I have a love/hate relationship with Dragon's Crown. So does our own Andrew Gaskill. So might you. On the one hand, I’ve hardly been able to put the game down for days. On the other, I can’t stop complaining about it. Let’s start from the beginning.
Dragon's Crown comes in two versions: the PS3 version and the Playstion Vita version. No to cross-buy, no to cross-play, yes to cross-save. 4-player co-op is supported: couch, online, and combo co-op on the PS3; online and ad-hoc for the Vita. On the PS3, local co-op is immediately available. All characters are associated on Player 1’s PSN account, so players won’t be able to load up their own character if they go over to their friend’s house for some local co-op. Player 1’s account can have multiple characters (up to 16, I believe) of even the same character class (six to pick from: wizard, sorceress, fighter, amazon, elf, and dwarf).
Online (and ad-hoc for the Vita) is unlocked after several main quests and missions. It took me over six hours to unlock online connectivity. Andrew reported a similar time. It seems possible to do it a little quicker, but the fact is players will have to clear a level 17 area (complete with boss) in order to advance to online co-op. It seems likely that it will take an average player somewhere between five and seven hours to get online for their first character. Also, keep in mind that every subsequent character created in the Player 1 slot will have to do the same quest line and clear the same areas to unlock online co-op. All quest progress is tied to that Player 1 slot, though, so as long as Player 1 has online unlocked, Players 2-4 (locally) can be whatever level they want.
I am bewildered about this design choice. To make matters even more confusing, the game gives you AI controlled party members about 15 minutes in. I have no idea why it was deemed a good idea to force players to play a handful of hours of the game with AI before giving them the option of playing with real people. The AI is, to put it nicely, dumb as rocks, too. I watched in mixed mirth and depression as my amazon party member killed herself once after running into a spiked barricade five times.
So you finally have online co-op unlocked. How does it handle? The actual connectivity works pretty slick, turns out. When I went to the Gate or Stables (the two areas in town which act as gateways to the combat areas), I was asked if I wanted to go online. Online connectivity can also be triggered by hitting the Start button and using the menu there. Once “online,” I could join a friend’s game or a random game. After waiting a few seconds, I was usually directly connected. When I was online and out in an area (and had my AI party members set to “Join On”), random players would often pop into my game to assist me.
Sometimes this was awesome and my random friends would help me beat the crap out of everything. Sometimes this was less than awesome - like when someone showed up that I later found out was 10 levels lower than me, then left my game. When someone leaves, they leave behind a clone of their character which is then controlled by the AI. There is no swapping back in your own AI companions at this point - you’re stuck with them unless you want to quit the map. There’s also no way to kick someone from the game, nor any way to immediately tell what level they are, nor any way to communicate with each other in game (no, using the hand cursor to repeatedly poke an NPC’s breasts doesn’t count). There’s no way to directly invite friends to games, either, and there’s also no way to trade items. Interestingly enough, many of the AI companions you’ll pick up in your travels are clones of real players, complete with PSN IDs.
So online co-op is kind of a mixed bag - what about local co-op on the PS3? Items are all shared in the same inventory, so the no-trading issue isn’t a problem. While many will probably find Dragon's Crown a blast to play in couch co-op, it should be known that it’s one of those games where Player 1 is kind of the big cheese. Player 1 controls all quest progress, quest items required for progression, and gets all the gold - though all players can spend from this cache. There’s a bunch of other little interface things that specifically ask Player 1 for confirmation.
As far as gameplay goes, Dragon's Crown is an ARPG with a side-scrolling beat-em-up influence. Each level will net characters automatically distributed stat points as well as a skill point they can spend on a myriad of passive and active skills (divided into “common” and class-specific skills). The level cap is 99 across three different difficulties, each with their own perspective level caps (35 for Normal Mode, 65 for Hard Mode, and 99 for Inferno Mode). Once players unlock higher difficulties, they can go back to previous difficulties, but their battle effectiveness will be scaled down to that mode’s level cap. In addition to the main quest, there are some side quests that players can pick up to net them a little more XP, gold, and even extra skill points.
I found the combat and character progression to be fun and fluid, and the controls to be pretty responsive. I slightly preferred playing it on the Vita due to small touch screen and control set-up conveniences, but it played well on both PS3 and Vita. The Vita version felt a little more natural, since character movement (and, thus, directional combos) is controlled with the left analog stick in both versions. The PS3 analog stick felt a bit more unwieldy for these purposes. Cross-save is implemented well also, with simple “Upload Save to Server/Download Save From Server” options in the main menu.
You should know, though, that you’ll be seeing a lot of the same nine or so areas, many, many times. After the point in the story when you unlock online co-op, you’ll be asked to revisit the same nine areas you just cleared previously, but with upgraded monsters. Each of these areas will now have an “A” path (they’re all level 17) and a “B” path, ranging from 18-30 depending on the area. The paths will differ slightly in their rooms and enemies, and the bosses will be completely different. In higher difficulties, you’ll once again have these areas to explore, but with up-leveled bosses and enemies.
Conveniently, rewards gained in areas will scale to your character’s level. Opening chests or defeating bosses will reward treasure of a random grade (“S” being the best, down to “E”). Score and gold points are evenly awarded to all party members. At the end of a mission (or leaving a mission), players will be shown the items they earned. This cleanly handles a common ARPG issue: inventory management cutting into gameplay action. On PS3 local co-op, the items will be split between the players, randomly scaling to each character’s respective level.
There’s a lot more I could say about Dragon's Crown, but I’ll have to stop here. Gameplay-wise, I had a blast with the combat and enjoyed the hand-drawn art. Some questionable design choices (especially regarding online co-op) as well as a massive repetitiveness factor bog the game down a bit, however. From a co-op standpoint, Dragon's Crown will probably be the most fun for people who have some reliable (and tolerant) co-op buddies, be they local or online. Just be prepared to deal with some quirks.The Co-Optimus review of Dragon's Crown is based on the Playstation Vita and Playstation 3 versions of the game. Codes for review were supplied by the publisher.