard’s (thank you, The Simpsons), and most of the minor female characters are designed and/or posed pretty suggestively, perhaps mitigated (or not, depending on your temperament) by the fact that several of said designs and/or poses are clearly based on classic artworks.

This whole thing caused a minor controversy when the game first released. Personally, I’m pretty neutral about it. I accept it as inevitable in a game that’s trying to be this unapologetically Fantasy-y. Women in metal bikinis is a long-standing tradition in the genre, and it’s not like Dragon’s Crown art is doing anything you’ve never seen a thousand times before.

I don’t necessarily like it. Sure, I’d like to see Fantasy art move beyond it. But it’s not enough to ruin the game for me, especially because everything about the game is stylised and exaggerated. I won’t fault you for thinking negatively about it, though.

On a less controversial note, here’s a baby penguin.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Moving on, there’s not much story to speak of. Though what writing there is comes across as a rather affectionate parody of the Fantasy genre (not unlike Realmgard, incidentally).

Nothing about the game takes itself very seriously.

The plot is more or less driven by a series of quests to get the Thing you need to in order to get the Next Thing until you’ve got all the Things you need to fight the final boss.

The game is narrated as if it were the DM of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign explaining things to you — “You meet in a tavern.”, “You must find the Thing.”, “When suddenly, Goblins!”, that sort of thing, and is full of snarky little asides. Usually at your expense.

I wanted another picture. This one’s kinda-sorta relevant.
Your characters get a fairy sidekick.
Photo by Tu00fa Nguyu1ec5n on Pexels.com

On the plus side, most levels have a unique gimmick to set them apart from the others, whether it be protecting distressed damsels from vampires, fighting for control of a magic lamp to summon a genie, floating down a river on a raft, or using a golem to fight another golem.

Unfortunately, progressing through the game is predicated on replaying every level at least twice, because each level has an initial path, followed eventually by a secondary path leading to a second boss fight. It’s a good way to add a little variety to the game, but does end up feeling more like padding and does get repetitive after a while.

It’s definitely my least-favourite part of the game.

So, in conclusion, Dragon’s Crown is a fun Fantasy romp best enjoyed with friends, though not completely inaccessible to the friendless.

It’s apologetically, bombastically Fantasy-y, and a clear love letter to the genre, for better or worse.


The rest of my recommendations are here.

But, also, I have two reminders to leave you with. I’m currently involved into two giveaways:

Promotional art for a "Percy Jackson" themed giveaway.
Percy Jackson Giveaway available here. Runs until October 11.
Promotional art for a Young Adult Fantasy giveaway.
YA Fantasy Giveaway available here. Runs until November 6.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s