By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong
IT’S BY DESIGN that Vanillaware is best known for stylistic two-dimensional action-adventure games. In an industry proliferated with 3D titles, the Japanese developer has made a conscious effort to trod the less-beaten path. And, to its credit, it has had much success in this regard; via a proprietary programming process, it enables its artists to render pixel sprites in such a way as to uniquely project depth. It’s why gamers instantly took to Odin Sphere for the PlayStation 2 in 2007, as well as Muramasa: The Demon Blade for the Nintendo Wii in 2009.
Dragon’s Crown, released in July 2013 for the PS3 and PS Vita, was very much of the same vein. The 2D side-scrolling, beat-’em-up role-playing game had players facing off with all manner of creatures in a medieval fantasy setting. And, to no one’s surprise, its over-the-top art style, responsive controls, and compelling design has held up well over time, leading to — what else? — a remake that takes advantage of current-generation technology. Indeed, Vanillaware has seen fit to rely on the same blueprint that resulted in Muramasa Rebirth and Odin Sphere Leifthrasir.
In Dragon’s Crown Pro, gamers play as one of several characters and navigate the many dungeons and labyrinths that infest the Kingdom of Hydeland. They get to confront foes through a heady combination of magic, weapons, and projectiles, in the process gathering resources to be used to improve skills and equipment. Needless to say, the latter allow them to better prepare themselves for the harder dungeons, not to mention ultimately claiming the mysterious relic that is the Dragon’s Crown.
Even considering Vanillaware’s impressive body of work, it’s hard not to view Dragon’s Crown Pro as the best in the developer’s library by far in terms of visuals. As good as it may have looked on the PS3, it’s enthralling on the PS4. The console’s engine gives the hand-drawn characters a level of richness that highlights their over-the-top, if endearing, qualities. Monsters, in particular, stand out; from goblins to kobolds to mushrooms to dragons, the brightness, color, and vibrancy underscore the artists’ attention to detail and cohesive style.
Meanwhile, the gameplay remains no slouch. As a 2D beat-em-up crawler, Dragon’s Crown Pro harks back to Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, and Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom. Move right, defeat everything visible on the screen, and keep going until the end of the stage is reached. Along the way, players can make use of special abilities and weapons, including those that enemies have wielded and dropped, to accentuate unique fighting styles. The warrior and the dwarf, for instance, use their strength to take down enemies. The sorceress uses magic to blast her foes from afar, while the elf uses a mixture of fast attacks and solid bows to prevail. Responsive and fluid controls amp up the fun factor, with a nice bit of variety on the side to keep things interesting.
Certainly, Dragon’s Crown Pro features a few changes to the mechanics and design of the original, but as subtle as the improvements are, the polish to the presentation makes for an outstanding experience the PS3 could not have been able to provide. The art style, and graphics are smoother by comparison, and the soundtrack has been reworked. And it’s no small matter that previous owners of Dragon’s Crown are free to sync their save data and follow their character’s progress in Dragon’s Crown Pro with little to no hassle. On the flipside, those looking for new content will be disappointed.
All told, Dragon’s Crown Pro is a solid remaster that’s a no-brainer pickup for gamers who haven’t experienced it before. Painstaking care has been given to ensure that the spirit of the original game remains intact, but in a flashier and technically superior manner. Not everyone will be willing or able to double dip, but those who do so will find it a worthy investment.
Video Game Review
Dragon’s Crown Pro
• Smooth and compelling gameplay, with responsive controls and outstanding design
• Marked improvements in graphics and sound
• The ability to port saved data for previous owners of the game on the PS3
• No additional content from that offered by the original
• Over-the-top art style can be off-putting for some
• Gameplay can, at times, require grinding and repetition