My initial impressions of the game, which happened over half a year ago, did not impress. The same strange action RPG hybrid that they usually trot out seemed to hold sway, and my relative disappointment at both Odin’s Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade meant that those first impressions usually proved good predictions of what I’d expect for my time investment. In a giant surprise to me picking it up a week ago, the action felt fast and fluid – like a good beat’em up should! Probably, that’s due to me picking the Fighter, the “basic” class that really only needs to jam on the attack button in the midst of the fray.
Dragon’s Crown makes a good initial impression; the animation, while elaborately over-detailed, often doesn’t get in the way of the action (as it could have). There’s just the right amount of frames to both heighten the impact of every blow and for the practical considerations of the player who needs taut attack timings. Attacking with the square button does not place you in an uninterruptable attack chain, as evading (R1) lets you cancel most anything you’re doing at the time. In a game like this, where enemies tend to swarm around your position or ranged attacks fly from afar, the ability to dodge attacks at will remains a lifesaver. If I had to say it, I think Bayonetta must have had some influence on Kamitani, since the evade remains invincible until it’s over, meaning there’s no ambiguity on the evasion function.
Furthermore, Dragon’s Crown does a lot with a little. With one attack button, my fighter can use his default attack chain, lift enemies into the air and create a damaging shockwave with up+square, launch himself into the air with the jump button, continue with air juggles by mashing the square button in the air, doing a dashing smash attack by holding square, then by launching said enemy again with up+square, and finally ending said combo with down+square, which creates a shockwave around the Fighter upon landing. Seriously, that’s a lot of moves to attach to one button plus directions, but it works! I never had a problem performing specific command moves unless I rushed the motions in advance, but you can easily remedy this through a bit of playtime.
That’s not to mention the special abilities of each class, some of which utilized the triangle button as well. For the Fighter, his Power Smash move utilizes his weapon to cause yet another shockwave, dealing damage in a huge radius. The Fighter works on both durability and mobility, as he can block attacks and augment the defense and attack power of his allies while also floating through the air with his dashes and air strikes with huge hang time. The same basic control scheme applies to all the classes, but their mobility, abilities, and statistics distribution change how you approach the game’s many challenges. I was surprised to see how much variety emerges in such a seemingly limited toolset, but I’ve got to hand it to Vanillaware – they really nailed that fineline between accessibility and complexity rather brilliantly.
Your character also ends up unique through the Skill system, which allows you a choice of specific character augmentations or general helpful tools for your path through the game. Most of said skills tell you the focus of your class choice, whether it be defense, all-out attack, or spells, and adding skill points lets you focus on your particular playstyle. Having health recover when you gather gold, for example, helps as a passive benefit, while augmenting the Fighter’s ability to stay in the air longer or automatically block make him even more effective. Since said skills scale with your level, that provides incentives to do quests given from the Adventurers Guild, which provide additional skill points outside mere leveling.
Most of the game takes place in extended “stages” of fighting monsters, where you gain experience and gain loot. None of those accumulated resources can be used until after you finish a stage, so you can’t magically equip an awesome piece of armor or level up suddenly in a combat sequence. You wander through various environments slaying enemies. There’s not much more to say than that, but that’s also the basic appeal of Diablo. Some stages contain special canned sequences – for example, using a flying carpet to escape a giant lava wave – and others just throw in diverse obstacles to put you off balance while you fight said monsters.
The problem most people have with this genre is the depth perception required to tell whether you’re hitting an enemy or not. Since everything’s two dimensional, seeing if you’re on the same plane as an enemy so an attack will hit proves incredibly tedious in games of this type. Older games in the genre usually presented a dark shadow underneath all players and enemies so you could line yourself up; here, they’ve streamlined things by giving player attacks a super wide radius. I rarely missed an attack if I was in the general area of an enemy, and while I did occassionally miss, it’s a vast improvement from other games in the genre (it probably helps that there’s tons of area-of-effect attacks too!).
Monsters don’t drop stuff, though; that’s down to your roving mouse cursor, controlled via the right analog stick; flashing areas in the stage will often contain lots of stuff which add points to your score. A rogue, Rannie, follows you around to gather loot and money as well as opening doors and chests controlled by this mouse cursor. Gathering any and everything adds to your gold, sure, but it also adds to your overall score. Score determines how much money you get at the end of a stage and how much experience you gain, which actually turns arcade mechanics into something practical! Rannie also lets you find secret entrances and also comes into play for a few boss fights (well, unless you want to die), so controlling him via mouse cursor remains a useful skill.