The primary goal of all this, however, remains the loot. Unfortunately, due to design constraints and art (can you imagine making people draw a billion different variations on armor and swords!?), the loot doesn’t present itself aesthetically except for weapons, but it more than makes up for it in interesting choices. Any and all loot you accrue during a particular run will only appear in your inventory at the end of any particular dungeon run; later in the game, you can chain said runs together for gold/experience bonuses, but the same principle applies. Equipment arrives as “unidentified”, a features which Diablo players might be familiar. Most armor and weaponry remains a complete mystery unless you appraise it for a fee, and the fee is usually higher than the sell price of the particular item in question. There’s a couple identifying markers that tell you how good said item will be (such as item rank S being the best through E which is the worst), but any item you identify presents a risk. You can see how many stats and special attributes, but not their exact distribution; hence, you need to make smart decisions with your money.
Once you finally get some items, you then need to figure out which statistics confer an advantage onto your character, and at this point Dragon’s Crown turns into a min-maxing game that I’m sure will delight the hearts of action RPG fans everywhere. Quite honestly, you never really need to worry about it on your initial playthrough, but subsequent trips will pretty much require you to know what stats you need and what augmentations you desire for maximum efficiency. You also need to know for what items you seek, and you can edit your chances by Praying at the Temple before you go out for various purpose from getting a higher chance at weapons to gaining a score bonus.
It’s the kind of meta-game that could inspire an endless grind for loot with three other friends (or NPCs, which you can revive by gathering bones in the stages and reviving them), and you can imagine that after Dragon’s Crown ends on Normal, you might be playing for a good long while in the randomly generated Labyrinth of Chaos or just simply chaining old levels together for bigger loot bonuses. That’s when having multiple armor sets becomes invaluable, as durability ratings on items are low enough (like Dark Souls 2) that you’ll need to return to town fairly quickly unless you’ve got a bunch of back-ups.
Clearly, this game’s designed for multiplayer and playing with friends. Most of my solo run became massively difficult due to the AI of my companions, which ranged from dumb as a rock to dumb as bricks. They attack hard alright, but they tend NOT to avoid any obstacles or damage that’s entirely avoidable. Pretty much every enemy has tells and leaves markers/destroyable projectiles, so you can avoid a lot of damage, if not all. Those NPCs who join you won’t bother, though, so just play it multiplayer. Too bad it takes five hours to get there, since it doesn’t unlock until you complete the first nine stages! Thankfully, this also means that subsequent characters you level start at level 15 right at this point, reducing the tedium and jumping right into multiplayer. Think of it as an extended tutorial. Since the action itself remains intensely satisfying, I could see myself playing this for a long while with friends.
If not for, say, the problematic visual style, Like most Vanillaware games, Dragon’s Crown looks absolutely beautiful. A combination of Dungeon & Dragons art tropes, Frank Frazetta, and Renaissance/Romantic art period tributes, there’s almost too many things to list in terms of stylistic debts, They’re not ripoffs of, say, Pieter Bruegel or the plump women portraits of the Renaissance, but Kamitani re-adapts these designs into a great whole while throwing his own spin on things. Liberal sprinklings of inspirations, mostly of mythic/religious import, end up everywhere, and it’s just a fascinating joy just (as an amateur Art History student) to identify these techniques. Kamitani displays a love of art more clearly than he does even in his previous games here, and especially his debt to those who came before. The color scheme especially reminds me of a giant, warmly lit oil painting and all of the positive things that implies; it looks marvelous. But that marvelous scheme ends up working against the game in its more hectic moments.
By this, I mean the bosses, which function as the greatest love/hate relationship you could possibly have within seconds of game time. Each of the 9 stages (and their B paths) contain a boss, each of which presents interesting and varied challenges. Some attack you in a relatively straightforward way, letting you learn to evade their attacks at the right time, while others summon additional enemies. As the game progresses, however, the bosses become more and more interesting, requiring a pretty quick thought process to survive and figure out the pattern at one go. One fight involves a genie’s lamp which can be used by yourself or enemies, and said genie is incredibly powerful. Another presents an unkillable enemy which you can only attack when next to torch, while another requires you to run away and block with a shield. Every single boss contains a strategy and a pattern to discern, and I honestly haven’t gotten tired of them yet. They’re exciting to say the least, and that’s only exacerbated through their careful animation and (more importantly) SIZE.
That size also highlights my big problem: I can’t see where the heck I am when everyone attacks a boss at once and then the boss attacks also with his/her gigantic body (see the first picture for example). For whatever reason, the initial release of the game contains no transparency and the pointer arrow identifying your character often gets lost in the shuffle; that goes for your weapon too, which can drop and suddenly disappear amid a hundred well-drawn effects happening at the same time. Losing your character on the screen can often cause your death, since bosses hit very hard and require precision, especially the later ones! Though one death won’t kill your run, scoring highly gets you Life Points – literally, credits – to keep playing. Run out of credits and that’s it: you lose all the stuff you got. Reviving characters (except during the last boss) costs you money, and credit-feeding rears its ugly head once again (I guess they didn’t fix that, eh?).