Tis the season to be re-releasin’.
Throwing its hat back into the ring is Dragons Crown Pro, a 2D beat ’em up – a fantasy RPG version of Streets of Rage if you will – with addictive action and great 2D visuals, but does it hold up to the 2013 PS3 and PS Vita version and does it justify a repurchase for fans of the original?
Well, yes and no.
First of all – and I say this as a hands-up disclaimer in every fantasy game review I’ve written – fantasy is not my cup of tea. It does not get me out of my seat and it does not grab my attention. Some games have overcome my general dislike of these stories with other aspects that excel – with enjoyable gameplay mechanics (i.e. Dragon Star Varnir) or character-led stories that it creates immersion or context, but most fall down the slippery slope of a repetitive story with characters whose entire personality consist of their role (i.e. a Knight or Wizard). This facet is something some enjoy, but for me is only a face a mother could love.
With that in mind, the story to restore the glory of a castle and land regardless of your chosen character is already stale and then made worse by a narrator commentating on the main character’s actions in the past tense ruining any feeling of freedom of choice or character building during the proceedings, even though you do have some – to a degree – with side missions and the occasional situational choice.
Thankfully the story isn’t the main draw of the game though, as Dragon’s Crown Pro is an action game first and the core of which is genuinely good fun. With up to 6 characters of different fighting styles to choose from, there is an enticing variety added to the traditional beat ’em up fighting mechanic that can – in short bursts – provide a whale of a time. There is also relative depth in upgrades and up to 4 players can play in your party at the same time whether as CPU help or with 3 friends through local co-op.
While I was initially excited by the thought of 4 characters on my team, this feeling soon changed to slight bemusement as to why so many characters were made playable (and how PS Vita players could see anything at all on their small screens) as it soon becomes difficult to discern who is fighting who during battles too busy with enemies. This feeling is increased two-fold when there are two of the same warrior type on your team as you’ll not only not be able to see your character clearly, but you won’t know which one you are controlling.
Furthermore, this party feature does not allow you to switch characters mid-play (if playing single player) nor does it accrue experience for the felled warriors as they always remain at their experience level and require selecting after each mission. This, once again, makes the characters feel rather worthless within the story.
This limitation aside, the sharp responsive controls allow you to pull off some very satisfying combos – ending a combo of kicks that launch an enemy into the air before finishing them off with an arrow on the way down is awesome enough to keep you wanting to sink into the battle system through the sufficiently deep upgrade system.
When you aren’t sat two inches from your TV screen and when the screen isn’t swamped with minor enemies, it allows you to appreciate the great visuals on offer with a storybook-drawn art style that reminds me of the PS1’s Mickey Mouse and the more recent Cuphead. The huge bosses are the best part of this visual presentation and your battles with them represent the best of the game and cap off the levels with an appropriate level of epicness and sense of achievement.
There are also some interesting gameplay gimmicks in play both during battling gameplay and outside of it. The PS4 controller’s touchpad button can be used to point to and command your slightly useless – but immune to damage – pick locking sidekick to unlock doors and treasure chests. Your town area, where you have access to your standard load-out inn, shops and side mission guild, also has a temple where you can reanimate the bones of felled warriors found in each dungeon. They can be added to your team as you load out to each mission or you can choose to lay their bones to rest and potentially receive an item to act like a greedy grim reaper. Weapons can also be appraised or sold after the finishing of a mission which adds an interesting bit of decision-making as selling them straight away (when unsure of their worth) could be less than if you spend the initially larger appraisal fee and then sell them on afterwards.
These gimmicks perhaps should have been more focused on the battling itself, with co-operative moves between players missing and its online play, deceivingly hidden in the single-player mode, present but barely advertised.
Back to whether or not this game is worth the double-dip, and ultimately, it’s a tough sell as this is a near-exact replica of what has come before adding only a 4k resolution and including cross-play with those already playing online on PS Vita and PS3. Unfortunately, it’s also presented in such a ham-fisted way that it makes you wonder if the developer was even trying.
For those who haven’t played this before though, this is a well-made 2D action beat ’em up ride best suited to a multiplayer experience with friends but, in my mind, doesn’t book itself a place at the roundtable of must-play single-player experiences due to its rather inflexible gameplay mechanics and boring story.