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Review: Dragon's Crown Pro (PlayStation 4)By Azuardo At 08.05.2018 15:57

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This utterly gorgeous blend of side-scrolling brawler and RPG perhaps didn't quite get the attention it deserved by releasing in the same year the PS4 came out - the very system it has the pleasure of flaunting itself on now. George Kamitani's swords and sorcery-set Dragon's Crown cultivated a strong little fan base due to its online-focused mechanics, however, which has seen a resurgence in activity on both the PS3 and PS Vita in the last couple of weeks, as players of the original editions gear themselves up for the launch of Pro, be it to carry their save data over to the new version, or simply to enjoy some online cross-platform co-op with the early adopters on PS4.

For those that have been there and done that with what is a natural progression for the beat 'em up genre, thanks to its plethora of ideas that sure seem to be commonplace in a lot of games today (i.e. experience points and loot), it comes as a disappointment that Dragon's Crown Pro doesn't offer much in the way of any new playable content to justify another purchase. The increased resolution does wonders for the watercoulor-painted art style, which so deserves all the plaudits it can get, because the level of detail in this glorious medieval fantasy world is breathtaking - and that is not even mentioning the incredibly expressive, fluid, and (certainly in the case of its females) hypnotic animations of the characters. However, even with the 4K upgrade that particular players will be able to marvel at on their capable TV sets, the visual enhancement is just about the main selling point for the port, alongside the optional live orchestrated soundtrack.

Various narrator options do now come as standard, including English and Japanese for all characters, but anyone hoping for more than the above will be left wanting. Finished the game on a previous platform? Then this port may not be worth another plunge...unless you sold said platform and want to relive the brawling and looting fun. Since cross-play is possible, it will suffice to simply stick to a PS3 or Vita copy if the desire is to do co-op with friends picking it up on PS4. Aside from the the obvious visual and audio upgrades, it is otherwise quite difficult to find a motive strong enough to fork up £40 to replay this port.

It is a different story for those that have missed out on this Vanillaware classic last time around. As with the Japanese developer's past titles, Dragon's Crown goes to great lengths to establish its lore and build its world from very early on, after players choose one of six adventures to pursue the path to obtaining the legendary titular crown. With a customisable narrator describing events to drive the story on, coupled with extraordinary stage backgrounds and artwork that acts as rewards for completing the vast array of quests, this game is a fine example of how to craft an enchanting universe. Sadly, it just doesn't have that staying power, failing to grip its players with a twisty and turny tale that Odin Sphere managed to do so well. It is clear the core appeal here is in the gameplay.

Remember those side-scrolling beat 'em ups of yesteryear that just don't seem to bless us with their presence anymore? Dragon's Crown can be fairly praised as an evolution of the genre, adding a sprinkle of RPG to the fold in its use of experience points to level characters up, assigning skill points to the huge range of moves and passive abilities at characters' disposal, and hauling in the prized booty of loot and all sorts of treasure and equipment following a successful run through a stage and defeating its boss at the end.

Just when it seems like the game is at a surprisingly short end, however, the real quest begins, with the more dangerous B routes opening up in every stage, waiting to be explored and conquered, along with stronger enemies and new bosses to slaughter. It is at this point that online co-operative play becomes available, allowing friends and strangers to team up and hop in and out of others' games in an attempt to obtain the nine talismans required to take on the final boss.

Having to go through this opening act of completing all the A routes before being allowed to play online with others is a bit of a conflicting feature. Players looking to hop straight into Dragon's Crown Pro together with mates will need to complete what could alternatively be described as a tutorial of sorts, whereby these first few hours, finishing each of the nine stages and bringing down their bosses, allow time to get accustomed to the chosen protagonist and all of the other mechanics at work. While it doesn't take too long to reach the online unlock, and that this in itself can be of benefit to ensure people have a generally good idea of how to play the game and their character before working with others, not even having an option for private friend networks from the get-go is a bit of a downer that might have been an expected adjustment for Pro.

Even as a single-player adventure, Dragon's Crown excels as a solid brawler with plenty under its hood given it adds considerable depth to the genre, with each unique hero warranting trying out, since they all play so differently. Strangers can hop in at any time to help out if AI allies don't decide to do so already, but playing with friends and working together adds that extra fun factor, just like the old 16-bit days when brawlers were still going strong. The labyrinth and its countless floors offers some additional postgame contest, but again, with no new modes, areas or characters for this enhanced port, there might not be enough to hold everyone's attention once a run through the main story has been completed.

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Final Score
Prepare to be hooked all over again in this Vanillaware classic that might not have the story to match the developer's other top game, [i]Odin Sphere[/i], but finds a way to combine genres and ensure multiplayer becomes something players will actively want to make use of to get the most satisfaction out of [i]Dragon's Crown Pro[/i]. Highly recommended to anyone with a passing interest in beat 'em ups, but there is no denying that there is mild disappointment at the absence of new gameplay content, rendering it a hard sell to those that have beaten the game before. Don't like beat' em ups, though? Better off to pass, as the tedium does have a tendency to rear its ugly head before long, and that isn't something even [i]Dragon's Crown[/i] can evolve the genre from.

7

/10

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