How, for example, it influenced several of my favourite animes — including the one we all want our Dungeons & Dragons campaigns to be like, and also the one those campaigns inevitably become when things start going off the rails.
Which brings me to my next recommendation, 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Copyright 2021 J.B. Norman
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