An instant classic on both artistic and pure gameplay levels, Dragon’s Crown Pro ($49.99) has finally arrived on PS4 with buffed up 4K visuals and cross-platform play/save compatibility with the PS3 and Vita versions. It’s a game that also hopefully going to be one of those true evergreens that new players will want to add to their libraries because it offers enough replay value to keep you dialed in each time you pick up that controller.
The game’s original notoriety to some for its mildly bawdy artwork for some of the female characters (but you get a half naked muscular dwarf as a counter to that) ends up being much ado about nothing. If you’ve a working brain in your skull, you’ll know the difference between gorgeous stylized artwork and solid animation and somehow deeming the game “controversial” because one doesn’t appreciate the very intentionally over-exaggerated art. That and hell, it’s a Vanillaware game, so assorted forms of pulchritude are a necessary non-evil.
Given that director George Kamitani worked on the pair of Dungeons & Dragons games for Capcom in 1993 and 1996, there’s that same arcade feel to this game that’s both satisfying and highly challenging. Fans of Odin Sphere and the lushly redrawn Odin Sphere Leifthrasir will be as pleased if not more so with the gameplay packed with plenty of action and hidden secrets galore. While the plot is mostly wafer thin and full of RPG tropes, it still works because other than mandatory parts of the game where new stuff is explained, you’re pushed along mission by mission with only loading times to twiddle your fingers to before the action begins.
There’s a certain “quiet, loud, quiet” tone to the gameplay as some levels open with low key moments before enemies show up and set about trying to mop up the maps with you and your party members, followed by other sections of quiet before the process begins anew. While you can dash through most stages fairly quickly, you’ll miss out on quite a lot of secrets from hidden rooms behind secret doors, to puzzle rooms that might require a trip online to figure out how to reveal the treasures they hide. Initially, some of those hidden rooms will hold some pretty fierce creatures that can indeed KO everyone in your team with a few hard hits or other deadly forms of damage. Level up a bit and equip your main with better gear and those areas are easier to survive and you get to reap the rewards with a smile.
Additionally, you’ll discover piles of bones in stages that can be bought back to town and revived as potential party members or buried for a chance at treasure for bringing them to their resting place. You’ll want to revive as many recruits as possible, replacing them as you level up and find stronger allies. Trust me, you’ll not want to fall completely in love with that level 1 Archer when she becomes a liability when the enemy levels are in the teens and twenties, folks. Found gear works the same way, so be prepared to ditch lower level items and weapons as you start raking in that superior lode of more powerful goodies.
There’s more than enough content here to keep you and up to three friends quite busy in couch co-op or online play, but if you’re going in solo, you’re all covered as well. You can play by yourself if you’re a little nuts, or have at it with the pretty capable AI that can sometimes beat up on enemies before you get a chance to get a few licks in. Well, at least on the easier mode. The enemies get fiercer and more persistent as the game continues, so expect some hefty difficulty spikes to hamper progress if you go in unprepared or under-leveled.
That said, the game looks wonderful even if you’re not playing it in 4K. While I don’t currently own a 4K set, I got a friend with one to pick up the game so he could play with his son and wife (both of whom really love the game’s art style and don’t give a hoot about that busty Sorceress because she’s a powerful character who can hold her own). Naturally, I just so happened to invite myself over to check the game out, controller in hand. Yep, there’s a difference in the game that noticeable over 1080p, but it’s a case where you don’t “need” a 4K set to just cut loose and have a blast. Vanillaware’s art and animation techniques are something to behold because you’re basically looking at 2D art carefully crafted so characters are highly stylized but seem to “breathe” and move in a hyper exaggerated yet completely believable (albeit cartoon-like) manner.
Add in a great soundtrack (with a new orchestral version you can select) and you get a game that’s just about flawless. Sure, the addition of voice acting would have been cool and yes, it’s possible to over-level your character if you like and be a bane to most enemies (save for certain bosses who can be interestingly cheap the first time you face them). But the overall impact here is a game that’s worth buying and will serve your needs well every single time you need it to. So yep. You get your beefcake dwarf, the tinned can o’ meat Warrior, thunder thighs on the Amazon and Elf, a Sorceress with boobs thrice the size of her head, and a Wizard who’s not showing any skin, but rocks that sexy bad boy Belmont look like he’s auditioning for a Castlevania game. There’s plenty of nothing wrong with that at all because the game all these heroes are in is so much fun to play.
Did I also mention this is a *great* game for couples? Sort of? Well, Atlus has that aspect covered as well in that hilarious trailer above. Hell, even the food rendered in this game is sexy:
Hmmm. Now I’m really hungry AND I want to dive back into this game for a few more hours. Which means this review is officially done and it’s your move.
Score: A- (95%)
Review code provided by the publisher