If you're unfamiliar with previous games from Vanillaware, your first ten minutes of Dragon's Crown will feel like they're dragging on forever. The dialogue is dull, the story is dull and the narrator insists on repeating himself over and over and over again. But more than anything it's the visual that will put some players off.
The proportions of the six playable heroes and the many prisoners you're tasked with saving, are somewhat warped is the understatement of the year. And this is especially true for the female cast of Dragon's Crown.
The female mage has breasts the size of footballs barely covered by a few threads of silk, while her posture at all times makes you think that she's about to tip over. The female amazon is dressed in a bikini that must have had an unfortunate experience in the dryer, but her body also reminds us of Schwarzenegger days as Mr. Olympia, that is with a few extra stones of booty and the innocent face of an anime face. When you're later tasked with saving female druids, they look as if they were kidnapped from some sort of porn shoot.
Some people will no doubt appreciate this style, while others will find it difficult not to cringe and wonder why this needs to be part of what is otherwise a lovely action adventure.
Behind the sexually charged surface hides a mix of old school action, role playing and loot hunting, that manages to combine accessibility with many of the elements that made Diablo III and Torchlight II extremely addictive.
A town serves as the main hub and it will gradually offer more options to gear up as you head out to deal with the next batch of monsters. You can repair your equipment, buy new weapons and spells, as well as sign up for new missions. The most unique element is that you can revive and recruit dead soldiers.
As Dragon's Crown has been designed as a co-op game, you will regurlarly find heaps of bones if you're playing alone. These can be brought back to the town where the religious leader can revive the fallen soldiers for a sum of gold. Thankful for bringing them back to life these soldiers will then agree to go on adventures with you. A well balanced group of four quickly becomes a necessity in order to progress, and you'll need to find as many warriors as you can.
The fifth member of your group is the thief, who on PS Vita can be ordered around using the touchscreen or the right stick. The thief represents one of the most innovative features of the game, as he can be used to open treasure chests or hidden doors that hide bonuses or extra challenges. If you're particularly unlucky you will run into other thieves who can run off with both your gold and the food supplies your group uses to keep their health up.
The magical equipment you find can only be used after the completion of a mission, and only if you have reached the required level. You have pay gold in order to identify the gear, and the higher its rank, the more you have to pay. This only serves to heighten your curiosity as you'll only know the rank of an item when you find out and have to wait to find out exactly what kind of equipment it is.
What at first glance appears to be a short adventure grows after a couple of hours with added depth as more challenging difficult levels are added with accompanying levels. It's a welcome surprise, and suddenly all the early levels come across as tutorials and practice ahead of the proper game, and naturally the rewards you earn grow more useful as well.
Unfortunately the more demanding levels are where you need to look for human companions as the artificial intelligence fails to deliver what's needed. Having to spend all of your precious gold reserves on reviving AI controlled partners that keep getting themselves killed isn't our idea of fun. And it also creates an imbalance as the equipment you gain from completing the quest seldom outweighs the cost of getting it.
Still it's hard to stop playing Dragon's Crown, and Vanillaware shows their skill at combining elements of role playing games with pure arcade action thrills. When the adventure is at its best it reminds us of Sega's classic Golden Axe on steroids, and this is particularly true when played with three other human players. The character classes are also surprisingly varied in their mechanics, and the game expects you and your friends to make the most out of these unique skills as you take on the most challenging quests.
If it wasn't for the absurd focus on cleavage and erotic poses, there is no doubt that the Japanese developer has once again delivered an adventure that is taken straight out of the dreams of any 2D fanatic. Dragon's Crown is at times stunningly beautiful, and there doesn't seem to be any detail or colour that's there by coincidence. Dragons are enormous and majestic, while the likes of beetles, vampires and giants have been drawn with an insane level of detail.
Dragon's Crown is a perfect fit on PS Vita as it isn't until late in the game that quests routinely lasts longer than 15 minutes. The lure of new equipment and abilities will keep you hooked, and it's easy to find 3 other players to make your way through a level or two with.
If you've been missing a good dungeon crawler, and what to see for yourself that it's not only Ubisoft and their Rayman team that's capable of producing wonderful 2D visuals these days, or simply if you want a great adventure for your PS Vita, then you need to take a closer look at Dragon's Crown.