All things considered, Dragon's Crown is one of my most anticipated games of the year, if not the most. As many of you know, I'm a massive fan of action games as well as brawlers, old-school games, and of course, Vanillaware.
Everything about Dragon's Crown looked great, but as we know, there's nothing quite like actually playing something to really judge whether or not what sounds good on paper holds up in practice.
If the first 10 hours are any indication, I don't think I have anything to worry about.
Dragon's Crown (PlayStation 3 [previewed], PlayStation Vita [tested])
Developer: Vanillaware / Atlus
Released: August 6, 2013
MSRP: $49.99 (PlayStation 3) / $39.99 (PlayStation Vita)
From the very first gameplay trailer, it was evident that Dragon's Crown was a technical brawler -- in other words, it had fighting-game tendencies, and a deep level of tactical design embedded within it. I've only extensively tested the Fighter and the Wizard so far, but I've experienced a full party with every other class via NPCs (you can resurrect NPC helpers by finding "bones" in dungeons) -- and the synergy is immediately apparent from your first group confrontation.
For instance, every single class has a different key mechanic. The Dwarf can throw enemies, the Elf has a limited number of arrows to use, the Amazon doesn't stop attacking, and the Sorceress can create health-bearing food and debuff foes. The Fighter has the ability to block, and with specific upgrades, can shield party members from damage as well as buff them momentarily. The Wizard took some getting used to, because like the Sorceress, he has to "charge" Dragon Ball Z style to replenish his mana.
At first, it was a bit overwhelming to have to constantly top off my mana pool before I could unleash my best attacks, but very quickly I learned that this was yet another design choice to help differentiate the cast. The Wizard has to constantly be on the move, and find safe havens to recharge -- he's the definition of a glass cannon, and that's represented here far better than most games that simply diminish a spellcaster's defensive capabilities and call it a day.
Speaking of specific upgrades, every time you level up you gain a skill point, which can be used to buy a skill to augment your abilities. In typical RPG fashion these skills usually consist of upgrades like "more health," if you're looking in the Common tree -- each unique class tree is a completely different story.
Frankly, I was blown away by the options presented in each specific party member's tree. The Wizard has the ability to command pretty much every element you can think of, levitate, summon wooden golems, and a whole lot more. The Fighter could specialize into a defensive tanking build, or go more aggressive, with tons of options for both. In other words, given the extensive skill tree, the customization and naming options, and the ability to assign your character an English or Japanese voice, no two characters you meet will be the same.
Because of this dynamic, it'll make completing multiple playthroughs with different characters that much more exciting. Going from the Fighter to the Wizard within an hour of each other was incredibly jarring, as I had to initially balance my mana and whack enemies with my relatively weak cane when I was in a jam, whereas I could just wail away with the Fighter without reprisal.
But very quickly I started speccing into mana regeneration, buffing my mana charge ability, and giving myself the power to leech MP by hitting enemies with my cane. My Wizard morphed into a completely different playstyle at that point.
Although I'm mostly questing on the PS3, I did get a chance to test out the Vita version as well, and I have great things to report. Barring the fact that four-player local co-op on one portable screen is obviously not possible like it is on the PS3, I have to say the Vita version has a few improvements on its console counterpart.
For starters, pointer control is fine tuned to suit the Vita. In Dragon's Crown, a neutral NPC named "Rannie the Thief" will follow you around collecting gold, as well as unlock chests and doors. In order to control him, you'll use the right analog stick to aim a mouse-cursor like hand, tapping the stick to queue up an action.
While I didn't have any issues using this on the PS3, you can simply tap the screen on the Vita to utilize the pointer, allowing Rannie to open doors and chests with the greatest of ease. Should you choose to use it, right analog support is also available on the Vita, with the L button confirming an action in lieu of clicking in the stick.
The Vita's OLED screen is also gorgeous as usual, and fits the action quite well for one player, despite the general sacrificed real estate. While cross-buy and cross-play are sadly not a part of the package, I have tested the cross-save function between the Vita and the PS3, and it works as advertised.
Well, that's basically all I can talk about right now! Expect a full review on July 31, a week before the retail version hits on August 6.