“Dragon’s Crown” Review Postmortem

Fire is particularly effective to use against fungal enemies.

There are two main reasons I’m writing this column. First of all, circumstances being what they were with my personal schedule, I was not able to sit down and write the immaculate review I felt Dragon’s Crown deserved. Pulling that one off would have pushed it to the following Tuesday or Wednesday, which just wouldn’t have worked out. Secondly, perhaps to compensate for that, I simply felt the need to provide some notes on my personal experience and insights from playing the game for the review.

Unfortunately, as enjoyable as it can be, part of writing for an independent gaming website is that we have to work other jobs to pay the bills, and a scheduling snafu at my day job had me going back to work the day we received the review code for Dragon’s Crown, when I should have been off that night and the next. Had that not happened, I would have had much more time to offer both the game and the review. As it stands, I have cross-platform cloud saving to thank for even making the deadline at all.

But enough of the negatives, I’m here to talk about the game itself.

Perhaps the greatest praise I can offer Dragon’s Crown is that it circumvented the fact that in most cases, I like to get reviews done quickly so that I can get back to playing my regular rotation of games; Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, Ridge Racers 2 (which I’ll be talking about on this site shortly), and the like. With Dragon’s Crown, I felt compelled to get through writing the review not just to meet a deadline or get back to my regularly-scheduled gaming, but so I could finally sit down and enjoy it simply as a gamer rather than as a critic. That is such a rare occurrence that I honestly cannot remember the last time it happened. If anything, Dragon’s Crown has joined that regular rotation of games I won’t be putting down anytime in the forseeable future, that’s for sure.

A question I’ve been hearing a lot of since the review went live is: Why didn’t I touch on the controversial art style of George Kamitani at any point? The answer is simple:  there really wasn’t anything left to cover, nor did it extend beyond simply being the art style. This topic has had plenty of discussion in the weeks and months leading up to the release of the game (especially given the open dialogue between Kamitani himself and Kotaku’s Jason Schreier), so it no longer qualifies as an “elephant in the room” so much as a “dead horse.”

One thing I would have liked to have elaborated on, however, is how the game is adversely affected by its point-and-click mechanics. There’s no denying that they’re a huge part of the game; they’re used for treasure chests, runic spells, and cooking. Those same mechanics also make Dragon’s Crown, one of the best arcade-style games to come along all generation, impossible to play with fightsticks. This is even worse when you consider how unwieldy runic spells can be in the heat of battle.This was what really came between Dragon’s Crown and a perfect score, even more so than the lack of cross-buy.

At one point there was an amusing exchange with Fil over what a train wreck the game would have been had item picking stayed exactly how it was in the D&D games (all items must be picked manually, using the attack button). That is all.

Don't worry, despite being a pain to control at times, Rannie makes for a remarkably competent companion.

Don’t worry, despite being a pain to control at times, Rannie makes for a remarkably competent companion.

Maybe it’s the fact that I come from the fighting game community and otherwise have a lot of friends that are into speedrunning, but I’ve always come to value efficiency (in whatever form it may come in) more than anything else in all the online games I’ve played. In the case of Dragon’s Crown, that tendency found its way into my own playstyle rather quickly. For example, evasion, and air mobility altogether, is a faster (and much safer) way to get from place to place than running. I thought I was going to go online and find that the overall playerbase saw things the same way, but apparently they didn’t.

While people seem to appreciate my playstyle when I party up with them, it seems the willingness and ability to keep a fighter aloft for several seconds at a time is still seen more as a novel approach than sound strategy. Based on the results I’ve been getting, though, I’ll be surprised if that doesn’t change. That, or evasion gets very nerfed, which I would hate to see.

I think that about covers it. Hopefully my having taken the time to write this will draw some extra attention to a game that really is something special. To be completely honest, if the year ended tomorrow, Dragon’s Crown would edge out Fire Emblem Awakening for my own personal 2013 Game of the Year acknowledgment. As it stands, even though we have a really strong holiday season ahead of us with two system launches and plenty of current-gen goodness to go around, I’m not sure that anything in the pipeline can top what Vanillaware has accomplished here.

Of course, I’m still looking forward to watching games like Forza Motorsport 5, NHL 14, and Super Mario 3D World give it their best shot.